Since moving to Honduras, I have had an education in poverty and am shedding my prejudices about it. Here are four lies I have discovered about poverty.
1. Poor people are lazy.
From what I’ve seen, the poorer the people are, the harder they work. When choices of work are limited, as is the case in Utila, the work is often hot and back-breaking. It is the work nobody else wants to do and they do it with little pay. And, there is no chance for advancement or a raise because there is always someone willing to work for less.
2. Poor people don’t work as hard as the rest of us.
The poor are restrained by cultural, political and economic systems that do not reward their labor. For example, Ana works in a small store in the coastal city of La Ceiba, on mainland Honduras. She works 12-hour days, 7 days a week, and makes $10 a day. She has 30 minutes for lunch and is provided no break room or any place to eat. She finds a corner over by the dressing room to sit on the floor of the store and eat. When she has been at the store long enough to qualify for medical insurance, her employer lays her off for four days and then rehires her. The clock starts over, and she never qualifies for insurance. She can’t go to a company that doesn’t run this game because they all do it. She has no recourse, no employee rights, no choice, no chance to get ahead.
3. Poor people can change their circumstances aka “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
Often the poor are trapped in circumstances beyond their control. What if your father is in jail and your mother disappeared out of your life because she decided she wanted to live in the United States without you? You were seven years old when she left. You are being “raised” by an older brother. Or, you never met your father and your mother is a crack addict? She sells your older sister on the streets at night to support her habit. Real life stuff. How do you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you’re wearing flip flops?
Many circumstances the poor face are devastating: crime, gangs, violence, drugs, rape, prostitution, intimidation, domestic abuse, discrimination, exploitation, and economic deprivation.
One more thing to think about. Where would you be without your computer? Exactly. The poor don’t have computers. When I think about what I would do if I were born into poverty, I think I’d educate myself. But how? Computer of course. But, you don’t have a computer if you are poor. Oh, yeah, I forgot.
4. Poor people don’t want help.
It’s hard to lift your head up when every day is a struggle to survive. Your kids are left to raise themselves when all your energy goes into finding a way to put food on the table. No matter how determined or enterprising you are, you cannot overcome the vicious cycle you find yourself in. You no longer believe anything will ever change. You have lost hope. Hope that tomorrow might be better or your children might have a chance at a better life. When life feels this futile, it’s hard to imagine a solution is available. The connection between work and payoff has been severed. Without hope, there is no energy to seek help or believe in it.
Question: What have you learned about poverty?