On Tuesday Casey Elliott of the Athens Messenger completed a three-part series delving into the lives of three families receiving public assistance in Athens County, Ohio.
There are about 1,400 people receiving such assistance in the county, and though this series featured only a few, it demonstrated an undeniable fact about the type of people who receive public assistance:
There is no "type" of people who get public assistance.
This myth about poor people--that they're lazy, unintelligent, uneducated, self-serving, or any other negative descriptor--is not only an inaccurate and unfair generalization. It's also, from what I've experienced and from what Elliott has demonstrated, usually the opposite of characteristics visible in those who've found themselves in poverty.
Countless unforeseeable events can and do lead intelligent, generous and hard-working individuals down paths that end in destitution. A serious injury, a plant shutdown, a sick family member or a house fire are just a few examples of extenuating circumstances that push families from "just making ends meet" to sucking up their pride and asking for assistance.
This is often the hardest decision the head of a household ever makes. Many view seeking public assistance as an admittance of failure, a recognition that they can't take care of themselves or their families. Would you be able to walk into Job & Family Services and ask for money? Would you be willing to jump through the hoops that welfare reform established, the work requirements and probing questions that are designed to prevent fraud but also make it extraordinarily difficult for deserving families to get assistance?
We at Job & Family Services see the faces of poverty every day, and can vouch that the circumstances that bring them to our door are numerous. Those who live in poverty do have some responsibility for where they are and where they’re going, but their situations aren't entirely within their control. Poverty has been pervasive in this region for decades, and the scarcity of good jobs, lack of affordable health care, limited education opportunities are just a few problems that fuel this persistent issue.
We applaud Elliott and the Messenger for putting names and faces to the often anonymous and overlooked poor families in Athens County. Her objective description of these families makes it a little more difficult for welfare opponents to make sweeping generalities of those on assistance that invalidate their needs and further stigmatize them.
Reanna Stoinoff, community relations intern
[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]