Dear Middle Class America,
At some point, most of you have been told that poverty in the United States is “not that bad.” It’s true that poverty in America is not the same as it is in in other nations. Most poor people here have running water in their homes, and most eat at least once a day, so it’s easy to assume that it’s not that bad. However, despite the differences, I urge you to open your mind to the possibility that your understanding of this issue is severely limited. In the United States, poverty looks like children eating once a day at school because they get a free meal there. It’s sleeping in room with two other people, working full-time when you’re just a child, and never having a Christmas, Thanksgiving, or an Easter celebration. For some, it’s sleeping on the streets, struggling to find any warmth, and collecting cans to afford a single meal. Poverty may be worse in other countries, but that does not reduce the severity of the issue here in the US. When you say that it’s not that bad, you’re really just saying that because people are not dropping dead from poverty, that it’s not a big deal. As glad as I am that our standard for acceptable poverty is “not dying,” I think that we can do better. Poverty is a complex economic and political issue in the United States, and it should be examined as such. Middle class America, you need to face the ignorance and prejudices that have built up inside you so that we may approach poverty in an educated and understanding manner.
America thrives off of the idea of the self-made man. We’ve been told the story of Benjamin Franklin a hundred times, and we have convinced ourselves that if we work hard enough, then we can accomplish anything. That is a lie. It perpetuates the idea that poverty is a result of laziness, and success is a result of hard work. During my childhood, my mother never took a day off. She walked miles to work and back everyday to support my family. After every ten hour work day, she would come home and make a meal for her children. Now, she suffers from severe leg issues that we cannot afford to fix, but she still goes to work everyday. Despite being the hardest working person that I know, she is often dismissed as lazy compared to her successful counterparts. The fact is that some of us have resources to make it here in America, and some of us do not. You slept in a warm bed everyday of your life, you went to a school in a wealthy area, you ate three meals a day, you could afford new shoes when yours wore out, and your parents probably bought you a phone before you even had a job. The rest of us don’t get those luxuries. We went to school in dangerous cities, ate two meals a day if we were lucky, and shared a room with the rest of our family. When the school year came, you could afford notebooks, pencils, and a calculator. We could not. When the poor grow up working a minimum wage job just to keep themselves alive, they are not able to fund the means of of success in the United States. They cannot fund their education, their doctor’s visits, their communication, or their transportation. If they cannot afford to fund these basic necessities, they certainly cannot afford to follow their dreams or even go to college. This tragic reality does not make them lazy. We must destroy the myth that poverty comes from slovenliness, and we must replace it with the understanding that people need resources in order to achieve their goals, and that some of us never get those resources.
Middle class America, many of you will respond to this by arguing that some poor people do make it. Some people beat the odds and succeed, and if more people were motivated, then poverty would not such a prevalent issue. It’s true that some people escape poverty, but it is rare and often through an absurd amount of hard work and luck. I grew up in some of the worst conditions, and here I am, going to the school of my dreams. However, we should not hold human beings to a standard in which they must put themselves through hell in order to succeed, and we should not allow these people to work endlessly when their wealthy counterparts work minimally. I spent years working to get myself out of poverty, and during that time, I was not healthy mentally or physically. I skipped meals, I worked every weekend, I was up late every night studying, I never went out with friends, and I never spent time relaxing. I was anxious and depressed for years as a result of extreme stress, and I had to continuously remind myself that I could not get out of condition unless I kept going. During this time in my life, I would look at my middle class peers and know they were not experiencing this, and those that were often obtained their workload was out of choice rather than necessity. I was working hard and felt as though I was breaking. Is this the “hard work” people should to put themselves through? This was a struggle, and it’s not something most people can deal with, and it’s not something they should have to deal with. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, wealthier Americans never had to deal with this struggle to gain success, but we still hold poor Americans to this absurd standard. Why? Most people are born into their conditions, and moving up is nearly impossible, so when poor Americans have to struggle twice as hard to get half as much, we need to examine why we believe that that’s okay.
Middle class America, you believe strongly in maintaining the status quo. You want to keep things the way they are not because it’s benefiting you, but because it could benefit you. Someone convinced you that you could end up rich, and you’re clinging to that belief, but the truth is that you are a part of a fixed game. The United States is currently set up so that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. The increasing income gap and the strong opposition towards an increased minimum wage indicate this. The middle class is disappearing, joining the poor, and the rich are controlling a majority of the wealth in the nation. This game is fixed so that it almost never lets you win, but you have told yourself that you will, somehow, beat the game, so you demand that we keep it the same. On the off chance that you’ll win, you let everybody else suffer and struggle, but this is a terribly misguided belief that must be corrected. You won’t win. You will never win. It’s a rigged system that nearly guarantees that you’ll end up worse off than your parents, but it does not have to be this way. We can change the system for the better, make it fair, and design it so that hard work does pay off. You can support this nation as a whole, or you throw aside and take your chances at the lottery.
America is often a nation of nihilistic beliefs resulting from apathy and disbelief, but none are more affected by it than the members of the middle class who genuinely believe that poverty cannot end. You believe that things cannot get better, so you are less likely to even want to help. To this, I recommend reading a history book. Throughout all of American history, there been ups and downs, but the long-term trend has always been that things are getting better. Poverty has decreased, the standard of living has increased, literacy rates have increased, and healthcare recipients have increased. Things can get better in the United States, and they will get better, but nothing happens naturally. You cannot sit in a corner waiting for the world to change. African Americans did not get the right to vote by staying home, workers did not gain safety laws because they were silent, and we did not defeat the British army because we were nice. Change happens when people decide to make it happen. When we are loud, passionate, and united, we can make change. So, do not tell me that it’s not possible. You need to accept that we can end poverty in the United States because once you do, nothing is stopping us.
Middle class America, you as well as the rest of the United States understand that there is not one single solution to poverty, but whatever the answers may be, they will not be found in ignoring the problem. An issue cannot be resolved until it is first acknowledged in its entirety, so we must change our approach to poverty. Rather than one that blames the poor for their condition and dismisses systemic issues, our approach must be one that accounts for the role the middle class plays in the perpetuation of poverty in this nation, and it must be grounded in a belief in a better future. America has always been a country where the fight for change takes place, and now, I urge you use the power you have to speak up for the poor. For the betterment of this nation and the love of our fellow human beings, it is time for a revolution.