Lies You Believe About Poverty: You Deserve to be Poor

One of the most pervasive lies about poverty and the one that most people believe, even if they think they don’t, is that people who are poor deserve to be poor.

Since the 1980s there has been a huge rise in prosperity gospel, a religious teaching “that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth.”

The corollary is that if you are not having your needs met by God, you must be doing something wrong — you have unconfessed sins, your faith isn’t strong enough, or you have some how invited poverty into your life through your actions.

This is complete and utter nonsense. Many of the issues that cause poverty have nothing to do with a person’s morality and everything to do with health, family history, location and just bad luck.

Poverty and Health

In countries like the United States where health care is considered a privilege and not a right, there is a huge number of people who live in poverty because of their lack of health care or the cost of medical treatments.

Worldwide more than half a billion people, or 6 percent of the world’s population. are living in poverty or further impoverished because of the cost of health care. In 2016, despite the efforts of the Affordable Care Act more than 11 million Americans were left in poverty because of their medical costs.

Proponents of prosperity gospel will then argue that some (or all) of those people had medical conditions that were “their own fault,” ignoring the links between generational poverty and poor health care.

Some, like Pat Robertson, even claim that “demons” are causing chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis. This type of preached hatred makes people who have never been poor presume that the poor are bad people and deserve to be poor.

They overlook the portions of capitalism and the American economy that keep the poor from getting out of poverty.

Generational Poverty

Americans talk a lot about generational wealth and the way that the wealthy ensure that their children and grandchildren will be wealthy as well. And while some acknowledge it is a problem, fewer people are willing to look at generational poverty and how that is passed down to our children.

When a child is born into poverty, their chances of ever getting out of poverty are slim. This is because in the United States we tie education to wealth.

What? We have a free public education system for everyone?

Sure, everyone can get the most basic, crappy education, sort of. But since most school districts are funded by property taxes, schools in poverty-stricken areas don’t have the same resources to spend on teachers, materials or even a school environment. Add that to the fact that poor children are often unable to get proper rest, have proper supplies provided by their families and often come to school hungry and you have a recipe for children to fail at school.

Additionally, the ones who overcome that and try to go on to higher education are either burdened with trying to work while going to school, extreme student loans or both. The student loan debt alone can keep people in poverty.

And then there’s the things that people don’t really talk about that come from living in poverty. My mother used my name and social security number to get heat for our house when I was in high school because she had been unable to pay the previous bill that was in her name.

My credit score was ruined before I turned 18. It took me 35 years to work my way out of poverty and rebuild that score, meaning I paid more for everything from car insurance to loans because of something I had no control over.

Location and Poverty

For more than 20 years, my husband and I lived in southern Illinois. While it might be a bit better now, the competition for good jobs is fierce as they are few and far between. I know many college graduates working minimum wage or just above minimum wage jobs because that’s all they could get. Add that they are paying off astronomical student loans and they are stuck in a cycle of poverty.

Just move to an area with better opportunities sounds like a great option until you take into consideration the actual cost of moving. My mother-in-law cannot afford to live on her own after her husband’s death so she is moving in with her sister, but the cost of the move is almost $5,000 and that’s doing it ourselves.

That’s a rental truck, gas to get there, packing materials, food while traveling to the new location, etc. It’s perhaps a bit higher than it might be otherwise because my husband and I have to fly to her new location to help with the move, but even without that plane tickets, it’s a $4,000 process. For most people the cost would include a new place to stay, utility connection and deposits at the new place, if they could find someone willing to rent to a person with bad credit.

Most people living in poverty don’t have $4,000 to fund a move.

The truth of the matter is that many people caught in poverty are good people, despite what the prosperity gospel claims. But unfortunately, we as a society believe the lies.

We believe that the unhomed person is there because of their addiction, not because of their lack of health care or generational poverty. We believe people when they say to never give money to the poor because it’s enabling them to make bad decisions.

When I was poor and asked people for money it was generally because I needed to pay my water or electric bill. Giving people food is nice, but they also need a place to stay, clothes and maybe even a warm coffee once in awhile.

Don’t believe the lies that people in poverty are bad with money. You can’t be bad with things you don’t have.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
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.