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Sunday Reflctions: Poverty doesn’t always look the way you think it does

Several years ago, the world fell apart and many of us who didn’t know what suffering was except in the pages of a book learned.  I watched as my friend and co-worker for almost 10 years lost her job.  I watched her pack up her home, give things away, and move in with a family member as she tried to survive.  And every time someone stood in front of a microphone and talked about those lazy people who just didn’t want to work and were waiting for a free government hand out, I stood up for her and all the others out there.  The people who had worked hard, gotten educations, and then had the carpet ripped out so ungraciously from beneath them.  My friend, she is an older lady, holds a master’s degree, is white, and even while she was unemployed and her unemployment ran out, she volunteered at her church food pantry.  She had no income, just the love of a sibling who wouldn’t let her be homeless.

For 3 years my friend was out of work.  She applied.  Sometimes they even called and asked her to interview.  But there were often more than 100 people applying for one job.  Then finally, like me, she got a part time library job (we had to move for my husband’s job which was affected by the economy, it has not been an easy experience).  And like me she wasn’t making enough money to survive, she wasn’t putting into retirement, she wasn’t buying new clothes or going out to eat.  And like me, she was hoping that one event that could break us all wouldn’t happen, whatever it turned out to be.

This week, I celebrate with that friend because for her, the universe have finally righted itself.  She is back in the library world that she loves and able to touch lives with her passion.  She is one of the lucky ones.

Last week, it was revealed that there were glass shards found in salsa bought from Dollar Tree.  Some on Twitter then got into a conversation about how you should never buy food from Dollar Tree, ever.  The truth is, for many living in poverty they don’t have the transportation or money to go somewhere else.  If you live in walking distance of a Dollar Tree and can scrape up enough change, a meal from Dollar Tree could be the only one you get.

I do not live in poverty.  I am lucky because I have a spouse who makes a decent enough wage that we do okay, we make above what they declare the poverty line to be.  In fact, the poverty level for a family of 4 in 2013 is $23, 550.  I am the mother of a family of 4 and I assure you, that is not enough to house, feed, clothe and educate a family of four.  And although I do not live in poverty, and I am blessed and thankful, I am one of the many educated, hard working members of the middle class who has seen their life inch closer to falling apart.  And I know many like me.  And in my libraries I have worked with far too many.  So while the universe has finally gotten it right for my friend, and I celebrate with her, I want us to keep working to make it right for all the families, all the children, all the men and women out there who still are trying to find a way to make ends meet.  There are many of us that are one heartbeat away from losing it all, many that have already seen that happen.

Earlier this week, we shared a booklist of books that talk about poverty.  Today I am giving away 3 to help raise awareness and compassion.  Please leave a comment to enter (we will need a Twitter followback or email to contact you if you win) and RT this booklist to help raise awareness.  Every person, every family, that is brought out of poverty is a win for us all.  For poverty doesn’t just affect a person, it affects us all.

Poverty isn’t just the homeless person on the street with a sign.  Poverty is the family next door that has to choose between buying food or paying the mortgage.  It is the family down the street that gets food from the local pantry to feed their children because as food and gas prices go up, pay doesn’t.  It is the family in low income housing that doesn’t know how they will buy the huge list of back to school supplies that are being mailed out right now.  It is the family with children left home alone late into the night while parents work two and three part-time jobs and miss parent teacher conferences because taking off work is not an option.  It is the family eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the third night in a row while they wait for payday to come.  It is the family that is one medical crisis, one pink slip, one injury, one moment away from losing it all.

Poverty is no respecter of the color of your skin, the amount of education you have received, the number of years you have worked.  If we have learned anything since 2008 it is this: You can lose it all in the blink of an eye and it can happen to anyone.

More on Poverty at TLT:
Can We All Just Stop Saying the Internet Is Free Now Please? 
Rich Teen, Poor Teen: Books that depict teens living in poverty 
Working with youth who live in poverty 
Sunday Reflections: This is what losing everything looks like
Sunday Reflections: Going to bed hungry
Sunday Reflections: A tale of two libraries 

Giveaway Guidelines:
We are giving away ARCs fo Ashes on the Waves by Mary Lindsey, Hooked by Liza Fichera, Safekeeping by Karen Hesse.  To enter, please simply leave a comment by Wednesday, July 31st at midnight.  One winner will be selected from the U.S. (sorry, but international mailing costs are high).


  1. Wow, this post is heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. I teach in a district that is pretty divided socioeconomically. We have students living below the poverty line and students who live in million-dollar homes. But after 2008, many of those families who never had to worry about money worried. Kids don't always know how to deal with these issues, and all seem to think they are the only ones struggling. Thanks for this post & sharing the list of books.

  2. Wow, this post is heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. I teach in a district that is pretty divided socioeconomically. We have students living below the poverty line and students who live in million-dollar homes. But after 2008, many of those families who never had to worry about money worried. Kids don't always know how to deal with these issues, and all seem to think they are the only ones struggling. Thanks for this post & sharing the list of books.

  3. You know it's getting bad when your school district sends home a questionnaire about whether your student is homeless or not but I guess that goes for the teachers as well. Thank you for an enlightening post~

  4. Thank you for these powerful insights. Awareness and action can make a diiference–and we must make a difference.

  5. Your post opened my eyes to te state of affairs in the working middle class. I am fortunate enough to have a good teaching job and am married to a man who works hard to provide for our family. But like you, I know people who struggle daily to make ends meet. Thank you for your wake up call. We all need to work together to reduce middle class poverty!

  6. Teaching in a Title One school, many of the scenarios mentioned in your article/posting are daily occurrences. Honestly, it was a timely reminder as we start our planning for the coming school year…as teachers, we are so driven to “produce” scores that we can frequently overlook the “engines” we are pushing to generate those scores!
    I will add these 3 titles to my “To Read” list on goodreads list and share with the other teachers at my school.

  7. Very eloquent post – and such a “right on” description of what poverty in our country is. It was also a very good reminder of what many of my students are facing when they walk into my classroom this fall.

  8. Thank you for your truly heartfelt post. Too many people don't realize how something as simple as having health insurance can mean the difference between survival and disaster. And then there's the silent sufferers, the children that grow up in poverty. How can we expect them to learn when they go home to such uncertainty?

  9. This hits close to home. The majority of the kids I teach are from poverty. Thanks for the book list! I will be getting as many as I can for middle school.

  10. I'm thankful that I don't live in poverty, just as I am thankful that I live in a community that does what it can to help people in poverty. I helped stuff backpacks with school supplies for children recently and the school in which I teach does what it can to help students who might be going hungry.

  11. I think so many people have no idea how much people are struggling and how hard it is to have to live paycheck to paycheck. There are a lot of people in this country who are barely making it and need help. Thanks for this great post.

  12. Anonymous says

    It's not just the kids going to title 1 schools that are suffering. Most of those families understand the system and get assistance from the government. The true and sad story are the many upper middle class families who lost one income from the two income or the main income was laid off or downsized. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors. Many who were used to eating steak now have to eat the hot dog and are one paycheck away from being homeless. Understanding that many are house poor and either too ashamed or don't understand that there is help out there. The idea is to be cognizant of what goes on around you. Just because someone dresses nice or drives a nice car does not mean they are in a financially stable environment. Be a blessing and serve your community and read between the lines. It's not what they are telling you but what they are not saying that really matters.

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