Monday, May 09, 2011

Poverty, Part I

We are presently living on... one postdoc's salary. Since Dr. S got a small raise along with his fancy fellowship, we now (narrowly) miss qualifying for food stamps. And don't get me wrong, through acts of severe frugality, we are not starving. We're getting by. But... how poor is poor enough?

There are several local agencies that will provide small quantities of food or clothing, no questions asked, if one is in need. The kids' clothing center is right up the street. Of course, a little help would always make it easier. But are we really poor enough? What if I am taking that food from the mouth of someone who is truly hungry?


  1. One day you will (hopefully) be in the position where you are contributing back to people who need help. I think it's perfectly acceptable to take it when it would help now. Ideally that's the point of aid, to help people to get to a position where they can give back.

  2. Anonymous11:12 PM

    I have recently been struggling with the same issue.

    I am a SAHM by choice, with a PhD in my back pocket, hoping to go back to work when my youngest goes to preschool. My husband owns his own business and last year was a disaster. But the years before that were good, and we have assets and little debt.

    It turns out that we currently qualify for food stamps. It wouldn't have occurred to me to check, except my youngest is allergic to everything I eat, and we are hoping to transition him to an elemental (read: $14-20/day) formula, and we can get it through WIC.

    But...I'm not so sure we should. The other people in the WIC office do not have much hope of a different life in the future. We do...or I think we do. My husband reminds me that we have paid a lot into the system. Still, I struggle with this, and remain unsure. (I have gone so far to get the coupons, but haven't "spent" any yet.)

  3. Anon: If you qualify for WIC, you're earning a heck of a lot less than us. But yes, I know the dilemma. If I actually qualified for food stamps, I'd take them. But if I don't... does that mean I need no aid?

    It's similar in that I could triple our income by going back to my old job, but I choose not to. Nonetheless, right NOW is a different question.

    Cara: I do give what we can, when we can; if I find diapers really-on-sale I give them to those in need; we give small amounts to charity; I volunteer. I'd always like to give more. I think I feel most guilty because, if only I would work, we wouldn't be poor any more.

  4. I'm sure you've already checked, but are you sure you don't qualify for WIC? My sister doesn't qualify for food stamps, but she qualifies for WIC. Also, the low income cut-off changes with how many children you have, or at least it does out here (because I've been looking into it; we just barely miss qualifying for low-income housing).

    Personally, I think that 1) just because you *could* work doesn't mean that you should and staying home with your children is going to benefit them more than your going to work, 2) I think ideally aid should help families to the point that they feel secure, for some families that's a lot, for others it's not as much, 3) People who are truly hungry probably qualify for food stamps, so you would likely not be taking food or clothes from someone who really needs it, and 4) I've noticed Moms feel less guilty about doing these things if whatever they receive is specifically for their children. Perhaps it would help if you think about this in terms of how it would benefit your kids.

    Finally, when I was a kid, we were quite poor and as a result we received gifts from the community at Christmas time (sort of like a toys for tots kind of a thing, but local) even though our family could afford a few gifts for us. Now, since I am doing better financially, I always contribute to those kinds of gift drives as a way to pay things forward. If you choose to get help from these local agencies, you could adopt the same goal of paying things forward when your situation improves.

  5. Mrs. W: If I were anemic, we'd qualify for WIC! In fact, it's quite hard to tell, isn't it? Their criteria are Byzantine at best and incomprehensible at worst; I had to read the food stamp brochure six times and I still can't tell if we're qualified (so I just applied...).

    Perhaps I should think of it as an offset to my $900 root canal.

  6. Maybe you will be eligible for WIC when the new little one arrives?
    I don't think there is anything wrong with going to the food bank if you are struggling.
    How long until your husband wraps up his postdoc? Does he want to be a professor? It has been easier in my experience to find work in industry, depending on the research field.

  7. Darcy6:43 AM

    I'm no expert on this, but it has always been my understanding that most people who go hungry in the U.S. do so not because resources aren't available, but because they cannot get access to the appropriate resources--they live in underserved neighborhoods, don't know help is available, can't fill out the forms, etc. Thus, it's extremely unlikely that you would be taking food out of the mouths of those who are truly hungry.

  8. Darcy: Hmm, I never thought about it that way.

    MS: Who knows. Their formulas are incomprehensible to me AND my advanced degrees... Also, ~1 yr, and don't I know it (been there, got the job, way easier).


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