Lies You Believe About Poverty: Poor People Have More Kids to Get More Money

When you grow up in poverty, you hear a lot of people’s opinions about child poverty and why it happens. Mostly, you hear a lot of blame directed at mothers about their choice to have a child they cant afford to support.

It’s not until you get much older that you realize that shaming is a bunch of bullshit. Not every child living in poverty got there the same way. Birth control is only one way to avoid children going hungry.

How I Ended Up As A Child in Poverty

My mother was a single parent when she had me. My father was not great guy. Turns out he was not divorced like he said he was and he went back to his wife and other kids only to divorce and lose them a few years later. He was never part of my life and never offered my mom a penny toward my support.

But…

My mom worked her ass off to be a good parent. She lived at home with my grandparents for a year or two until she could afford to buy a house. In my earliest memories, she was a working mom who owned (well, at least had a mortgage on) a house. We lived in the neighborhood she grew up in, so I had a bunch of people looking out for me. And since that was the early 1970s, I think she was doing pretty well.

Except that society thought she was a harlot for being a singe mom.

She met a man who seemed like a good guy, had a full time job at the plastic factory. I think they may have met at work. They got married and eventually had my middle brother.

Then the economy tanked and one or maybe both of them lost their jobs. The well went bad on the house and they couldn’t afford to fix it. So they gave up the house and moved to Colorado where my grandparents lived because the mining industry was still hiring.

Mom’s biggest flaw was she had shitty taste in men. My step-father turned out to be an alcoholic, my middle brother had some serious health issues pretty much requiring her to be a stay-at-home mom, they had a second son while together, and to get out of an abusive situation, she had to leave him.

Suddenly, we were living on public assistance and food stamps. She was back to being a single mother, but not by choice.

And few people seemed to give a shit that her ex-husband never paid a dime in child support. It was, to most people’s thinking, her fault her children lived in poverty because she was a single mother.

My step father was supposed to pay child support, but he didn’t. He worked under the table for a bit and then left the state, making it difficult for Colorado authorities to force him to pay. They didn’t try at all and he never paid her a dime.

Mom eventually went back to work, but the economy in the 1980s wasn’t great for a single mother with three kids, so the jobs barely paid enough to keep us fed. They didn’t always pay enough to keep the heat on. But instead of acknowledging the problem with assistance, most people blamed single mothers for being poor money managers.

Why Women in Poverty Have More Children

In the 1990s, I was married and living in another economically depressed area. My husband ended up with a decent job working in insurance, but know what our health insurance didn’t cover?

Birth control.

If I had a child, the policy covered all but about $50 of the medical bills through labor and delivery. But if we didn’t want children, every month we had to pay $22 out of pocket for my birth control pills. There were times when scraping together that cash meant putting off paying the electric bill.

For women who didn’t have a partner who was also working or who had other bills that we didn’t, birth control might have been an expense they literally couldn’t afford. Even women who were receiving public assistance didn’t qualify for free birth control until Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) passed.

Often women who live in poverty end up having more children than they have the mental and emotional bandwidth to care for simply because they cannot afford pregnancy prevention.

Don’t buy the lies that people are having more children to get more assistance from the government.

In my home county now, a person with an extra child, two instead of one, gets a maximum cash benefit of $421. The $91 increase a month likely doesn’t cover your child’s diapers much less clothes or a larger home, or any of the things a child might want or need.

The Shaming

Worse yet, women who choose not to have children or who put their child up for adoption are shamed for not being mothers. Our society has somehow decided motherhood is the ultimate goal of all women, or at least they think it should be, so if you don’t have children to prevent them being raised in poverty, you’re a bad person.

If you are impoverished and have a child because you wanted it or because you couldn’t afford birth control, you are likewise shamed.

In fact, it seems like the only children the patriarchy deems okay are the ones born to intact nuclear families. If the father dies and fails to provide for that family, or leaves them, it still the mother that gets shamed. Shamed for not holding her marriage together, no matter what the reason, and shamed for raising her children in poverty.

It’s time we as a society stop treating the choice to procreate or not as something anyone outside of the family unit gets to have an opinion on. And raising a child in poverty is never a mother’s first choice. Maybe start placing blame and shame where they belong.

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Lucinda Gunnin

Lucinda Gunnin

Lucinda Gunnin is a commercial property manager and author in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She’s a news junky, sushi addict, and geek extraordinaire.