Hunger Knows No Borders: Poverty at Home and Abroad

Copyright JC Politi Photography

There is an article in the New York Times this week about the increasing number of people living in poverty in Spain.

The article references the fact that the unemployment rate in Spain is over 50% for young people and that over 20% of families in Spain live in poverty. It tells the stories of people who find themselves forced to search for food in trash bins in order to feed themselves and their families.

It is striking to read about how dire the situation is in Spain right now, especially after having just visited the country. We were blown away by the food and the beauty, but this article makes it clear that there is another, much more tragic, story to be told.

As I read this article, I felt like I was reading about the United States. The article spoke of people who had never been on government assistance who are now accessing food pantries or searching through dumpsters for food.

So frequently, we read an article like this and look at it as an interesting, but sad anecdote from a foreign land. But the truth is, we can see the same thing here in our own back yards every day.

Copyright JC Politi Photography

The recession has had far-reaching implications across the globe. The number of people in the United States who are accessing public benefits has sky-rocketed.

Some people complain about the number of people who are accessing government assistance, including food assistance. I don’t understand this.

If jobs are not available and people are hungry, why would we not be grateful to live in a society where people who have hit rock bottom have a place to go to feed themselves and their children? How can we be so sure that we will not be the next family to come upon hard times, through a loss of a job or through a medical emergency that leaves us financially devastated?

I am honestly baffled and saddened by the lack of compassion in much of the United States during these difficult economic times.

What do you think? Why do you think people are so critical of government efforts to support low-income families? Why do you think people are so quick to judge families who have come upon hard times? How can people be so sure that they will not be the next person to need a little help? And how can we reduce the stigma associated with accepting government assistance so that more people can have a bridge to survive their current hardship in the hopes of eventually getting a job and escaping poverty?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

28 Comments

Filed under Culture, Economy, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, International, Photography, Photos, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, Stereotypes, travel

28 responses to “Hunger Knows No Borders: Poverty at Home and Abroad

  1. Great post, Jen. My take on it is that we are an increasingly immature people who crave immediate satisfaction (one of the prominent features of the young). As an immature people we tend to be focused on ourselves and convinced that bad things happen to everyone else — never to us. The result is the lack of compassion of which you speak. In the long run it may be a good thing if more of us suffer: it may make us grow up.

    • Thanks Hugh! It is such a strange phenomenon to me. Maybe other people see their futures in a rosier light than I do. I think that bad things happen to good people all the time! Thanks so much for reading and for the comment!

  2. The current situation in Spain it’s really sad. I moved her about 3 years ago and I’ve seen how things are going from bad to worse, curiously enough I haven’t seen any of the people around me affected directly by the whole crisis thing, however, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. People is in great need of a job, they are not starving, because thanks to previous governments social benefits still protect the less favored. The current government has made some great changes in those benefits, cutting them to half and that’s gonna have severe consequences in the upcoming months. They expect a family where only the father worked and is now unemployed will survive with a check of 400€ a month, school year just started and the taxes on school material increased from 4% to 21% we can only imagine what that’s gonna trigger. Business owners were conscious enough to buy stock before the taxes changed so they would sell the products with the old price and not affect immediately the people that needs it the most.
    People it’s quick to judge those who request help from the government, it’s true that there’s plenty of people that takes advantage of the system and make of it a life style, I don’t think that cutting off the “help” it’s the solution, but rather check the background of those you are benefiting from the system.
    I pay my taxes and if someday I come to need it I would apply for it, it’s my right, it’s not a gift from the government.

    • Thank you for the very thoughtful comment. It sounds like a very troubling situation in Spain and it all feels like ripple effects from the banking and housing mess here, among other things. I’m with you – if I need assistance at some point, I am going to gratefully accept it and know that I paid into that system. I will be watching how things unfold in Spain and hoping the situation improves soon. Thanks so much for the comment!

  3. The greed and selfishness saddens me too. I think some of the lack of compassion comes from fear.

  4. Barneysday

    Keep in mind also that this very sad story in Spain could very easily transfer here under the Republican, Romney/Ryan austerity program. As the author noted the pain isn’t clearly visible, there is still fine dining and gracious places to visit. But under the veneer, millions are suffering. With massive transfers of wealth to the 1percenters, via tax cuts under Romney, as well as cuts to all other social programs, the US will see this same kind of sadness.

    Great post.

  5. Unfortunately, there are cheaters everywhere.. from cheating on tests for higher scores to realizing that someone gave back too much change, but they kept the windfall anyway, to those who have cheated the welfare system out of laziness. some people lack compassion because they have been tainted by cheaters. unfortunately, these people are bitter, so they are no longer neutral.

    i have witnessed all three scenarios, and it does not mean that all students cheat or all people are dishonest if they receive an accidental windfall at another’s mistake. (some give it back!) and it certainly doesn’t mean that all people on welfare are cheaters. it is human nature for some people to assume that welfare recipients don’t work because they are lazy, and it’s easy to get assistance.

    there are so many who are suffering because they are too noble, too proud for handouts, and we would probably be shocked if we realized how many people are silently trying to make ends meet without asking for help. there are poor people who are rich in health and a simple life, and there are others who are suffering. how can we judge anyone? it is not our place.

    • Absolutely. I am in no place to judge – that is for sure. I am just so saddened when I hear indifference or such hateful judgements hurled at people who are working hard and just trying to get by. Thanks so much for your comment!

