Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Indiana state representative is pitching a taxpayer-funded office to promote marriage. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

This is not a new idea.

Rep. Jeff Thompson, a Republican of Lizton, envisions an Office of Marriage Promotion as a way to stabilize poor communities. He sees gun violence and gang affiliations among urban youth and notes the lack of fathers as role models. He sees mothers struggling to work and pay bills on one sparse income. So his answer is to enlighten these people to the benefits of marriage and the rewards of a stable, two-parent home.

If only it were that easy. If only the poor didn’t know far more about their daily struggles than those who seek to lift them up.

Children do benefit from being surrounded by educated adults who can provide for them financially and emotionally without struggling and scraping to get by paycheck to paycheck. Two parents working together to raise their children is a good foundation. We all should wish this for every family.

The problem is that preaching about marriage won’t accomplish it.

Those who press these ideas tend to know very little about what it means to be poor. They talk about poor people’s bad choices or deficient work ethic, but they don’t acknowledge the way poverty grinds people, the way it forecloses the options that families with stable jobs enjoy, the way it extracts great costs and exertions to get every little thing.

Being poor is about shame, humiliation, uncertainty, stress, envy, anger, depression, boredom, hopelessness and the awful feeling that no matter how hard you try, you will be judged and found wanting.

Poverty is not going to be solved by a marriage license. And the lack of one is not what causes poverty. Poverty is caused by lack of money to meet basic needs. Improving people’s economic status increases the likelihood they will marry and have fewer children, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

Conservatives fail to get this. To be fair, so do a lot of other people. This is where Rep. Thompson and others who routinely press such ideas could learn a thing or two from the very people they are scolding.

In 2005, the novelist John Scalzi put together a poignant post on his website titled very simply “Being poor.” It is a list of experiences known all too well to those with the misfortune of being down and out in the United States, and likely unknown to the more fortunate.

I urge anybody and everybody who feels moved to discourse on the poor to read it before opening their traps. It won’t tell you why people are poor or how we can help them not be poor anymore. It will, however, make clear that it’s not a picnic and it’s not a choice. And if you haven’t been there, you almost certainly don’t know whereof you speak.

Here’s a sampling:

“Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs. …

“Being poor is Goodwill underwear. …

“Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal. …

“Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you. …

“Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.”

Don’t miss the readers’ comments to Scalzi’s piece; they’re heart rending.

Meanwhile, here’s our Indiana legislator. “Look at the example of what’s happening in this city and the number of shootings,” he said, referring to Indianapolis. “It doesn’t occur in my community. I don’t like what’s happening. But there are regions and pockets where marriage is not the norm where children are born to.”

He’s talking about black people. Coded language is common when marriage is professed as an answer to poverty.

Yes, African-Americans have higher rates of children born out of wedlock. But again, matrimony as a solution doesn’t grasp the reality of many low-income women’s lives.

Poor, less-educated women do not have a plethora of highly educated, upper-middle-class men vying for their attention. Their love interests are more likely to be underemployed men with low skill levels and possibly a criminal record. Telling these women to just pick one and marry him is hardly a good choice.

There are myriad reasons a person can end up in poverty. (Here’s a common one: You were born into it.) There are many ways we can help people escape it, including government policies that promote stable, sustainable employment.

But here’s a tip to politicians who pontificate about the poor: Approach their condition with empathy and humility, and you might just figure out ways to actually be helpful.

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108-1413, or via email at [email protected]

Photo: gcardinal via Wikimedia Commons

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 The National Memo
  • latebloomingrandma

    If this legislator is really concerned about the poor, he should be talking about education. Education is the one proven way the chronically poor can have a shot of making it out of poverty. A really good teacher, who can light a spark in a child and nurture it, and hand off the child to a series of really good teachers—now that would be something.

    • mike

      The Fed govt. has spent trillions on education but yet the scores haven’t improved. Since NCLB a 64% increase in funding with little change in scores.
      It is not the monies that is the problem but the lack of the family unit and the values it brings to each and every member.
      When you have an administration that tells women they don’t need men, family, etc. in their lives, things will not change.
      This marriage idea is dumb.

      • latebloomingrandma

        I don’t recall the administration telling women that they don’t need men or family. I have heard the President speak of the opposite and his family models those family values the right is always talking about.

        • mike

          The DNC put out the video. The life of Julia. They used it at the Democratic National Convention, to support their fictitious “War on Women”. A cradle to grave program for women. It had to have been approved by WH.

      • 788eddie

        If you take a look at our history, you will see that mandatory public school education was, indeed, an important factor in raising us to superpower status in the world.

        Maybe the current results are because NCLB is not addressing the problem correctly.

        • mike

          You can’t ignore the fact that scores are not going up and in some cases going down.
          The left believes the answer is to pour money in.

  • charleo1

    Being born poor, or rich, is a nearly sure fire way to have one’s lot in life practically guaranteed from the get go. The odds of being born to one’s circumstances, and those circumstances determining the type of life one lives, are greater today, than at anytime since the turn of the 20th century.
    For me it was this number one reason Mitt Romney was exactly the wrong man to be leading a Country where the Middle Class is disappearing, and the poverty rates are increasing. And the opportunities for both, to rise above their financial limitations have been deteriorating steady for the majority of working Americans for years. And Mr. Romney simply had none of the personal experiences of either coming from, or knowing anyone from these groups, that hadn’t beaten the long odds, and climbed into his World. Where such issues as adequate schools, affording higher education, and the opportunities that come with just knowing the, “right people.” can make all the difference. A thing that comes so easily to those of Mr. Romney’s privileged station. Is such that, in his mind, a complete non-sequitur, when assessing the problems of the poor. So ubiquitous is it, in the ranks of the connected aristocracy that had always been his fate to enjoy. Surely they come to believe, I must have created my success by the same work ethics, and intestinal fortitude of similar great men of my stature! And after all, what’s to keep the poor from doing the same? Aside from their wanton laziness, failure to make good choices, and a proclivity to naturally follow the example of their own kind. Flaunt the rules of civilized society, and depend on the government to raise, and feed their children! And Mr. Romney’s attitudes are pervasive in, and throughout the so called Conservative Right. Where the advice upon obtaining this vital element, this ladder of social mobility, a higher education, becomes, shop around boys, and girls for the least expensive college, then have your Dad pay for it.

    • latebloomingrandma

      I remember when John Edwards was talking about the “two Americas.” Romney, on the campaign trail, chastised him for that, declaring that there is no such thing. The idea was completely lost on him. Since he worried so little about the poor, he seemed convinced that their vaunted “safety net” kept them in comfort, without struggle.

  • Louis Allen

    Mary Sanchez: George Soros, The Irrational Memo owner, has no idea what it means to be poor either.