Challenging Stereotypes

The Poor are Lazy?

Melissa Lopez (Class of 2017)

Psychology Major, Philosophy Minor

There is a common misconception that people living in poverty are lazy or do not work hard enough to get themselves out of poverty.  I had the chance to participate in a poverty simulation at the University of Scranton.  The simulation took place on October 14th and lasted about two and a half hours.  For the simulation, we all assumed the roles of several different families facing poverty and experienced various unexpected events and obstacles that these families have to go through just to survive on a day to day basis.  Our task was to get through one month, made up of four 15 minute intervals, with all of our bills paid, kids’ school attendance perfect, adults’ jobs maintained, and our family intact. The end goal was to get a glimpse of what it’s like to live on a low income.  The lives we assumed and the situations we were put through were based on actual events that occur to families here in Scranton.

Often, when people think of poverty, they think of homelessness or that it is something far off that we don’t really see.  In reality, there are many families living in poverty that could be our next door neighbors, our friends, or our teachers. Some of the misconceptions I’ve heard are that people living in poverty live off welfare, get help from the government for everything, and that this is a fairly easy process.  These are such uninformed comments to make.  Currently, there is a living wage gap that affects many families across the country.  These are people who are working, yet still do not have the means to afford basic living and cannot even get assistance from the government because they miss the cutoff to get assistance (due to just barely making “enough” money).

In the poverty simulation, every adult had at least one job, with the exception of one old man who was disabled and received monthly assistance from the government for that.  I took on the role a 13 year old girl.  My family, the Perez’s, consisted of my twin and I, my 21 year old brother, and my baby brother who was no older than 2 years old.  One of our parents had passed away and the other was in jail.  So imagine that.  A 21 year old who attended college had to sustain a whole family.  And this is no unusual situation.  We had our rent paid by our father in jail for the month, which makes it seem like surviving the month would be a piece of cake.  Well, that is wrong.

My brother attended college full time, had to work full time since he’s the only one who could bring in income, and had to take care of all his siblings.  You can see where I am going with this.  If he still seems lazy to you at this point, I’ll give you a bit more detail. My brother had to drop off the baby at daycare quickly before dashing off to get to work on time as to not get fired. With each commute from place to place, he had to give a transportation pass signifying gas expenses and to buy transportation passes, he had to use a transportation pass too.  He would have to remain at work 7 out of the 15 minute period.  With the time he had left, he had to pick up the baby from daycare and speed off to apply for assistance for utilities, EBT, buy groceries for the week, and feed all of us.  There was simply not enough time to get everything done.  As a child in this simulation, it was extremely frustrating.  Since we had to play our roles, I could not help my brother with ideas to solve our issues, creating a budget, creating a plan on what assistance programs to apply to first, etc.  I had to go to school for half of the 15 minutes and when my sister and I came back, we could not go with our brother to the store because we had to provide a transportation pass for each person and we did not have enough passes. My twin and I had to wander around evading the police because if we were home alone, our brother would get arrested and our family would fall apart.

I don’t know about you, but I hear so many university students complaining about being exhausted just from school.  If just school and extracurriculars are exhausting, what must it be like to live in poverty and have to provide for a family with a job that does not give you enough money to survive?  This life is unsustainable and it’s not so easy to manage a job or two, get an education, and maintain basic living, let alone get out of poverty.   How must it feel like to be a single parent, work two jobs, and still have to choose between paying the electricity bill and feeding your children?  You see, although someone in poverty may express their desire to have money and wishes they could have an easy life where they didn’t have to work and could still afford their necessities, that doesn’t mean that they are lazy.  People don’t take the time to critically think about why they want an easy life or to understand what it is really like living on a low income. We have to think beyond the surface.  Instead of saying, “Working is easy. You make money and then just get to go home and rest,” think about what working a minimum wage job entails.  Minimum wage jobs don’t accept tardiness because you were dropping off your kids at school, they don’t provide you with enough money to feed a family of 3, they’re not forgiving when your car breaks down because you don’t have enough to fix it.  And to those who say that the poor have to work harder to educate themselves so that they can get a better paying job are ignorant to the life of poverty.

So finally, I propose a question.  How much harder does a poor person have to work before people stop considering them lazy?