Poverty: Who is talking about it?

First in an occasional series
March 4, 2012 11:52 pm
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In this election year, when the nation is debating its obligations to those in economic distress, the poor have two faces.

One belongs to some of the poor people Grasela Amador, a 54-year-old Ohio woman, sees at a food bank where she works. "A lot of people do take advantage of it [assistance programs] and that ain't right," she said, referring to those who have made welfare a way of life. She believes while government programs should exist to help people in need, they should be temporary,

The other belongs to people like Sharon Taylor, a 38-year-old Pittsburgh mother of four who is going to school and working part-time at Target. "Living in poverty is not something that has to stay that way," she says. "If you put enough work and effort into it, you can achieve a higher goal. Being middle class is something I believe I can reach if I work hard and stay on a straight path."

The tension between the deserving and undeserving poor -- along with the difficulty of defining who they are and the politically charged task of differentiating between them -- is part of the tension between the two parties as they position themselves for a bruising presidential election campaign. The contest once again raises urgent questions about personal responsibility and government responsibility, about independence and community, and about what obligations individuals have for their economic circumstances and what obligations the rest of us have to ameliorate their distress.


The election-year dustup over the poor began this winter.

The day after his convincing victory in the Florida Republican primary, former GOP Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts told CNN that as a presidential candidate, "I'm not concerned about the very poor, because we have a safety net, and if it needs repair, I'll fix it."

Mark Roth: mroth@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1130.
First Published 2012-03-03 23:05:20

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