Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thinking about poverty

I am attending a conference today on poverty. Hosted by the Action to End Poverty in Alberta and the YWCA of Calgary, the organizers hope to come out of the day with a concrete 'move forward' plan that will create a unified voice in our province around the issues of poverty as well as people eager to participate in furthering today's agenda.

Last night, I joined conference organizer, Joe Ceci along with keynote speaker, Tony Martin for dinner and we talked about -- how do you end poverty?

In some ways, the question is egotistical on our part -- I cannot 'end' something in your life without your consent, and if you don't believe it can 'end' all my ranting and raving and coercive dialogue will do nothing to end what I perceive to be the issue in your life.

Yet, it is a question that must be asked. How do we end poverty? Because poverty keeps people down. Or, maybe the question has to be asked differently?  How do provide opportunities for people to rise above the poverty line?

Perhaps the answers begins with ending the things we do to contribute to poverty and the existence of 'the line'.

Poverty is like an addiction. It wears you down. It ladens you with shame. You spend so much time grinding your way through the day, there is no energy to 'be' anything other than tired. Tired of the drag. Of the inertia, the numbing drain of fighting for one more dime, one more bit of a break to stretch the dollars to meet the dates flying by on the calendar. And in that tired place, there is no sense of hope, of tomorrow will be a better day. There is no relief from living below the poverty line.

When you put your children to bed and lay awake all night worrying about the fact there's nothing to feed them for breakfast, you don't have much room for optimism. You know their stomachs will not be filled with 'hoping' the cupboard will be full in the morning.

How do we end poverty? Perhaps, we need to begin with asking ourselves, What do I do to help create and/or sustain it? And then, look deep to determine, how do I change what I'm doing that keeps people in their poverty stricken place?

Reality is, we, the askers, contribute to creating poverty in our world -- if only for the simple reason, many of us don't hold our governments accountable for what they do with our tax dollars to relieve the suffering of our neighbours. If we don't identify what we are dong to contribute to rising poverty levels in our cities and communities, we really can't change what we're doing.

So, in an effort to understand where and how I contribute to poverty in my community, I must start with a few random statements and questions on my ideas/feelings/thoughts on poverty so that I can understand -- what I know about the issues surrounding poverty and where I stand to create change:

  1. I do not like being poor. Does anyone?
  2. I've never been 'poor' as in 'living in poverty'. I have been poor as in -- no money. Lost everything. Do I really understand the fear, sorrow, terror of a mother who can't give her child breakfast?  When my cupboards are full, does that mean everybody else's are too? (and that's a rhetorical question...)
  3. Economic poverty is different than emotional/spiritual poverty. Economic poverty is externally generated. Emotional/spiritual poverty comes from within -- but is this a chicken and an egg thing? Does economic poverty leave you emotionally drained so that you have nothing left to feed your spirit? OR If you're born into poverty does that mean you have little emotional/spiritual resiliency to withstand the challenges of a poverty-riddled life?
  4. We can stop what we're doing to contribute to creating poverty. We can't end poverty in someone's life without their consent. How do we get consent when we continue to do the things we do that contribute to poverty in the first place?  OR is the question really -- How do we engage people suffering from poverty in the conversation when they can't afford the time or even the bus fare to get to the meeting?
  5. If people living in poverty want what we have, and what we have is contributing to poverty in our world, if they get it will there be more, or less, poverty in our world? For example -- employers want 'cheap' labour to keep the cost of goods down, or to increase their margins. Not paying a living wage keeps people in poverty.... and the circle continues.  For example.... affordable housing builds have been cancelled due to community opposition -- what are we afraid of? Poverty is contagious? 
  6. Poverty is very much a 'feminine' issue in that women are more likely to be poor, earn less than men (66% on avg of what men earn in Alberta), and when women experience poverty, so do their children.
  • The feminization of poverty, as a lived reality, represents something larger than simply a lack of income for a state of financial need for women. while the very definition of poverty implies the inability to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, or shelter, being poor also implies the absence of choice, the denial of opportunity, the inability to achieve life goals, and ultimately the loss of hope.  Megan Thibos et al. (2007) The feminization of poverty. 
I'm thinking today will be an interesting, enlightening and exciting day. I'm thinking, there's much to learn, much to do.

I'm thinking....


CZBZ said...

Fantastic post, Louise.

One of the easiest yet hardest things to do for some people is to recognize your own privilege. all the ways you were privileged and others were not.

I find that far too often, people don't recognize how they were 'helped' along the way which led to their financial security or 'success'.

I am dismayed, maybe even disturbed by the growing polarization of our communities. Even though I was aware of the 'feminization of poverty' many years ago, I became intimately familiar with the precariousness of women's lives...some of us were only one man away from the sidewalk and didn't know it.

Thank you for this post!


Maureen said...

I just read this morning an appalling statistic about poverty in America.

The problem is global and so complex; every effort toward a solution has to count.

Claudia said...

some great and deep we're used from you... wishing you a great time at the conference and happy thanksgiving louise..

Fi said...

Many of us have much to be thankful for and you help remind us of that. Sounds like a very interesting day ahead - enjoy

Anonymous said...

a lot to think about...

Anonymous said...


a few years ago, during his short-lived tenure as Prime Minister, Joe Clark floated the idea of a guaranteed minimum income - so that all Canadians could maintain the basics of life. His concepts were dismissed at the time, were't politically well timed or presented . . . but one has to wonder, if we eliminated the poverty and all the bureaucracy associated with poverty ...... both the cost of it, the cost savings of it - as opposed to the incredible multiplier effect on the economy in terms of purchasing power for so many disenfranchised (it mostly goes to food, rent, clothing, transportation) that business flourishes, a lot of it gets taxed back to government anyway and the quality/safety of our communities grows. Some would say this is welfare state thinking, and maybe it is, but maybe we should give good ideas a chance to work whatever their label.