“Poverty is an anomaly to rich people: it is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell.” –Walter Bagehot
Here’s what Romney told attendees at a fundraiser in Florida in May:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Other than Romney, who actually shares that view of people living at or just above the poverty? (The poverty rate is actually far lower than 47 percent, but for argument’s sake let’s just focus on Romney’s evident disdain for the nation’s working poor.) Turns out almost a third of the American public shares Romney’s basic views about the lazy, entitled poor.
Another 43 percent surveyed said those in poverty can find work if they really wanted it. The survey of more than 1,000 Americans was conducted in February 2012.
When I first published this post back in May, I observed that this brought to mind a dramatic scene in the wonderful 2002 novel, Snow, by the Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. It offers profound insights into our collective perceptions of the poor. In the novel, as a group of radicals in the rural northeast Turkish town of Kars debates the wording of a protest statement they want published in a German newspaper, a Kurdish youth warns against seeking the compassion from the West:
People might feel sorry for a man who’s fallen on hard times, but when an entire nation is poor, the rest of the world assumes all its people must be brainless, lazy, dirty, clumsy fools. Instead of pity, the people provoke laughter. It’s all a joke: their culture, their customs, their practices. . . . [W]hen a Westerner meets someone from a poor country, he feels deep contempt. He assumes that the poor man’s head must be full of all the nonsense that plunged his country into poverty and despair.
Without doubt, those, like Romney and his wealthy backers, who disparage the poor as lazy do not know them and have never observed their lives, nor lived their experiences. My guess is that most Americans have no idea that millions of families in poverty are headed by hard-working, under-earning parents.
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that in 2010, there
were more than 10 million low-income working families in the
United States. Between 2007 and 2010, the share of working
families who are low-income—earning less than 200 percent of
the official poverty threshold—increased from 28 percent to 31
percent. This means that nearly one in three working families in
the United States is struggling to meet basic needs.
Although low-income working families remain mostly invisible
to policymakers, these families are comprised of workers who
form the backbone of our economy: working the cash registers,
keeping our homes and businesses clean, preparing our food,
and helping care for our children and elderly relatives. during
these grave economic times, policymakers must choose to invest
in these low-income workers and their families. Such
investments are vital for the United States to maintain a strong,
growing economy as well as to promote economic mobility and
“reduce the personal, social and economic costs imposed by low
wages and poverty” in America.
While millions of Americans are working with limited success to feed and clothe their families, millions of better-off Americans — and the GOP presidential nominee — seem to be working hard to ignore them or blame them for their plight.
Take a look at the statistics for the poor in your state here.
- I Thought I Was Doing Pretty Well, Till Mitt Romney Told Me I Was a Loser… (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
- Mitt Romney Thinks America’s “Middle Income” Is $200,000 to $250,000 (slog.thestranger.com)
- Mitt Romney: Reduce taxes on middle-income people. You know, the ones making $250,000 (dailykos.com)