Presentation on poverty seeks to dispel preconceived notions

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Xavier Ward
Thursday, May 18, 2017

JANESVILLE—Just because people are impoverished doesn't mean they're unwilling to work.

Some impoverished people have multiple jobs, said Mary Lang, Milton School District employee and representative of Communication Across Barriers.

Lang gave a presentation titled “See Poverty, Be the Difference” on Wednesday at Blackhawk Technical College.

Lang said her presentation is an abbreviated “poverty 101” course to teach people how to better communicate and hopefully shed preconceived notions about poverty.

In Rock County, poverty is just like it is in Chicago or Milwaukee but a bit less visible, Lang said.

There are homeless people and poor people, but they're not as concentrated, Lang said.

“It's harder, here, to find services because they (the impoverished people) are so fragmented and all over the place as it is,” she said.

Nationally, the poverty line for a family of four is annual income just over $24,000. While a single person in Rock County can survive on that, it's almost impossible for a family of four, she said.

One of the biggest misconceptions about poverty, Lang said, is that people choose to be impoverished.

On average, 80 percent of people are one major incident away from being impoverished, Lang said. Surprise illnesses and medical bills or house fires can easily drive people into poverty overnight, Lang said.

Poverty is not indicative of character, Lang said.

People often judge impoverished people for having cell phones or buying new clothing, but often it helps them feel normal, Lang said.

Having clothing that isn't in rags, owning a working modern phone or buying a birthday cake or a steak for a special occasion can help impoverished people feel better, she said.

“Who are you to deny them that?” she said.

Similarly, people often claim that people who smoke or drink are impoverishing themselves, though that's not entirely true, Lang said.

While drug or alcohol addiction can drive people into poverty, addiction is a difficult disease to beat, and there often aren't services available to the poor or impoverished people, she said.

To shake their ideas of what poverty looks like and what the solution is, people shouldn't make assumptions about other people's situations and shouldn't assume they're lazy, Lang said.

It could just as easily be the person right next to you, she said.

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