I suppose many would wonder why I would choose to post about poverty during the Christmas season. Christmas is supposed to be a season of joy, expectation, and peace. Thoughts of poverty often bring vastly different feelings. Feelings of despair, hopelessness, and conflict. Many often feel conflicted with the expectations of providing material gifts that one's household budget can not afford. Many feel hopeless that their situations will never change. Many feel despair over a perceived lack of opportunities to change their situations.
Living on the eastern Montana prairie places us "next door" to the North Dakota oil boom, often referred to as the Bakken. The oil is flowing, the unemployment rate is around 2% and the middle class is growing. In a area where the average McDonald's and Wal-Mart employees earn over $15.00 an hour and some oil field hands are earning over $100K a year, it seems everyone should have a very comfortable lifestyle.
Don't pack up or rent a moving van just yet. The reality of the Bakken is vastly different from the perception. $15.00 an hour is not a "living wage" when the average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $2,100 per month and childcare is as much as $1,700 per month per child. The net take-home pay of a $15.00 per hour employee is not enough to live in a one bedroom apartment, in the Bakken. $2,100 a month rent is roughly 1/3 of the net take-home pay of an oilfield hand. If you need a home for a family, that will cost you a 30 year mortgage of about $2,800 per month. A gallon of milk is nearly $5 and there aren't any $1 value menus at the McDonald's or Taco Bell in this region of our nation. $15 a pair wool socks are a necessity in this area's cold winter climate. (This morning I awoke to an outdoor temperature of 27 degrees below zero). Need a vehicle? There is a reason my Mr. B flew to southeast Texas to purchase a farm truck. Even after the expense of a one-way plane ticket and fuel costs to drive it home, he saved THOUSANDS of dollars.
Economically, poverty is relative to the cost of living for a region, not the national average hourly or annual wages. But poverty is also a mindset. It is an attitude of despair, a lack of expectations, the absence of hope. When looking at poverty from a socioeconomic perspective we see many working poor with a lower standard of living than our nation's well-fare class, but they don't live with an impoverished outlook. They are grateful for employment even though they may have to work a second job to pay the rent, they expect that through hard work their futures will improve and they hope higher earning job opportunities will come their way. On the other hand, the well-fare class often resents those with a higher standard of living, they have no hope for a better future because they are not working, or can not work, toward that goal, and there is no expectation of opportunities, because there are no opportunities in well-fare; creating an environment of despair. During our years of living below the poverty line working hard, learning to be a good steward of our resources, and being grateful for our opportunities helped to us maintain the positive and hopeful outlook on life that I continue to see in many of today's working poor.
When I lived below the poverty line, there were times when I felt impoverished and times when I didn't. I felt impoverished when I visited my middle-class maternal grandmother and she served me a slice of bread smothered in gravy while she ate roast beef, mashed potatoes, and vegetables in front of me. I felt as wealthy as a king when I lived with my paternal impoverished grandmother and she shared her only bowl of soup and crackers with me; she shared her all. I felt impoverished when my middle-class maternal grandmother gave me a used coloring book and crayons for Christmas. I felt as wealthy as a king when my impoverished paternal grandmother made me a blouse and skirt from the fabric of a large dress found in a bag of dirty, stained old clothes an unknown stranger had left on her doorstep; she gave me the best she was able to give. I felt impoverished when my middle-class extended family told me to lie about the birth of our oldest child because of the embarrassing circumstances of his birth. I felt as wealthy as a king when a co-worker told me that although I couldn't change my past I held the power to change my future; she offered words of encouragement and hope. I felt impoverished when a food stamp coordinator told me I was stupid and foolish to work for minimum wage, as she denied my application. I felt as wealthy as king when I found a brown paper grocery bag of Christmas presents for our children on our door step with a note telling me how respected I was for working two full-time jobs to support our family; someone had taken notice of my hard work. I felt impoverished when a school counselor told our son that poverty begets poverty and despite his extremely high I.Q. he would most likely continue the cycle of poverty. Watching that same boy enlist in the Air Force, attend college, work hard and begin planting his own business makes me feel as wealthy as a king; he is exercising diligence in overcoming his childhood circumstances.
In my world wealth is not bottled up in a paycheck. Wealth is contingent upon our attitudes and our outlook on life. Going into debt to rescue the poor will not shatter the mindset of poverty. Blowing our household budgets and purchasing a boat load of Christmas gifts for our children will not prevent the mindset of poverty. From the view out my window, if poverty is to be abolished every person, regardless of his socioeconomic status, must offer his very best. For some the best will include working 2 full-time jobs, offering a word of encouragement, recognizing a neighbor's efforts, recycling the old into something new and useful, refusing to give up when everyone else says all is hopeless, etc.. Putting forth our best evokes an attitude of gratefulness, the hope of better things to come, and expectations of opportunities. Gratefulness, hope and expectations are what pulls people out of poverty. I pray this Christmas season will be the season you either choose to put forth your best or find the strength to continue in your best. After all, God gave us His best so that we could be rescued from eternal death and redeemed unto Him. John 3:16-17, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved." Let us follow God's generous example and give our best to our families, friends, neighbors and communities.