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November 24, 2013 8:40 PM Essay on Being Poor Goes Viral

By Martin Longman

This initially obscure blog post went completely viral, especially after it was picked up by the Huffington Post. It’s written by a woman who claims to be poor. She has two jobs (one as a cook), two kids, and takes a full load of college classes. The essay is about what it is like to live in poverty and why poor people often make terrible decisions that seem nonsensical to outsiders and which seldom elicit much sympathy. It’s hard to explain why it touched off such a nerve with people, but it is strangely compelling. Maybe it is because it is very well-written, which is not what you would expect considering the life she describes herself living.

Here’s a sample paragraph that, unlike most of the piece, doesn’t seem quite autobiographical.

Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long-term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.

As you might expect, the essay made a lot of people angry. Why complain about the gas it takes to drive three hours to the nearest Planned Parenthood when you’re wasting your money and your health on cigarettes? Why take such a defeatist attitude and complain about your plight?

But most people don’t have conservative lizard brains and understood that the essay was supposed to explain what it is like to be poor, not to justify bad or irresponsible decisions. The outpouring of support was so strong that she drew in the equivalent of her annual income in PayPal donations.

I am not sure what to make of that, but it is an interesting thing to read.

Martin Longman is the Web Editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune. He has worked as a community organizer for ACORN/Project Vote and as a political consultant for Democracy for America.

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