  6. One thing that disturbs me about government welfare is that government has helped to create this economic mess and their idea of “help” is hypocritical.
    We have so much excess food in this country that just goes to waste for stupid reasons. Why does the government pay farmers to NOT plant their fields? Why are they destroying our food with Genetically Modified Organisms? Why can’t grocery stores give away their perfectly okay food rather than trashing it all in dumpsters behind the store? (Check out the movie DIVE! if you want to see “wasted” food put to good use – http://www.divethefilm.com/ . 🙂 )

    Government has created a dependent society. Instead of helping our neighbor out as the Bible directs us to, we expect “big bro” to do the helping – after all, what are all our tax dollars for anyway? It’s all very sad and messed up.

    • That is such a great point. There is so much waste and corruption on the government level with the farm subsidies, etc. Thanks for helping me feel even more frustrated! 😉 And thanks so much for reading!

  7. I live in a country … where nobody has to go hungry, but I think Sweden aren’t looking after their pensioners good enough. The people that has built up the country and standards we have today. I know that people are really struggling to live on their pension, even if they don’t have to go hungry. The tax is far too high on the basic pension – and I’m worried for my own … that starts in a year. Pensions are not that great – not when it’s about the government pension. I think every country in the Western world have the same problems – there is less fortunate people everywhere … at least in Sweden is our health care the same for everybody and paid through our taxes. I think all countries let their people down in some areas.

    • That is very true. All governments let their people down somehow. And you raise a great point which is so true here as well. Growing old here is scary if you don’t have the financial resources to retire. And it is so complicated to figure out how to even make that happen. I just don’t think there is a safety net here for seniors at all! Thanks so much for a very interesting perspective from across the pond!

  8. Fear of lack, any kind of lack, makes for a more judgmental, less compassionate environment. Looking out for number one, forgetting that we are all number one…It’s a concept we’ve been struggling with for generations. xoM

  9. I think that just like we judge many other areas we do so based on fear..fear that giving to others may take away from us…fears that the same troubles could come to us, etc., and often we just fear the things we don’t understand

  10. Great post, Jenni. I am reminded of the line from the bible, “There but by the grace of God go I.” As someone who tries to pitch in and help, I am amazed we can have so much insensitivity amongst a largely conservative crowd when people that have never been impoverished before (who look like they do) are now in the food lines and homeless shelters. I was in front of a group of people on behalf of the United Way on Monday. When I told them 84% of the people we help as homeless families have jobs, it floors people. Yet, I tell them the median wage of the 84% is only $9.00 an hour. A living wage for a one adult, one child family is roughly $17.50 an hour. We have to help these folks climb the ladder. Do not do for them what they can do for themselves (with the exception of an emergency), but help them climb the ladder. Give them opportunity, mentor them and their children, help them budget, look after the children while they get a GED and maybe other career training, etc. I encourage people to find their passion and help in someway. We also need to encourage the increase in minimum wage and demand that of the stores – stop shopping in the near slave labor stores. We need to keep the kids in school and mentor them. And, we have to build on their successes as they have tremendous lack of self esteem. Yet, very clearly we need to talk about this problem. The economic distribution in America is atrocious. One party is not only ignoring them, but will truly kick them in the groin with some of their policies. The President is doing some things with job retraining and food stamps, but we need to do more. Sorry to vent, but you caught a passion of mine. Many thanks for writing this, BTG

    • Thank you!! I was hoping you would take a moment to stop by and rant, given your expertise and experience in this area. I am with you – the number of people working two and three jobs and still having trouble making ends meet is appalling. There are so many barriers to families trying to get out of poverty, even when they are following all the rules. Thank you for your voice and for your important advocacy and volunteerism. We need more old farts in this world! Thanks again BTG!

  11. I worked for a year teaching people on welfare how to get jobs. Many of my clients had situations out of their control, or came from a tradition of poverty and were striving to break out. Welfare was used for most as a safety-net while they pursued an associates degree or trade certificate to increase their employment chances. Yes, there were people stuck in a cycle of selfishness without the larger picture to strive harder and become responsible. However, even those desired to be working and be independent.
    The difficulty is many people who already have jobs aren’t brave enough to give someone with a poverty label a chance. There needs to be a cultural shift among economic levels in order to change that.

    • Sounds like you were doing very important work. It really changes things when you work with people in poverty, doesn’t it? You get a whole new understanding of the obstacles people have to overcome and the survival techniques that people have to employ just to get by. Thanks so much for your comment and for your great work!

  12. Many people do not take the time to understand that there are people who want to work but haven’t been able to find a job that will bring in enough to feed their family. They look at the homeless and think ‘lazy’, or ‘crazy’ or worse and feel their money could be better spent elsewhere. It doesn’t help that there was one ‘homeless’ family who confessed to raking in more than the average breadwinner just by panhandling, so folks around here are a little skeptical about people asking for a hand-out.

    And then there are governments who are perpetuating the problem by pulling up community gardens and throwing away the produce instead of sharing with shelters and welfare recipients simply because those gardeners had not taken out a permit to grow vegetables in that particular spot. (To learn more about this atrocity, check out the Occupy Canada website.)

  13. What’s up, I log on to your blogs on a regular basis.
    Your story-telling style is witty, keep doing what you’re doing!:
    \

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