ERROL PUTMAN: Life for the underclass is difficult

Dear editor,

I don’t get it. Rather than go after Wall Street bankers, corporate farmers, and oil companies, we target the poor, those least able to defend themselves.

We do this as a means of public policy. This past winter the state of Michigan reduced the heating allowance of the indigent. More recently, elements in Congress plotted to reduce subsidies for food stamps and the free and reduced school lunch program.

The disdain reflected in the actions of our governments toward the poor, is often similarly hyped by some in the media and espoused by far too many in the public arena.

Unfortunately, I have seen little change over the past fifty plus years in either understanding or compassion for those less fortunate.

My father worked hard, long punishing hours at meager wages with not a single cent in overtime pay; one of the disadvantages of not having a union. To add to an already dismal situation, he frequently found himself laid off during the winter months.

Money was often scarce during these periods; it was not unusual that I’d be sent to school on Monday morning and told to charge my lunches for the week.

On one such occasion, my teacher chose to make my lunch charges an issue. I had not paid for the previous week’s charges and she upbraided me for it in front of my classmates, a humiliating experience. Thereafter, if I didn’t have lunch money on Monday morning—I simply did not eat.

There were also those few occasions when my father’s unemployment ran out and he had to make a hardship request for assistance. In return, he received a voucher he could redeem at a grocery store.

Since I was the oldest of four children, I accompanied my father to pick up the welfare order and do the shopping.

With pencil and paper in hand, my father and I walked up and down the aisles of the grocery store together, my father carefully recording the price of each item, working to stay within the bounds of the voucher. He made several decisions, switching one brand for another that was less expensive, selecting items that contained the most volume for the price, constantly looking for sale items, etc.

My strongest recollection of this experience occurred on one occasion when we were checking out and our checker held up the welfare order in her hand and yelled across the store to another checker, “Hey, we got another one of these.”

I turned and looked at my father, a proud man. He just dropped his chin to his chest and looked down, didn’t say a word. I hated this degrading system. I didn’t think much of the checker either.

Life for the underclass is difficult enough, complete with more than its share of degradation and humiliation. They do not need additional contempt nurtured by outside forces be it government, the media, or their own neighbors, to add to their woes.

Dr. Errol Putman

 

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