A few weeks back I was preparing dinner and had the TV on in the background. It is how I watch the news nowadays. I heard Ben Carson say, “I began to realize that poverty was really more of a choice than anything else and that I could change that. And it just really depended on how hard I wanted to work.”* My first response was just, “whatever, that’s dumb”, and I moved on not really paying attention. Oh, but it stuck with me. Poverty is a choice? Shame, Ben Carson, shame. What a stigmatizing statement.
So, let’s unpack that statement. He is saying that the more than 400 million people living under the Federal Poverty Level ($19K for a family of three) aren’t victims of a racist, sexist system that maintains poverty, but they just aren’t working hard enough and choose poverty. Really?!
Poverty is a result of lack of access to resources. Look at Dr. Carson’s profession that has catapulted him out of poverty. Who gets into medical school? Who is nurtured from a young age to learn, given access to quality education, provided with the funds to go to college and beyond, can afford the opportunity costs of being in school that long and the other things that lend to making it into medical school and finishing successfully? The Association of American Medical Colleges states that around 50% of medical students come from parents with high incomes and less than 6 percent come from low income families.
Or, what about those careers that are oft touted as the “way out of the ‘hood”. ESPN ran a story in 2011 about the greater odds of entering the NBA if coming from a higher economic backgrounds, shared research that shows high parental income as the indicator of kids starting sports early and limited access for low income boys, and shared that NFL Quarterbacks most often come from upper middle class to upper class families (yes, y’all, ESPN The Magazine, read it for the social justice stories).
We don’t need stigmatizing statements. We need to create access for families in poverty. One way is to tackle the issue of affordable housing. Too many people in poverty are spending a burdening amount of their income on housing. Causing them to make decisions between rent and food, rent and health care, decisions that keep them one emergency away from homelessness. And, this burden falls overwhelmingly on women; women who serve as single mothers and head of household. Albuquerque has an opportunity right now to create affordable housing with the . The Albuquerque Affordable Housing Coalition is calling for the City Council to make a 5% commitment of the GO Bond to the Workforce Housing Trust Fund. Housing that can alleviate the cost burden that women pay to give their children a safe home. The burden that keeps them in poverty. Please join us in supporting this call by signing their petition More Funding for Affordable Housing in Albuquerque. It isn’t a choice to live in poverty—projects like affordable housing can give women in poverty access to rise out of poverty.