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Our society treats being poor as a bad thing. We have this idea that people who are poor must not be working as hard as everyone else, and that poor people somehow deserve their poverty. We treat people living in poverty as though they were a drain on society, somehow less educated, less motivated, and less deserving of our attention than those with more money.

We stigmatize being poor, so that it’s looked at as shameful by those who aren’t poor. And then, of course, we expect poor people to somehow overcome that stigma and find jobs, start families, and live the lives that our society considers purposeful. What we can’t see is that shaming poor people for being poor hurts them.

If we actually cared about the poor, instead of pretending to care about the poor, we would support them and not judge them for not having money. We would provide free food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities, and we would do it with no strings attached. We would not say, for instance, that poor people “believe that they are entitled to… food,” but rather that having access to these things is a basic human right, and that our failing to provide them is morally indefensible.

And, most importantly, we would critically examine the economic system we all buy into, which rewards the rich and punishes the poor. The capitalist economy we find ourselves in is one where our worth as human beings is directly proportional to the amount of money we make, so the richest and most privileged among us are the recipients of the largest share of tax breaks and benefits.

Doesn’t that strike anyone else as completely backwards? We view the people with the most money as the most useful, so we give them more money as a reward. Simultaneously, we view the people with the least amount of money as the least useful, so we make it even harder for them to get money. And then we wonder why they’re still poor.

So here’s a radical idea: completely divorce wealth from worth. Decide whether people are worthy of time, money, or whatever independently of how much money they have. Further, don’t stigmatize or shame people because they don’t have very much money, or because they’re unemployed or homeless. People should be judged on how good of a person they are, not on how much they own.

 

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