Why do we punish people for being poor?

Many articles have been written on this topic from a variety of perspectives, I might as well add mine.

Fact: America, as a society, is increasingly criminalizing poverty.

I know many people will disagree with this, the argument is that the poor are more likely to use drugs, commit crimes, abuse benefits, get pregnant young, or are lazy and unwilling to work. Those are the most common defenses of measures that are punishing for those who need help the most.

Those arguments are not based on studies… reliable, objective studies don’t support those assumptions; rather, they are based on anecdotal evidence. Politicians love to do that, they tell a story about one person, community, encounter, etc. real or fabricated and present that as hard evidence for whatever they are trying to push. People eat that up and take it with them. Prejudice always works the same, no matter the subject: you believe something to be true, you act as if it is true, and you will interpret your interactions in a way that supports your belief, your own actions, prompted by prejudice, might even effect the outcomes of your interactions, further supporting your belief. As a society, when these prejudices inform and influence policy and grand scale interactions and communities, the very things we believe to be the causes of poverty become, symptoms of it instead.

For instance: teen pregnancy. I have heard it said that the poor have more children because they assume the government will take care of them, and that teen pregnancy is a result of that same value. But think of this, if you are poor, your parents and grandparents were poor, you live in a community where decent jobs are scarce and education and a career is not even on your radar. These communities are least likely to provide decent sex ed or health care. So you have few positive prospects for the future and a limited understanding of your own body, then what is stopping you from getting pregnant? One of the main things middle and upper class communities say about teen pregnancy is that the girl is throwing away her potential, sidelining her goals, career, education, potential. But if your community is not conducive to any of that, it offers no motivation to control your reproductive health, and generally few resources to do so if you were so inclined. Teen pregnancy, not a cause of poverty, like it is painted, but a symptom.

That is just one example. There are worse ones. And even less logical.

Like cities that jail the homeless for loitering or other small offences when it would be way less expensive to subsidize those peoples housing. What are those people thinking?

Like how drug use is often portrayed as a cause of poverty, despite the fact that rich people use lots and lots of drugs too. Aside from its causes and consequences, countries that treat drug addiction as a public health issue and not a criminal one, are much more successfull in the ‘war on drugs.’ But the push in the US is to punish drug users, either by criminal action or by denying them access to benefits. Drug testing benefit recipients costs waaaayyy more than the money saved by denying benefits to users, so why do it? Because it is satifying for taxpayers. People work hard, and struggle, and don’t get handouts, why should someone else get free money?

That is actually an understandable thought process. I feel similarly when things are hard for me, and others don’t seem to struggle with the same things. I get frustrated, too. I don’t fault people for resentment.

I fault lawmakers for manipulating people’s resentment for political gain. I fault lawmakers for catering to resentment to make policies that are not socially, ethically or financially responsible. I fault people for using subjective means to decide who is worth helping. I am not sure whether I fault people for supporting these lawmakers and policies. I know I have railed against prejudice before, I have ruffled feathers. But seeing more and more studies, seeing the policies and laws being pushed and implemented, reading the words of lawmakers…. I am rethinking where I place blame.

American politics, media and society is hugely dependent on ignorance and misinformation. Just as certain things are consequences, not causes of poverty, certain illogical and unethical policies and the support for them are consequences of, not causes of the broken system and society. That is why things are getting worse, why policies and values are traveling backwards to a more oppressive era. The system was already broken, and its consequences are fueling the downward spiral into fiscal and ethical ruin.

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