Thursday, December 8, 2011

Defining Poverty

The Current, a favorite CBC radio program, did a special call-in show on the topic of poverty in Canada.


It raises all kinds of questions, in particular this: how do we define poverty? 


I prefer the definition to be narrow. Poverty is not having enough to eat, being cold, and living with the threat of homelessness as a real possibility. The truly poor also face endless hurdles whenever they try to better their situation. 
Being poor is expensive in many unexpected ways. 
I dislike the endless sexual metaphors in the article below, but it tells the story well.
http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-things-nobody-tells-you-about-being-poor/


But poverty should not be defined as feeling unworthy because other people, especially kids, have more. Being cold is poverty. Having to wear a hand-me-down winter coat is not. 


Or rather, having clothes that are not quite right will indeed affect the wearer, as I know from experience. But we could keep whingeing about psychological damage at nauseam. Am I being too harsh here?

Not having enough money to buy basic nutrition is poverty. But one caller illustrated the stress of grocery shopping by complaining that he had to put a package of chips or a jar of jam back on the shelf. SO? One caller bemoaned the fact that she could not buy her daughter a digital camera. SO?


Once we move beyond the basics, much of the experience of poverty is a social construct. In the tipi /log house years we lived from tiny pay check to tiny pay check, and wore a lot of second hand clothes. As mentioned before, there was no running water etc etc.  By any official standard we lived well below the official poverty line.


But we were healthy and debt-free on our own land. And we were in a rural neighborhood where other people were doing more or less the same thing. "The system" was crazy, and when it fell apart we'd all be ready, Corona grain mill and all.
The feeling I remember most, especially in the first spring, is an exhilarating sense of freedom.

It didn't last long, but that is another topic. The point here is that in a community where no one had indoor plumbing or  electricity it was no stigma and no great hardship to do without. 


We are facing tough times for many reasons. More of us will be officially poor. I encourage everyone to live as well as they can, be grateful if you have the basics, and be proud no matter   how much better the neighbors have it.

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