The Professional Poor
With class warfare on the march, it's important to understand the difference between the "genuine poor" in America and the "professional poor."
The genuine poor are people who, through debilitating circumstances great or small, have become incapable of sustaining a work life, and sometimes even a home life. Because of mental illness, physical disability, and other unfortunate and unfair acts of man and nature, there are people in our country who genuinely need the help, to varying degrees, of others. These folks are truly helpless and need assistance from the government and/or through involvement by charitable organizations.
Most everyone I know is concerned about the genuine poor. These people help with money, when appropriate, and in the form of one-on-one volunteer hours at effective charities. As Dennis Miller has said, "I'm willing to help the helpless, not the clueless."
Then there are the professional poor: people paid to remain in the situation they're in. Some are in this category because they want to be and like it there, others because they were either born into it (children of generational welfare) or the gravy train is just too sweet and too "entwining" to overcome.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by "entwining": about ten years ago, I spent many months with a fellow I met (let's call him Mike) while volunteering at a soup kitchen. Mike had been coming to the kitchen for years and years and seemed to have no friends at all. He was a very standoffish fellow with a big chip on his shoulder. On his best days, Mike would smile -- but only after a cutting or bitterly sarcastic remark.
After one meal, I decided to chance it and dig a little deeper to see what made Mike tick. We had a peaceful enough chat for the most part, but no matter what the subject or whom we talked about, Mike would have something negative to say. He was extremely prejudiced -- but, to be fair, Mike hated everybody. He hated Republicans because they didn't want him to have welfare; he hated Democrats because they didn't give him a bigger monthly check; he hated the various ethnicities for being (in his mind) the stereotypes that bigots made them all out to be.
When I watched football with him, he'd complain if someone would drop the ball. And if there was a spectacular catch, he'd say, "He should have caught that. He gets paid millions of dollars." He never once cheered for any team or player. And if I'd happen to be rooting for one team in particular (I'm a huge Steelers fan), he'd be sure to root against my team.
Even though I helped Mike pay for groceries, took him to the movies, bought him lunch every week, he very rarely thanked me. And once when I suggested that he buy me a hot dog, he literally screamed at me in the middle of 8th Avenue, "You can't buy me a hot dog? You can't spend one dollar?! You are really cheap!"
Along the way of our rocky acquaintance, Mike told me he got $270.00 every month from the government. His parents were welfare recipients, and when he got old enough and moved out on his own, he ended up on welfare himself.
Out of the $270.00, Mike paid $180.00 for his big, one-bedroom Section-8 apartment in New York's Upper West Side. (For perspective, Mike's apartment was fully three times the size of mine, and I was paying $800.00 at the time.) This left him with only $90.00 a month for food and utility bills. Because of the loneliness factor, Mike ate out a lot -- fast food, yes, but it would not take long for his money to run out, and him to find his way to various soup kitchens in the neighborhood.
At one point I asked Mike, who was an intelligent and capable guy, why he never went out looking for a job. I mean, with some effort, he should be able to find a job that would easily pay him more than $270.00 a month.
Mike set me straight. "If I got a job, not only would I lose the $270.00 I get for not working, I would not qualify for rent at $180.00. So I would lose my apartment, too. "
Mike would have had to get guaranteed, steady employment paying about five times what the government handed him for free every month in order to afford even low New York City rent, let alone have something left over for electricity, phone, and food.
So Mike was trapped. He wasn't motivated to learn any skills or try to advance socially. Over the years, he became bitter and defensive.
I lost touch with Mike after the "hot dog incident," but I'm sure he's still out there somewhere, lost among all the other "professional poor" -- folks paid to remain in the situation they're in.
One final note. I don't want to leave the impression that the "professional poor" are expected to do nothing for their "paychecks." On the contrary, in order to keep the gravy train flowing, every two years, the professional poor are called upon...to show up at the polls and vote Democrat.
Albin Sadar, author of "The Men's Underwear Repair Kit," lives in New York City.