All Poor People Aren’t On Crack

by Sandy L on April 1, 2011

Rant Alert.

Over the last couple of days I have been running around making sales calls. I put just over 900 miles on my car in less than 48 hours.  It’s been a very productive but hectic week.  Yesterday I had about 20 minutes in between appointments for lunch so I stopped in the only little restaurant I could find in a dinky town in NY.  This town happened to house 3 pretty large tech companies, so this restaurant was occupied with several tables of  middle aged men dressed in their business casual outfits.  Seemed nice enough, but there was one guy in particular who was just annoying and loud.  Even though I had no interest in eavesdropping, myself along with everyone else in the little restaurant  had no choice but to listen to his every word. He started off by saying that his son didn’t get into his choice state school because he only had a 3.3 average. “But I’m so proud of him and I’ll tell you why.”  His son called the community college near the state school he wanted to get into and found out it was part of the same consortium of schools.  Since his girlfriend “who has a 4.0 average…just like my wife did” was going to this school, he was still going to move down there, go to community college and transfer his credits after a year and go to the school he wanted.

Then My Jaw Dropped

The guy proclaims:   “I am thrilled he’s going to go to community college because it’s going to save me a ton of money in tuition…I mean a lot of money.” THEN he says, “You know, it’s a lot of money to send your kids to school and all the financial assistance these days goes to those kids who live in crack dens.”   WHAAAAAAT?!?!  In fact, it seemed so unreal that I wasn’t even sure he said it, then he went blathering on about his son and I kept thinking…did he really say that?   I wasn’t watching him or the colleagues at his table when this all occurred, so I can’t tell you anyone’s reactions.  Although I’m “one of them now”, I still felt like this was a bit of a personal attack on me. I contemplated walking up to him and telling him that I was one of those kids and I’m pretty sure my mom is not a crack whore. I refrained not only for my lack of time, but I really didn’t want to flatter him by letting him think I was hanging on his every word (not that I could help it, but still).   Plus, this guy was the type who’d think I was hitting on him if I confronted him. I was so disgusted I just finished my salad and got the hell out of there.

I’m amazed at how many people still think that “all poor people are (lazy..on drugs…stupid…societal leeches, insert derogatory term, etc.)”  There are a million bad and good reasons why people are poor and not everyone is poor for their entire lives. Also, making a low income doesn’t automatically mean you’re deficient in some way especially if you live below your means.

Why Need Based Scholarships Are Good

I am living proof that giving need based scholarship money to a smart and motivated poor kid will lead to an adult who contributes a lot back into the system.  After 15 years in the workforce as an engineer, I can tell you I’ve paid back what I received in scholarship money many many times over in the form of tax revenue and charitable donations.  I know I wouldn’t have the means to do that if I were still waitressing somewhere in my hometown. I’m also not sure if Mr. Annoying guy’s slackerboy son would have made better use of any scholarship money especially if his dad is already willing and able to foot the bill.  Although my scholarships weren’t enough to pay for many of my expenses and I still had to work about 30 hours/week, they were my big enabler to get an eduction.

If someone is motivated enough to get good grades despite whatever troubling circumstances they were raised in you better believe they want a better life for themselves. I’d bet on any one of those kids succeeding 100 to 1 vs. some middle class kid who’s coasted through school getting mediocre grades.  I really can’t think of too many examples of government spending that offer such a great return on investment.

End Rant

What do you think about this story?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos April 1, 2011 at 6:55 AM

Heh, I’ve met a few of those dim-bulb slackers during my years in college. I’m guessing that Mr. Annoying’s dinner table advice to his boy might have been about courses with “easy A’s”, like basket weaving.
Need-based scholarships are hugely motivating for those willing to work hard and take advantage of them. I’m not that much on board though with federal government-sponsored college loans. They seem to be a back-door subsidy to the higher education industry, and make a debt slave of many a young person with a useless degree.

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Sandy L April 1, 2011 at 5:39 PM

101- Ha..that made me laugh, basket weaving. Agree on the federal loans. I personally wasn’t able to get any aid until I maxed out my federal loans first. A little is okay, but having someone 80 or 100K in debt for a liberal arts career is certainly problematic. It’s one thing if you become a surgeon and can pay back the loans, a totally different thing if the ROI is not there.

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Nicole April 1, 2011 at 8:20 AM

Yeah, I get that a lot from a subset of my students. Especially the white males (and occasional white female, but usually it’s just guys) that just barely got in. They think that anybody doing better than they are who isn’t a middle-class white male like they are is doing better because they’re the recipients of affirmative action (which they’re NOT since that’s illegal in our state) or legacy. Nothing to do with other folks going to class all the time, studying, going to office hours, turning in homework that they double checked. It’s all the whole world being against them.

