Skylar Baker-Jordan, a freelance journalist who grew up impoverished in Kentucky coal country, has published a powerful op-ed in the Independent today explaining the problem with the Republican Party’s rhetoric around the poor.
He hones in on the disturbing talk surrounding how the American poor will be affected by the GOP’s purported Obamacare replacement, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) or Trumpcare.
On Tuesday, prominent Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) dismissed criticism that Trumpcare will disproportionately affect the poor, elderly, and sick by quipping that the poor need spend their money on health care instead of iPhones.
Baker-Jordan explains to Chaffetz the realities of poverty, something that representative should be aware of in a country in which 13.5% of citizens live below the poverty line.
“Poverty is not a choice, nor is it a moral failing. I’ve long known this, growing up working class in the shadow of shuttered factories in Dayton, Ohio and coming of age in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. … Poverty wasn’t something abstract or Dickensian. It was a fact of life.
“This is a lesson Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz appears not to have learned. … Chaffetz later attempted to walk back his [iPhone] comments by saying he believes in “self-reliance”, but this conservative trope is a myth that enables poverty to continue.
“It is impossible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots on your feet. I likely wouldn’t be writing this if it wasn’t for government benefits like Pell Grants putting me through university – making me the first person in my family to transition from the underserving poor to the metropolitan elite.”
The refusal to acknowledge that poverty is a cycle that consumes the lives of millions of American families from generation to generation is dangerous. Telling the impoverished to be “self-reliant” and stripping away their benefits takes away the only resources many poor families have.
Without resources, how can they work hard to get ahead? If you have nothing to use, nothing to work with, you’re stuck.
Beyond advocating for stripping benefits, Chaffetz is also advocating for a plan that will make health care even less attainable for the poor. Under the Republican plan, health care costs will rise and Medicaid, the government program to help the poor access health care, will be pared back.
“Life in poverty is bleak enough without us judging the poor for having a luxury item like a smart phone (which, as Philip Bump points out in the Washington Post, is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity – especially if you don’t have internet). And it certainly shouldn’t be an impediment to get healthcare. After all, as Bump again points out, an iPhone might cost around $700, but health insurance costs hundreds a month totaling thousands a year – and that’s not counting out-of-pocket deductibles and copays.
“The Republican plan Chaffetz is defending could lead six to ten million people losing healthcare. This is a national disgrace. …
“In America being poor won’t only mean you’re supposed to have a wretched life devoid of even the smallest joys, but that your poverty should kill you, too.
At least they can be buried with their iPhones, though.”
Hopefully these words reach at least a few Americans who buy into Republican narratives that blame the poor for their poverty. Social mobility in America has dwindled, inequality has increased, leaving the American dream unattainable now for millions.
Stop blaming the poor for poverty that arises from deep systemic problems. And stop trying to deny them access to health care, which literally stands between them and premature death.
Marisa completed her undergraduate degree in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin with a double major in creative writing and media studies. She is an advocate of progressive policies and focuses her interests on gender equality and preventing sexual and domestic violence.