Test your assumptions …
Do you believe that single mothers on welfare are irresponsible deadbeats who set a bad example for their children because they are too lazy to get out and earn a living?
If so, you just wrote off Joanne Rowling, better known as the creator of Harry Potter. Coming through the death of her mother, domestic abuse, divorce and abject poverty, Jo rose from being on social assistance to become a multimillionaire in less than five years. She’s now a generous philanthropist and one of the most influential women in Britain, with TIME magazine naming her as a runner-up for its 2007 Person of the Year, noting the social, moral, and political inspiration she has given her fans.
During the dark years following her mother’s death and the need to file a restraining order against her first husband, Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression, and contemplated suicide. Her illness inspired the idea of Dementors, soul-sucking creatures introduced in the third Harry Potter book. Applying for welfare benefits she described her economic status as being “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.”
If you believed the assumption I shared at the start of this post, then you also would have written off another of the women that inspired me. Barbara Sher, also divorced, penniless and supporting two children, had to turn to welfare assistance to survive. http://www.barbarasher.com She went on to write “Wishcraft” ( a book that changed many lives, including my own), now in it’s 30th year of publication. Barbara became another “rags to riches” story. You can draw on her inspiration free of charge, as she placed the book online.
The Cycle of Poverty
There are lots of reasons that people require social assistance, and why so many of them are women who become “welfare dependent”. In testing your assumptions, it might be helpful to consider the following:
“The term ‘welfare dependency’ is itself controversial, often carrying derogatory connotations that the recipient is unwilling to work. Historian Michael B. Katz discussed the discourses surrounding poverty in his 1989 book The Undeserving Poor, where he elaborated upon the distinctions Americans make between so-called ‘deserving’ recipients of aid, such as widows, and ‘undeserving’ ones, like single mothers, with the distinction being that the former have fallen upon hard times through no fault of their own whereas the latter are seen as having chosen to live off the public purse. Drawing this dichotomy diverts attention from the structural factors that cause and entrench poverty, such as economic change. Instead of focusing on how to tackle the root causes of poverty, people focus on attacking the supposed poor character of the recipient.”
The Feminization of Poverty
“Lone mothers are usually at the highest risk for extreme poverty because their income is insufficient to rear children. It then lowers their children’s possibilities for good education and nourishment. Low income is a consequence of the social bias women face in trying to obtain formal employment, which in turn deepens the cycle of poverty. As the number of unmarried women increases, the diverse causes affecting their poverty must be examined. Poverty is multidimensional, and therefore economic, demographic, and socio-cultural factors all overlap and contribute to the establishment of poverty. It is a phenomenon with multiple root causes and manifestations.”
Help Break the Cycle
How do you change a statistic? Especially one as entrenched as poverty? One steeped with so much bias and misunderstanding that the will to change it may be one of the biggest hurdles?
I’m inviting you to roll up your sleeves and put your elbows on the digital kitchen table with me. Let’s figure out how we might “Change the Story”.
Join me in a “Scouting Party” to explore communities that are engaged in doing exactly that. We can start in our own communities by asking “what’s working?”. We can bring those things back to our digital kitchen table and work together to find the best ways of sharing that innovation more broadly, and scaling it up.