You should have heard me go off on one guy in class when he was critiquing a paper that showed that the CA top percent plan didn’t do what the people who implemented it hoped it would do. He said it was racist because of what it studied! Instead it should have studied the whites who were harmed by affirmative action. Like him! Because it took him 8 years and 3 colleges to get to where he is now because he kept flunking out, he says. I’m sorry honey, but I think you’re optimistic if you think you would have been affected by any top 10% plan. I had to explain that if policy makers say something does X and a paper shows that it does Y, that doesn’t mean the paper is racist. Even if it was written by a woman or minority.

People who make it to our school who legitimately have things working against them, kids who are the first in their family to go to college, or have other disadvantages, accept that they’ve got these disadvantages and they work harder to overcome them rather than slacking. If all they did was blame the world, then they would never have made it to college. And that’s the big difference.

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Sandy L April 1, 2011 at 5:30 PM

Nicole – thanks. I knew you’d have some interesting commentary on this topic. I hate it when people blame others for their own mediocrity.

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Linda April 1, 2011 at 10:54 AM

The guy was a blow-hard and even if you had confronted him, it wouldn’t have changed his mind the least bit. I wonder if he really believes that, though, or if he just says it because he thinks it’s part of the “privileged male master of the universe” role he thinks he must play. I often wonder if the people spouting such nonsense are sincere or if they are playing a role. Maybe I’m too used to hearing about blowhard anti-gay men who get caught engaging in homosexual acts on Dan Savage’s podcast, and therefore question whether anyone spouting such crap is just parroting their role models or really believes it.

Because of my family situation I got a substantial amount of free aid when I was in undergrad, too. I’ve never really thought about it, but I guess I’ve paid it all back, too, through taxes and donations. (I give to my grad school but not my undergrad school, though. The state undergrad school made me jump through enough hoops just to get federal aid and enroll in classes. I was nothing but a faceless number to them and they never let me forget that. So now I don’t give them any money. The private graduate school was very different to me and I donate to them every year.)

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Sandy L April 1, 2011 at 5:41 PM

Linda – I think he was making an assumption about a population of people he knows nothing about.

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The Lost Goat April 1, 2011 at 1:55 PM

I agree that need-based scholarships can smooth the path to college for people whose financial situation might otherwise preclude such education. However, the state and federally administered programs don’t seem to do a very efficient job of identifying who can benefit from these programs, and who actually needs them.

For instance, my little brother is finishing his university degree with a free ride and a stipend for books through a state program for alcoholics and addicts who have completed treatment. I assure you that this money did not make the difference for him between college attendance and waiting tables (although he, personally, is broke, so he qualifies). So state taxpayers have footed the bill for his education for the last 2.5 years. I don’t think that’s fair.

Additionally, it has been my experience at university that fellow students who I knew participated in need-based aid were woefully unprepared for the coursework. Of course, the only reason that I knew they were on financial aid was because they told me, usually in the context of a rant about how life was unfair. So obviously it was a self-selecting sample. On the whole, however, these people were not able to complete a degree and ended up dropping out after a year or two. This left me with the impression that a large portion of the need-based dollars flowing through to students did not result in degrees. When you factor in the amount of money required to administer all these programs, I’m concerned that the cost per successful student for taxpayers is extremely high.

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Sandy L April 1, 2011 at 5:28 PM

Lost Goat – Thank you for expanding my limited world view on this topic. The school I went to was actually pretty tough to get into, so many of the students there were all the high fliers in their respective high schools = not that many slackers. I was actually one of those woefully unprepared folks. I eventually caught up and our school’s graduation rate is actually very high 75% vs 50% average for engineering, so admittedly, my view is skewed. The only other poor people I was exposed to were much like myself (working and going to school at the same time), not slacking and grinding their way to a better life.

I can see how those stats may be way different at a different kind of school that attracts a more diverse population (at least when it comes to performance and ability). Thanks for giving me a broader look at the topic. That’s why blogs are cool. People have all kinds of perspectives on the same topic.

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Nicole April 1, 2011 at 9:27 PM

Also you can’t discount the fact that the reasons that some poor folks have lots of financial aid are also reasons that it is difficult for them to get through school.

For example, one of my husband’s students is trying to do an engineering degree as a 20 year old and he is the sole guardian for his two younger siblings, and also a first generation college student, and working for pay as much as he can with all his other responsibilities. Every semester DH is not sure this guy is going to make it.

But he deserves the chance to try, and if he does he’s going to be able to provide a much better life for his family. Without financial aid he wouldn’t have the chance to even try, unlike the middle class guy complaining about poor folks getting financial aid.

