The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

June 19, 2013

James Whitford, guest columnist: New definition needed

JOPLIN, Mo. — I remember meeting a man on the main road through Fond Parisien, a small community on the eastern side of Haiti.

He was walking along the dusty roadside pulling a two-wheeled dolly behind him. I didn’t understand the word he hollered out, but I recognized what was in his hand as he waved it exuberantly above his head. It was a Popsicle.

A cooler was secured on his dolly and in it were plastic wrapped Popsicles packed like sardines. The thought of one in the middle of a scorching day at the medical mission was enough for me to strike up conversation.  Even through a language barrier that required an interpreter, it was obvious he was full of life and hope. I’m certain that purchasing his Popsicles that day didn’t help him cross the threshold of poverty as we define it in America. And yet he never seemed impoverished.

In contrast, I know many people in our city who, through state welfare, have much more materially than my salesman friend in Haiti but seem much more impoverished.

A few days ago, one man who I know from some time back showed up at our rescue mission. He once asked me why he should have to work for his food after I offered him an opportunity to earn a meal voucher. Not long after that encounter, he qualified for food stamps and then state-funded housing and even a government-subsidized cellphone. But he’s homeless again and needing shelter. Why? Because the tens of thousands of dollars he received in government-subsidized goods and services were  poverty alleviation rather than poverty resolution.

How do we resolve it?

Maybe we should start by redefining it. We have long defined poverty at some material threshold. Currently a family of four with an income under $23,283 per year is “impoverished.” Don’t believe it. The longer we define it materially, the longer we’ll throw material at it as a solution.

What if we used productivity as the measuring stick? After all, productivity and poverty mix like oil and water. In his book “Who Really Cares,” social scientist Arthur Brooks cites research that reveals a person on welfare is more likely to say he or she is “inconsolably sad” than a working person at the same level of material poverty. Not only that, but the working poor on average give 500 percent more to charity than comparable welfare recipients. My point is this: More often than not, productive people are happy givers. They are not poor.

I see the incredible value of this in our mission every day. From the four-fingered man who helped us stuff envelopes for a food basket to the homeless guy who helped mow lawns for his bed and meals, few things build self-esteem and change the poverty mindset like productivity.

So the next time you drive up to someone holding a sign that says, “Will work for food,” consider how you might take him up on the offer instead of handing him cash. For him, it could be the beginning of moving from poverty alleviation to poverty resolution.

James Whitford is executive director of Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission and Joplin’s True Charity Initiative.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Other Views Other Views: Eroding court’s authority

    While Kansans were focused on the twists and turns of school finance this past week, lawmakers made an unnecessary and historic change in how the state’s district courts operate, coercively tying the reforms to badly needed funding.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Your View: Travesty

    What a travesty that a terrific young man from Spain is on the verge of deportation even though he has proven his worth in America (Globe, April 13).

    April 18, 2014

  • Your View: Astonishing transformation

    The transformation of the Republican Party in the last decade is astonishing.

    April 18, 2014

  • Your View: The changing view

    It is heartbreaking to hear the decades old trees (which border on South Pennsylvania in Webb City) cracking and being bulldozed down.

    April 18, 2014

  • Our View.jpg Our View: Safe and sound

    Of the 7,500 Joplin and Duenweg homes hit by the 2011 EF-5 tornado, fewer than 20 percent of them had basements.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Other Views Other Views: Funding for state’s roads

    Missouri is finding there is no good alternative to growing the economy, adding new well-paying jobs and expanding the tax base.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Geoff Caldwell, columnist: Government without apology or explanation

    Americans feel closest to their Uncle Sam at this time of year as he extends his hand for his “fair share” to fund his numerous endeavors.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Step aside

    The people of Joplin made it clear they wanted change at City Hall with their decisive votes to replace two council members.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Serious drawbacks

    Joan Banks’ guest column (Globe, April 13) lays out clearly and persuasively the serious drawbacks with so-called right-to-work legislation.

    April 16, 2014

  • Your View: Free choice

    Joan Banks’ guest column (Globe, April 13) regarding right-to-work seems to assume that if workers are given the choice of joining a union, they won’t join.

    April 16, 2014

Local News
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Poll

Missouri Republicans are considering a new approach to prevent federal agents from enforcing laws the state considers to be infringements on gun rights: barring them from future careers in state law enforcement agencies. Do you think this proposal has merit?

Yes
No
     View Results
Facebook
NDN Video
Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Sports