"Most middle class Americans are familiar with circumstantial poverty—one bad investment or the loss of a job leads to a period of financial difficulty. What I learned in the inner city is that to be caught in the cycle of generational poverty is to experience a bankruptcy of spirit, a deficit of hope. It is poverty of education, community, safety, health, and spiritual guidance.
...But for the low-income women I worked with, their lives were a perpetual house of cards. They had no resources, no safety nets to keep them from going under. One step forward, two steps back. A broken down car means you can't get to work, and missing even one day of work means you can’t make rent that month. A sick child means you can get fired from a job that keeps you at "part time" status because they don't want to pay you for sick days and holidays. Finally getting out of the welfare system means losing any childcare assistance, and childcare costs often break the bank. I knew a woman who wouldn't break up with her abusive boyfriend because he was her only ride to work. I'm not saying there is no such thing as bad decisions, but we all make bad decisions and only some of us have to face the full force of their consequences."
I loved the examples given in this essay, because they illustrate beautifully how systematic poverty (as well as systematic addiction, etc.) is far more complex than a handful of choices made by one person--it's the hand they've been dealt, realities about their skin color and family of origin they cannot control; it's never being able to get ahead, trapped in a life of living pay check to pay check, one disaster or unexpected cost away from losing it all; it's a literal stunting of physical growth due to lack of food or abuse at a young age; it's inherited addictions to drugs or food or television; it's a setting of violence and constant stress that affects physical and emotional development.
"We don't get to opt out of living on mission because we might not be appreciated. We're not allowed to neglect the oppressed because we have reservations about their discernment. We cannot deny love because it might be despised or misunderstood. We can't withhold social relief because we're not convinced it will be perfectly managed. Must we be wise? Absolutely. But doing nothing is a blatant sin of omission." -Jen Hatmaker