I spent a month in poverty on March 15 at the Showboat Pavilion in Texas City. We lost our home despite every effort. I’m a college educated computer scientist, my wife a full-time receptionist. We were not lazy, cheating or any other negative stereotype. And no health problems.

One month consisted of four, 15 minute weeks during this poverty simulation. Led by Tanya Rollins of Child Protective Services we were assigned roles. Each family was provided a detailed budget and social history. The packet was full of cards similar to a complex monopoly game. Very realistic.

On $1,333 per month we had food for only one week, kept only one of our cars operating — no money for gas. We received $66 per month for food stamps — really an agricultural program.

Our 8-year-old son acted out at school after being bullied. Hungry 8-year-olds do not make for the best students. Sent to juvenile detention he did get an education. He learned it was more profitable to sell drugs than be a computer programmer.

Our 14-year-old son was disgusted with me for always going by the rules. Our 16-year-old daughter, pregnant by an 18-year-old dropout who disappeared as soon as she began showing. Her B average soon dropped to D’s.

My wife’s check was eaten up by my college loan payment, utilities and gasoline for another week. Then Rollins handed me a card stating I lost a week after a drive-by shooting. I need to protect my home.

We were always rushing. To the employment office, school for conferences, the pawn shop, to government agencies which were closed when we were available, and to private agencies who had little to offer.

If someone developed a dysfunctional system by design they could not have done a better job. Policies are calculated to punish the poor or else agencies would provide at least as good of service as all-night fast food shops.

We were a smart, strategic family. Yet we were foiled at every turn. One third of those in the large room were homeless at the end of the month. Oh, and I got a job offer, but with no address it was withdrawn. My son was right I should’ve lied. We were exhausted physically and emotionally.

After an important debriefing, we were served a wonderful lunch. Roasted chicken, green beans, stuffing — I got the crust, hmm, catered by Soul 2 Soul restaurant at Market and 31st streets in Galveston.

Rollins provided a booklet of facts and studies, documenting the terrible truth that if you weren’t born white you will be disproportionately poor. One fact, the living wage in our county is $21.59 per hour with one child, yet the minimum wage is $7.25. Work three jobs and you can live here. Those are the facts, even in our ever-more-fact-free society.

How convenient for those who have wealth. For the rest there is an embarrassing life of poverty. A national policy agenda is available to promote economic security. If interested, visit www.classp.org.

Alvin Sallee lives in Galveston.

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(19) comments

PD Hyatt

Another story of if you were born "white" then you are supposed to be in a privilaged class... What a crock of liberal progressive baloney sausage story.... I know to many minorities that have made it to the top and yet the GDN and the progressive liberal media continues to complain that being born white is a shame! Hmmmm.... Makes me wonder why most if not all of the GDN people you see in the paper are white? Could it be that they think that no one else can write the same garbage that they do? You progressive liberals will not be happy until everyone but you are dumbed down to the same level.... How sad and pathetic you people are!

Carlos Ponce

"the terrible truth that if you weren’t born white you will be disproportionately poor."
When I look at affluent Hispanics, Blacks, Asians (and all who weren't born "white") I see one common denominator - they were raised with STRONG MORAL FAMILY VALUES which continue into adulthood.

Gary Scoggin

"the terrible truth that if you weren’t born white you will be disproportionately poor." - That is a statistic, not a value judgement. We can debate why this is so, but the numbers are what the numbers are.

In the rush to outrage, you guys missed the main point of the article: It's hard to be poor. Not that it is a surprise to anyone but the article points out how difficult it is to get out of a hole once you're in one. And the systems designed to help people get out of poverty often make things worse instead of better.

