Saturday, May 2, 2009

Poverty Pimps

The toughest thing about conquering injustice is seeing it. Once it is seen, we may have to sacrifice much—even our own lives—to be rid of that injustice. However, the sacrifices pale in comparison with understanding that the system we live with daily, that we take advantage of, that we have learned to succeed in, that we even love and support is fundamentally warped. If we can accomplish this paradigm shift in our minds, then injustice won’t have a chance. Of course, there is getting to that place, achieving that paradigm shift.

In our society today there are many who are poor, as we well know. Children are hungry, families are homeless, men are unemployed, women work in a low-paying service industry. Poverty is there, but it is something we have grown used to. After all, Jesus said, the poor would always be among us, and that which we see daily, we learn to live with the existence of, no matter how wrong it is.

But there are some who not only see poverty, but they also see how that poverty can turn to their profit. There are some that feed off of other people’s need. They are vampires that not only suck out the poor’s life stream, but the very energy of the people who most desperately need assistance. These are what I call poverty pimps.
A poverty pimp is one who gains benefit from perpetuating other’s poverty. Listed below are some who keep the poor in poverty, while making a profit off of it. These listed are not necessarily those who cause poverty—the causes of poverty are complex and difficult to ascertain at times. But they take advantage of the poor, seducing them and then raping them economically, forcing them to remain in the shame and rejection of being economically needy.

Small loan companies
For those on social security or who survive on low wages, if any emergency happens between checks, then there is no economic assistance for them. Should such an emergency happen, they can go to a local loan company, that will give them a hundred dollars or so to help them make it to their next check. While this sounds like a reasonable service to those in economic need, in reality, these loan companies charge from 100 to 200% interest on every loan. In doing this, they perpetuate the economic emergency to last not weeks but months. Those in need then find that they are dependant on the loans, some taking out loans in order to pay off others. While this sounds somewhat similar to credit card companies, these small loan businesses particularly targets the poor. This is now a billion dollar industry, built on the backs of the poor.

Large businesses that pay low wages
There are many employers that treat their employees well. They pay them a livable wage, if not always high, and they do what they can to assist them if they are in need. However, with so many large corporations focusing on profit, they often give their employees the short end of the stick. Many businesses have made it an art to avoid giving their employees benefits such as health care or even paying workman’s comp. Many businesses force their employees to work until exhausted, and then they don’t provide them a wage to care for themselves or their families. Other businesses hire large numbers of employees for part of the year, and then lay them off for months out of the year. Other businesses pay low wages and then constantly change their employees hours, from one shift to another, guaranteeing that they would never have the energy to get a better job, better education or to give their children a better life. Other businesses hire many employees, but only part time, so to have a full wage they have to work more than one job. Other businesses hire employees and then fire them before they need to pay any benefits. Of course, some small businesses must do some of this, if only to survive from year to year. But the large million- or billion-dollar corporations that pay low wages in order to maintain their status as a huge profit-making corporation are making that profit due to their employee’s poverty.

Government lotteries
Gambling has become a national phenomenon, when it used to be illegal except for small pockets of "sin dens". This is due to the need of government to look like they are providing "tax cuts", while still increasing their budgets. One of the many solutions governments are looking to is state lotteries or games which offer money if you are the "lucky winner." Although some states have placed warnings on their ads, "This is for entertainment only, not for investment purposes," the warnings are as effective as cigarette carton labels. The reason is that the ones being taxed are those who have a genetic weakness toward gambling and get rich quick schemes. It has been proven that some have a genetic weakness toward addiction and gambling is one of these weaknesses. And the governments are taxing these individuals who, for the most part, are already struggling with poverty and addiction. The ads stir up their weakness and the fact that the machines are in every store and mall encourages their use. And more machines are being created that make them attractive to addicts—poker machines and some that look like slots. Yes, the governmentally-approved gambling is successful, as governments have more money to spend. But it has economically destroyed addicts and their families.

It is almost impossible to cash a paycheck or a government check without a bank account. And many banks offer accounts that are "free" or with a minimal monthly charge that are attractive to the poor with the idea in mind that they can cash their checks with no fee. However, for the poor, the ad of "free checking" is a seductive misnomer. Most of the poor have difficulty keeping track of money and numbers. How much one spends is difficult to gauge, and no matter how careful one is, eventually a slip will be made and one’s account will go into negative numbers. This is especially easy, as banks are making withdrawals easier to do with multiple ways of doing it—through checks, tellers and debit cards. Thus, one can overspend and not know it easily. And then the account-holder discovers that the account is far from free. Going into a negative balance will have a twenty to forty dollar fee. Any outstanding checks that attempt to be cashed against the account will be another twenty to forty dollar fee. And many banks have a policy of charging five dollars every day the account is overdrawn. Thus, before one even knows that the account is overdrawn, it is easy to owe the bank a hundred to a hundred fifty dollars. On top of this, the poor person will usually have to wait a week or two before their next check, by which the fees will have raised to two hundred or more dollars. Some would say, "Then they just need to take better care of their balance." However, most of the poor are not accountants, and, of course, we are all human and make mistakes sometimes. The banks, however, depend on these mistakes and take ultimate advantage of these mistakes as they are able.

