System doesn’t make it easy to get out of poverty

Published 3:50 pm Thursday, December 13, 2018


Contributing columnist

I am a sucker for inspirational quotes, memes, Facebook pages and Instagram posts. I follow Iyanla, Ram Dos, Thich Nhat Hanh, Oprah and countless others who have “found peace.”

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ALL of these people have one thing in common: They have money or access to money.

Money is the fuel for all things in life. If you have money, you can have housing, food, clothes, heat, water, transportation, etc.

If you have enough money, the basics in life take care of themselves. You never have to worry about your water or heat being turned off for non-payment. Your cell phone always works. You will always have enough gas to get you from Point A to Point B and back again.

When you don’t have money, all of the above are in chaos all of the time.

When I was a child, there would be days I would come from school and the lights would be out or the water didn’t run. My dad did the best he could, but there were times when the money ran out before the bills were due. I don’t remember if he was more stressed during those times. Surely he was.

Ahh … the blissfulness of childhood ignorance.

I have noticed that people generally fall into two groups with regard to those who have monetary struggles: One group has great empathy; the other has great disdain.

“Get a job!” “Stop expecting others to solve your problems!” “I didn’t have any help! Look at what I’ve done!”

Yep. That’s helpful.

I recently attended a presentation about food insecurity presented by Grace Café and Rochelle Bayless, the executive director of the café. It was informative and heartbreaking. Several members of the panel noted that our system of food stamps, SNAP, WIC, etc. is set up in a way that it can be taken advantage of. I noted that two women sitting in front of me nodded to each other with smug satisfaction, as if to say, “See? They do cheat.”

There is an excellent video produced by the Adams County (Pennsylvania) Circles Initiative that explains how much money a single mother of two must make in order to move from being on government programs to being self-sufficient. It’s startling. The system is set up to keep them in the system.

In the video (, the mother explains that she makes $7.25 an hour. After transportation and taxes, she has $20 a month to spend on household items, clothes, hygiene products, school supplies, etc. Imagine what a flat tire would do to her.

As she makes more money, her benefits begin to disappear. At $15.25 an hour, her spending power increases to $160 a month, but her benefits decrease by $300. This makes no sense.

Ultimately, at $23.25 an hour she can be completely self-sufficient. She must make over $44,000 in order to meet her family’s basic needs. How in the world does someone do this and how long will it take?

I heard a mother speaking about her daughter. Her daughter had lived in government housing for a period of time, until she could get on her feet. The daughter landed a job that would allow her to make a good life, but as soon as she got her first paycheck, she was forced to move out.

There is no transition period for people trying to do better. Why couldn’t she have six months to stay in her housing, save some money, pay down some bills, then move out when she was truly financially secure? It makes no sense.

In this season of holiday madness, pause as you grab your latte/burger/chicken nuggets. Look at the person serving you and thank them. Maybe wish them a good day. Tip them in cash. Then say a prayer of thanks for all you have.

Money doesn’t solve all the problems, but it certainly helps.

G. Elaine Wilson-Reddy, JD, is a professional educator, consultant and advocate. She lives in Danville.