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oilandgarlic May 5, 2011 at 12:04 PM

I guess everyone’s beliefs about this topic is colored by personal experience. First off, I benefitted from aid and have definitely contributed back to society in terms of career and taxes. I would NOT have been able to attend college without aid. Secondly, my experience with other students receiving need-based aid was the opposite of Lost Goat’s. Most were highly motivated and smart, and all graduated. In fact, most of the drop-outs I knew came from middle to upper class families who were there to please their parents and meet societal expectations. I think the larger problem in terms of finishing college nowadays is that our society pushes everyone to attend, regardless of ability.

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krantcents April 1, 2011 at 6:33 PM

Generalizations of any kind is very disturbing! The students I see in my class are from low socioeconomic backgrounds. There good and bad kids in my classes not unlike the private prep school my kids attended. Children should not be blamed for their particular circumstances. I am more concerned about this man’s attitude and how damaging he can be on his children. I think he is rationalizing his kid’s circumstance with his colleagues!

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Sandy L April 3, 2011 at 6:22 AM

Krantcents – yeah you’re right on the rationalization. It was apparent when he said his girlfriend was valedictorian and had a 4.0 average just like his wife. ie me and my son didn’t get good grades, but we can at least get smart girls to be with us.

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Sandy @ Journey To Our Home April 1, 2011 at 7:21 PM

Comments like those are completely maddening!! I come from a poor family- and I have NEVER done drugs. I also received an academic scholarship for most of my school and the rest of first undergraduate was made up by work study and needs based grants.
Wow- some people are so uneducated.

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Sandy L April 3, 2011 at 6:24 AM

Sandy – ditto, although my dad was an alcoholic and addicted to prescription drugs but he was long out of the picture by the time college rolled around.

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eemusings April 1, 2011 at 8:44 PM

Total honesty here: Of the people I see at uni, the “poor” ones from the wrong side of the tracks (and yes, some on scholarships) – they try hard and are some of the most hardworking students.

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Sandy L April 3, 2011 at 6:26 AM

eemusings-thanks for your observations. I really think that if you make it as far as uni you’re pretty motivated. Unfortunately, many disadvantaged kids don’t even make it through high school, let alone college.

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Jackie April 2, 2011 at 8:53 AM

I’m glad you didn’t waste your breath confronting him, but I can see the temptation? Most people have NO CLUE what it is like to be poor — myself included really, because even though I had a below poverty-level income for several years I did still have a support network that I could have turned to if things got really desperate.

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Sandy L April 3, 2011 at 6:29 AM

Jackie – yeah. I feel the same. My family was low income but I never felt destitute. Heck, my mom even sent me to private school. I’m still amazed that she was able to budget for that.

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Molly On Money April 2, 2011 at 10:13 AM

I’ve been re-reading this post over the last few days contemplating if I had any relevant advice or comment to make. It’s a tough one. I agree with Jackie and yet I have confronted people who were being total arses and it did feel good. Only one time when I confronted someone do I know it made the person stop and change their perspective. The woman I confronted came up to me in a coffee shop a month later, introduced herself as the woman I chastised and shamed. She actually thanked me and apologized for her behavior!
I’m not a believer that you can forcibly change people but I do believe you can make people feel very uncomfortable when they act inappropriately. Here’s my example: The town I live in is very classist. The old Hispanic generations feel very superior over the whites and Mexicans (some at least carry this belief). My daughter is 1/2 Mexican. One day at her friends house (who’s father is a Mexican and mother a Hispanic) the Hispanic grandmother started going off on ‘drunk’ Mexicans and ‘isn’t that how they all are’, right in front of the kids! I took a few deep breaths and responded, ‘You don’t really mean that? That would be like saying all Hispanics are ignorant.’ She got really embarrassed because she realized she was not preaching to the choir. I don’t think I changed her but she sure as H-E-double hockey sticks won’t be saying racist comments around me or my daughter.
It incredibly challenging.

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Sandy L April 3, 2011 at 6:19 AM

Molly – I think it’s a bit of a different story being open with people that you plan on seeing again. In that case, I think it’s best to communicate things to each other. I guess since I had a choice whether or not to engage in conversation with this guy, I chose not to.

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Molly On Money April 3, 2011 at 10:59 AM

I agree. I was thinking about that as I was writing my comment. With someone you don’t know you could also be risking your safety.

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Little House April 3, 2011 at 1:56 PM

The mentality that one person “deserves” something due to their social status versus what they actually produce really ticks me off too. It sounds like this man was stereotyping people based on socio-economic status. Such a narrow frame of reference leads me to believe that man had a narrow mind as well.

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Ardes May 2, 2011 at 3:13 PM

We are too.

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