Our society depends on grocery stores and supermarkets. This is where we buy our staples and necessities. And, much to their credit, they often give fair prices to the staples we most need—flour, milk, cheese, chicken and more. But these staples is never what the stores emphasize. They have had studies done which tell them where to place the non-essentials, and how to lower the prices to make them look attractive so that more people would buy them. The poor walk into these stores with enough money to buy the essentials and little else. But when they see the prices of Little Debbie pastries—placed at the end of the aisles where no one can miss them—they decide to take some of their minimal cash and spend it on them. They seem so cheap, they are very tasty and they fill children’s stomachs and keep them from complaining about their hunger. Others will see the prices of ice cream, the sales on sugar cereals or other non-essentials. The grocery stores provide food that is healthy, at very high prices, and they provide the staples—but they push the items that destroy families’ health and increase health care for everyone.

Prosperity churches/ministries
Most churches try to do what is right for the poor, in as much as they know how. This makes sense, since their God tells them in many times and ways that they are to assist the poor. Some churches and ministries have the philosophy that poverty is a spirit that must be defeated, and, they say, it can be. They take passages out of context, and assume that if one wants to obtain money and wealth, that they need to give money to the church. In fact, they claim, that whatever money the poor gives to the church, they will gain ten times as much. What church should they give to? Of course, the church that is making the statement. Thus, the church claims, if you give to us ten dollars, God will give you a hundred. If you give us a hundred, you will get a thousand from God. And so on. Since they claim that they have a route out of poverty, many poor people clamor to the churches. The principle is easy to understand, and simple to implement. However, such a spiritual pyramid scheme is not found in the Bible, nor taught by any theologian of any denomination. Again, it is a simple way for certain churches and ministries to amass their own fortunes by taking advantage of the poor. Does this mean that God does not bless one who tithes? No, but God provides for everyone who surrenders all to Him. And the giving? Again, the giving is not to churches who take from the poor. Rather, according to Jesus, the giving is TO the poor. Such ministries will be judged by God.

Local governments
Governments usually do what people expect them to do—protect, license, legalize—and not much more than that. Of course, to do all of this, it requires money to pay for the workers and to pay for the bureaucracy. The minimum of what most governments do is require those who request a license to pay for it. However, when society requires a sixty plus dollar fee for a license to do what is considered minimal in our society—obtain a license for marriage or for driving a car, for example—it is difficult if not impossible for the poorest in our society to pay for such minimal requirements. If someone was going to try to better their life economically by selling something on the street, they must have a business license, which, if they could afford one they might take a different avenue of commerce. Even having an identification—which is required by law, required to have a job or to do almost anything in our society and which is becoming more and more difficult for the poorest of the poor to obtain—requires more than twenty dollars. But worse than all of that, often certain governments charge people to be helplessly in need. If a person is exhausted because they were unable to sleep the night before, they might be charged with sleeping on a bench waiting for a bus. If a person is unable to pay extra to clean debris from his yard, he is fined. If someone is camping—due to the fact that they have no place to live— out of sight of anyone, if found they are charged with camping illegally and in some places given a large fine. Since the poor and homeless do not have the energy or opportunity to participate in government, they end up being charged to live in the best way they can.

Justice System
Many people who are poor have had to deal with the law. Let’s say for instance that a homeless person was charged with trespassing because he did not know where he was in the dark. If he was close to a person’s house, he would be arrested and jailed until the court was able to make their case—perhaps two weeks. Of course, he would be declared guilty, because it would be his word against the middle class plaintiffs, and even if one of his buddies was with him, a court-appointed defense lawyer wouldn’t have the money to find him, nor would he be listened to by the court. At this point, the judge might want to show "leniency" on the defendant, so he would fine him, say, two hundred dollars, and require him to contact a probation officer once a week. This sentence, however, is no justice at all, for the guilty party would not be able to pay the fine, nor does he have access to a phone to call his p.o. After a few weeks of not hearing from him, the officer sets out a warrant for his arrest. It may take months, but eventually the homeless man will be requested by a police officer to show his identification. At this point, he is arrested again, taken to jail again, brought before the judge who gives him the same sentence as before. This cycle can go on for many years. Those who have places to live might be able to contact their p.o., but unable to pay their fines. These fines can accumulate until they are in the thousands, and as soon as that person gets a job that pays him above the table, the court then takes out more than half of his meager paycheck. So many who are in this situation just never plan on having a job unless they can be paid under the table. This system is even worse among those whom the government has taken away their children. Although they may have done nothing to their children—especially as some victims of child protection agencies have their children taken from them at birth—they still have a running tally of a government bill that they must pay. For most of the poor, they would rather spend a few months—or even years—in jail, rather than having this impossible economic requirement placed on them. And many of them are of the opinion that the jails and prisons purpose to keep them as long as possible in order to gain more money for their services.

This is injustice. It is in the very heart of our system. It is at the heart of our government, our corporations, our churches. Why do we put up with it? The toughest part of conquering injustice is knowing it is there—the second toughest is deciding that we ourselves are going to do something about it. "If you weaken in the day of injustice, you have no real strength. Rescue those who are seduced by the embrace of death—Grab back those who walk blindly into slaughter. If you say, "How were we to know?"—your Judge knows your motives, your every thought. He sees your mind, and He will give to everyone according to what they have done." Proverbs 24:10-12 (paraphrased by Steve Kimes). It is time to us to act upon what we know.

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