Carlos Ponce

What will prevent poverty?
Good education so I wonder why Liberals are so against allowing students and their parents to choose what schools to attend if their local public school is not working for them.
Keep away from alcohol and illegal drugs. "Just say NO!" is laughed at but effective.
College is not for everyone. You can make good money by not attending the Liberal Indoctrination Centers.
If college is for you, choose a degree plan that will provide a JOB. To the college graduate who cannot find a job maybe you chose the wrong major.
I saw a report where "College loans" were used to go PARTY at South Padre Island during Spring Break. Young adults make mistakes. I saw a lot of mistakes made by the college aged at South Padre.
Don't expect to start at the top unless you are related to the CEO or owner of the company. Hard work will be rewarded. If not in money, in experience.
Don't burn your bridges. If you leave a company or job, leave under good circumstances. "Getting even" on your last day makes an interesting movie or TV plot but is not a good idea even if you have another job lined up. Work ethic is not just for "whites".
Minimum wage jobs are entry level jobs. Do a good job and you will get more. (And yes I did work at minimum wage at one time)
Put aside money for your retirement. Social Security will not be enough for many.
Spend thriftily, save money. If you can, buy silver or gold. A Silver Eagle can be bought at about $20.
Rock stars and film stars may like your tattoo but your best bet is to avoid them.
"Survey: Tattoos Hurt Your Chances of Getting a Job"
http://www.sfgate.com/jobs/salary/article/Survey-Tattoos-Hurt-Your-Chances-of-Getting-a-Job-4220248.php
"How Tattoos Affect Your Career"
http://www.salary.com/how%2Dtattoos%2Daffect%2Dyour%2Dcareer/
76% of people feel that tattoos/piercings hurt their chances in getting a job. Texas is in the area of the country with the highest dislike for tattoos on the workplace at 55%.

George Croix

Well, I was born white, and after 66 years, i still am....
As a child, I was the poorest kid in my school....

Study that.....

George Croix

Gary, you are exactly right about the basic message in the article, but wrong about a 'rush to outrage....
The fact is, in the very quote you repeated, the shot was made at 'white privilege' rather than 'it's hell to be poor'....
Having been very poor, the poorest kid in school, PUBLIC school, I am not relying on 'roll play', and I, speaking strictly for myself, am fed up to here with such garbage, with the banal condescension of smug, unfixable characters publishing and repeating such crap.
If they would focus instead on the fact that poverty is bad for ANYONE in it, and that color is no indicator of success or lack of it, of fortune good or bad, they'd have a case.
Instead, they simply choose to repeatedly have a cow....and perpetuate a culture of victimism....if you're not white, you'll never have a chance....
What utter crap!!!
I make donations to aid people in need because THEY need it, not because some guy pretending to be poor or writing 'documentation' says I should....and because I remember what it was like to be poor.

Gary Scoggin

I agree with most of you guys that the comment at the end about race was not central to the author's main point and has only served to distract from what otherwise is an interesting conversation.

Carlos, you bring up some good points. Talking with those that have worked this issue for years, I've learned that there are about a dozen or so factors that come into play here regarding the ability to rise out of poverty. Things like two parents in the household, the role of religion or other strong value system, drug abuse in the household, parents or siblings in the criminal justice system, and many other things. The learning is that many people can overcome a handful of these factors. Few people can overcome a bunch of these factors. This helps explain why some people are able to escape poverty and others aren't. (Of course these are exceptions, generalizations abound.) Carlos, from your teaching days I'm sure you were able to pretty quickly spot those students that had potentional and those that were likely destined for trouble. And their family income had little to do with your judgement.

Helping people out of poverty means working the hard issues. This is time intensive and often frustrating. Blindly throwing money at these problems rarely helps -- in fact, it often hurts. Money spent in a targeted and thoughtful way can help tremendously. This is hard to do and is best done by non-profits and churches instead of governments.

