Opinions Expressed in "Rants," while informed by Catholic doctrine, are merely the opinions of the author.

Are the poor lazy?


Happy Canadian Thanksgiving everyone! 

I figured that in light of the season, and my FAQ also featured this week, that I’d grapple with this comment, often made by some of our neighbors to the south, and also people here in Canada, to explain why we, the richest part of the world, still have unemployment, still have malnutrition, still have illiteracy, still have welfare families, and so on.

The explanation is – the poor are poor because they are lazy.

They lack the motivation, the ambition, to get off the porch, get out of the trailer, get out there and get a job, and improve their condition.

Is this true?

Well, actually, there’s an easy answer to that one – the answer is no – its not true, not in general anyway.  Many poor people, that live in our midst are NOT lazy – and certainly poverty in other countries is not the result of laziness.

Many people in the third world often work VERY hard, long days, for a couple of dollars a day, working for the local multi-national conglomerate, who rather than having them make products for their own countries, instead have them make products for export, TO US, so that these poor countries can pay off their enormous debts.  And that poverty cycle continues.  In other words, they’re poor – BECAUSE OF US.

But what of our local poor?  Well, many of them work too.  There are plenty of people who work several jobs to support families, all the time.

But some of them are lazy, right?  I would say that even for those who are lazy – its not that simple.  I new of a woman, a single mom, in a “welfare to work” program, down in the states somewhere, who was given a job, working in a fast food place for minimum wage, only it was in THE NEXT TOWN – she got up every day at 5 am, got on the bus, worked a long day, got back on the bus again, and got home at 8 pm that night.  Sound fair?  The problem, of course, is who’s taking care of her kids?  The answer is, she has them in daycare, gobbling up her salary.

Now how does this make any sense?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to pay her to stay home and raise her kids?  Somebody’s gotta do it.

But this is the problem – there should be a social network there to help her out – and I’m not talking about money to give her – I’m talking about a community of people, who help her raise her kids.  That would be Christian.  But that network isn’t there.

Now there are people who want to believe that the poor ARE lazy, at least most of them, because it saves them from guilt, allows them to justify their affluence.

This idea started with the American Dream – you see, the U.S. was founded on the principle that all people are created equal – that’s a good thing – and therefore there is no difference in status between the upper “noble” class, and the lower “common” class.  There are NO classes in this new system.

As such, it is inferred that ANYONE can have power, anyone can be President, anyone can be rich, so long as they work hard enough.  Sounds great, right?

And it would be great if it were true.  Hard work is important to get rich, but so are a few other things, like having connections, good timing, the right amount of creativity and intelligence, all things determined entirely  - by LUCK.

And some people just aren’t lucky.  So they’re poor.

Nonetheless, I must admit, there are certainly cases were poverty IS a result of laziness.  We’ve all heard the cases of teenage girls who deliberately get themselves pregnant so that they can get a bigger welfare check.  We know that many spend their checks on alcohol, or on bingo or at the casino, rather than on their families.  We’ve known of men looking from one food bank to another to another all day, so they can use their spending money on booze.  There are some people who are poor – because they are unmotivated to change – they’re lazy.

So lets say, for argument’s sake, that the poor are ALL lazy, and they’re poor BECAUSE they are lazy.  Fine.  The next question that we should be asking then, that is if we care, is – why? goingwhy are they lazy?  WHY do some people think that they don’t deserve better for themselves and their families?  WHY are some so hopeless about ever breaking out of their poverty cycle?  What are they missing?

Do you know what it is?

Well, I’ll give my answer with a story – the other night I was leaving 7-11 with a bag of Doritos and a Bounty bar – mmm, coconut – and a man came up to me,  and said, “Excuse, do you have any change you could spare because I’m really hungry.”  It was clear to me that he was drunk, from the slur in his voice and the smell on his breath.  I pointed this out to him. He turned away, probably ashamed.  What I should have done was gone back in to the Sev and bought him a sandwich, but I didn’t, frustrated at having been lied to, again, by another bum. 

I could have given him what he WANTED – here’s your change, now get out of my face – throw money at him to get rid of him – an attitude which he might have been counting on. But that wouldn’t have solved anything.  Instead, I could have, maybe SHOULD have, given him what HE NEEDED – which is, dignity.  Ask him his name, get him some food, give him some time.  Treat him like a human being.

This is what “the poor” living in our midst NEED.  Dignity – to learn that they’re value comes not from social standing, but their having a God who loves them.  We do that with our friendliness, with our respect, with our love, and SOMETIMES, when they’re down on their luck, even with our money.  If we can show them that we won’t give up on them, then they won’t give up on themselves.

Maybe.  And then, MAYBE they won’t be “lazy” anymore.