Saturday, September 24, 2011

War on the poor

When I was in graduate school I once shared a story during a speech in a class I was taking about being poor kid who was so worried about asking my parents for new sneakers that I would put cardboard wrapped in duct tape over the holes in my shoes to extend the shelf life.

I was fortunate in that, while there was a time where we didn't have a wealth of luxuries, my parents made sure I had the things I needed most. Because of that I didn't actually realize I was poor. In retrospect, I appreciate the hell out of my parents for that. It is hard to be poor, and this the weekend it got much more difficult for thousands of children from low income families who are losing cash assistance from the state.

How bad is it? At a meeting of parents I attended a couple of weeks ago a woman I know literally broke down and began uncontrollably sobbing when someone broached the subject. I was speechless -- and sympathetic. About a third of Michigan's poor families receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare benefits, according to a recent study by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute. The lifetime 48-month welfare limit cap went into effect this weekend, kicking a reported 25,000 families off public assistance.

The report also noted that the availability of welfare is not increasing relationally to the rising unemployment rate, and that is the reason I'm bothered by this move. It's easy to say, "you should be able to get off of welfare and find a job." But because we know that there are fewer jobs available these days in Michigan and more people scavenging for the paltry employment opportunities that are out there, to put that challenge on poor people now is unconscionable.

It just got even harder to be poor. I really feel for the children of those families losing benefits.

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