George Croix

One of the hardest things to overcome is the expectation of failure.
If you are told often enough that you cannot or will not make it, chances improve dramatically that you will not.
Couple that with the natural tendency, imho, that many, many people have to look FIRST....first...for some other reason for lack of success besides self, and the problem builds on itself.
Your harshest critic should be...you.....
Gary's assertion that few can overcome many factors to escape poverty is not absolute, but I believe, is very much mostly accurate, and an honest statement .
And, let us not forget the ONE variable that can offset one or several others....luck.
Simple good fortune, and a willingness and/or ability to jump on it if it happens.
Waiting and hoping for luck is NO substitute for effort but I believe it's an honest statement that some people simply are presented with opportunities others are not....but to claim that's color based is simplistic at best and outright BS at worst.
My personal opportunity came because the guy who interviewed when I did,and who GOT the job, and I did not, failed his physical exam, so I was called up.
I have never forgotten that....it pays to keep a bit of humility, and remember where you came from and how you got where you are....
Still, that golden chance for me would have amounted to zip without being READY to make the best of it.....and, although many would disagree, no doubt including my friend Gary from time to time ([beam][beam]), doing well enough to keep that chance alive.....
As to Carlos' good points, here's a test for each of us as a first step:
If running a business, would YOU hire the person in the mirror?

Jack Cross

Gary, I don’t disagree with the message, but to study what it is like to be poor, is crazy. The message should be about getting out of poverty. I am addressing this to able bod. People. I am 85, dropped out of school in 1950, joined the Navy and they took me and other punk kids and made men out of us.
Something the schools and colleges could take a lesson from. You said yes sir, learned respect and teamwork. You were taught patriotism, Naval history then I was put on a ship and sent to Korea. Imagine an 18-year-old kid serving on a destroyer in a task force with the WW ll Battleship Missouri. I did my job good advance in rate and later was a Boatswain mate in charge of 100 men on the deck division of a Carrier. You had to know your job because those sailors would test you.
When I got out of the service, I went to work for Monsanto and got married. After my credit union payment was taken out I was bringing home $44.00 a week. The grocery store, Agees Pharmacy and a little Exxon station at 12 st and Texas Avenue gave me credit which I would pay every week. The kept tabs on a page in a little notebook and they could pull it up faster than a computer. At the end of the week, I did not have money to go to a movie, there was no AC and no clothes dryers. People did not worry about leaving their cars or house unlocked and no one messed with little kids. People gave hitchhikers a ride and I never heard of a problem.
Gary, the people living on Welfare today would be the superrich in my time. I am an old schooler and dam proud of it. I resent the hell out of it when people bring race into the discussion.
Welfare should be to help those who truly need it because welfare is as much addictive as liquor, drugs and cigarettes. Welfare in too many cases is generational. The mission should be to get people off welfare and you are not helping anything by pointing to some white person.
What kind of nation allows professors to set up safe zones, have classes for white students to experience white privilege?
We are wasting so much money on failing schools, take a lesson from the military, provide a quality curriculum and DISPLINE. I guarantee this will solve the problem. If there are those who won’t allow other students to learn, bring back the reform schools like they had when I was a kind. Very few was ever sent and there was not police in schools and respect for school and teachers prevailed.
And you know something Gary, people were happy and proud Americans. I am shocked at the American Culture today and how the liberal socialist agenda is shaping America. I am shocked at how this is destroying lives. Slavery is over, everyone has equal opportunity, bet over it we need to quit pointing fingers, politicians and race batters are using people, its all about power.
People are at each others throats and no one is happy. Political Correctness needs to be put in the trash can. I wish everyone the best regardless of who they are ,but I and others should have the right to feel free to speak.
Spending a month living in poverty is no cure for 60 percent of Texas School children classified as living in poverty and it won’t get 47 million people off food stamps.

Doyle Beard

You are so correct Jack. people back then were very respetful and taught their entire family to be that. It was not about me me.
When I came to Texas City I worked in a grocery and we had books and books of customers who paid their grocery bills after payday. Gasoline was the same way. MY mom raisedd 3 boys a a single parent. At 10 yrs old I planted the garden, raised the vegetables, gathered them and got them ready for canning when my mom came home from work plus I usually coooked the evening meal which was not much.my lder brother worked the fields and milked the cow, fed the chicken and gathered the eggs. I never anything from a can until I was 14 yrs old. This is what is called poor. I could write pages about my experiences with poverty but I an honestly say poverty never hurt me but drove me to work hard and beat it. My first job other than a grocery store lasted 37 years.

