Some people measure a society’s condition by the lifestyles of the rich and famous — and those people are usually the rich and famous. For the rest of humanity, a society’s success is measured by the living conditions of the poorest. And who exactly the “poorest” are.
This letter, posted on September 19th by a combat veteran named Jason, speaks volumes of what American poverty looks like on the side streets of our society, and of the people who sleep on them.
“My name is Jason. I turned 35 less than a week ago. My first job was maintenance work at a public pool when I was 17. I worked 40-hours a week while I was in college. I’ve never gone longer than six months without employment in my life and I just spent the last three years in the military, one of which consisted of a combat tour of Afghanistan.
Oh, and I’m now on food stamps. Since June, as a matter of fact.
Why am I on food stamps?
The same reason everyone on food stamps is on food stamps: because I would very much enjoy not starving.
I mean, if that’s okay with you:
…Mr. or Mrs. Republican congressman.
…Mr. or Mrs. Conservative commentator.
…Mr. or Mrs. “welfare queen” letter-to-the-editor author.
…Mr. or Mrs. “fiscal conservative, reason-based” libertarian.
I do apologize for burdening you on the checkout line with real-life images of American-style poverty. I know you probably believe the only true starving people in the world have flies buzzing around their eyes while they wallow away, near-lifeless in gutters.
Hate to burst the bubble, but those people don’t live in this country.
I do. And millions like me. Millions of people in poverty who fall into three categories.
Let’s call them the “lucky” category, since conservatives seem to think people on welfare have hit some sort of jackpot:
Those living paycheck to paycheck? They’re a little lucky.
Those living unemployment check to unemployment check? They’re a little luckier.
Those living 2nd of the month to 2nd of the month? *ding* We’ve hit the jackpot!
The 2nd of the month being the time when funds gets electronically deposited onto the EBT card, [at least in NY] for those who’ve never been fortunate enough to hit that $175/month Powerball.
I fall into the latter two categories. But I’ve known people recently – soldiers in the Army – who were in the first and third. They were off fighting in Afghanistan while their wives were at home, buying food at the on-post commissary with food stamps.
And nobody bats an eye there, because it’s not uncommon in the military.
It’s not uncommon – nor is it shameful. It might be shameful how little service-members are paid, but that’s a separate issue.
The fact remains anyone at a certain income level can find it difficult from time to time to pay for everything. And when you’re poor you learn to make sacrifices. Food shouldn’t be one of them.
The whole concept is un-American. People living here, in the greatest country on Earth, with the most abundant resources, should be forced to go hungry because of the intellectual notion of fiscal conservatism and the ideological notion of self-reliance.
Are you fucking kidding me?
I didn’t risk my life in Afghanistan so I could come back and watch people go hungry in America. I certainly didn’t risk it so *I* could come back and go hungry.
Anyone who genuinely supports cutting food stamps is not an intellectual or an ideologue – they’re a bully.
And nobody likes a bully. Except other bullies.
It’s time for regular Americans to stand up to these bullies. Not cower in the corner, ashamed of needing help. Because if there’s one thing life has taught me, it’s that you never know when you’ll be the one in need.”
There are some who despise the American poor because in their minds, you’re not “poor” unless you look like this:
But the people who look like that live in the poorest nations on Earth. We can’t start applying those standards to our own society, because that’s the quickest way to become just like them. Standards slip from the bottom like a foundation sliding downhill. In America, we’re rarely OUT of food…we’re just out of food that won’t kill you.
Say what you will about the idea of “American exceptionalism,” but we have to draw the line somewhere. We have to draw the line at a place that we will not accept…a place we can look at and say “We’re better than THAT.”
Intellectuals like Rand Paul don’t see us as a society…they see us as a Petri dish for their thought experiments. And because they’re smart, a certain number of idiots will stand behind them.
But when we start believing that these guys
are fighting to come home to the living standards of these guys
then we truly have lost everything that it means to be American.
We owe soldiers like Jason a better nation than that.
Due to our error, this article has been UPDATED to read “Afghanistan Veteran” instead of “Iraq Veteran.”