Mike Zeller

George, I agree 100% with your point of view. I've always heard, before you judge someone, " walk a mile in their shoes". It sounds like you've been their - done that.

Gary Scoggin

George.. I agree luck plays a big role in this. Of course it starts with the luck of not having been born poor. Your story illustrates not only the role of good fortune but the ability to recognize and take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself. This goes back to upbringing,

George Croix

Gary, once...and ONLY once....when I was about 8 or 9...some ladies from church brought a bag of groceries to our little house and set them on the front porch and were leaving when my Dad, sick as a dog, went out there and kicked that bag all over the front yard and told the women in no uncertain terms that his family did not take charity and to mind their own business...
It was the ONLY time I ever remember him raising his voice or showing anger.....

Me, I'd rather have had the food.....
Lesson learned....it rarely helps to be extreme in either direction.....
Times have changed these days, and people EXPECT to be cared for.
A mindset about as bad as the ability to provide aid is good.....

Gary Scoggin

SOME people expect to be cared for now, just as some did back then. But I agree, it's a more prevalent expectation now. I spend a lot of time working with a non-profit that helps people in poverty (Mainland Children's Partnership). One thing we've learned through the years is that we're here to help people get on a path to greater self-sufficiency. We don't spend a lot of time on those not willing to help themselves. But we do spend a lot of time for those willing to learn how to become more independent. It's not an easy road for many, especially those who have a lot of these factors in their backgrounds. Living in poverty sucks. Living in poverty with no hope sucks more.


Talking about the different factors, from your stories, it appears that although poor, your family had many of the other factors for success in place. Good for them, good for you.

Randy Chapman

Many have never thought that maybe that you don't have children until you can afford them. It's not the taxpayer's responsibility to pay for the decisions people make. The assumption that their children are the taxpayers to pay to feed, clothe, and medicate has now become generational.

Doyle Beard

Mr. Sallees predicament dont sound very poor compared to my childhood. had no car, no money and many nights I had cornbread and milk for dinner. Cornbread from the corn we grew, had milled and gave the miller some of the cornmeal for payment, milk from the cow my brother milked. Got many many stories about being . My mother made my shirts from feed sacaks . Some of you may know what I am talking about. Left home at 14 to get a job went to school and worked till 9 m-f, then 8am to9pm on saturday and sunday. I could write pages bout really being poor. never a handout did my mother take. I am not the least bit ashamed to have been this oor. My mother led by example and instilled rich love in her 3 boys.Some one wants to know what it is to be poor I can tell you. I have been there.

Jack Cross

Doyle, I know what you are talking about, there was Hwy 2022 about 6 miles out of Crockett Texas, Do you remember it was called the old Rust rd. Red dirt and full of ruts when it rained.

Doyle Beard

yes I remember 2022 and 3131 which was impassable when it rained. I walked about 2 miles to catch school bus because the bus could not get down the road. but you know what Jack I have no regrets about my childhood although we were poor but had lots of family love. I left home at 14 for Texas City determined to get a job and help my mother who was raising 3 boys as a single parent. One dy my mom and I were walking home from a neighbor and walked across a garden spot where potatoes has been dug and a recent rain had uncovered some potatoes that were unseen but the rain had washed the dirt off the top of them. Mom had just told me she did not know what we could have for a meal and then the potatoes appeard. She said I see now hat we will hav eto eat and she said a "Thank you Lord). People cant teel me about poor unless they have really been there. I HAVE.

Doyle Beard

Jack 2022 was know as the old Rusk Road and 3131 was the Egg and Butter Road if my memory serves me correctly

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