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January is Poverty Awareness Month

Are you bowling with bumper lanes?

January is Poverty Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to take stock of personal beliefs and biases.

We in Rock County have a proud heritage of hard-working ancestors who withstood the hardships of wars and wilderness to build the communities and livelihoods we know today.

And we’ve heard time and time again that anyone can succeed if they work hard enough.

The subconscious message then is that if you’re wealthy it’s because you worked hard for it, and if you’re poor, it’s because you didn’t.

While there will always be self-made successes and self-induced failures, the reality is that most private wealth today is inherited, and it’s harder than ever to dig out of poverty if that’s what you’re born into.

The adage, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” was coined during a time when minimum wages supported a family. Today the working poor can’t support a family on two full-time minimum wage jobs, and many are just one unexpected car repair or medical bill away from homelessness.

Yet, many who are born into wealth believe they succeeded purely through their own effort. It’s all they’ve known, and after all, they have indeed worked.

As a result, they don’t understand why poor people are poor. It’s like bowling with bumper lanes their entire lives and not understanding why so many others are terrible at bowling.

Unfortunately, the widening wealth disparity between average American families and powerful people running the country means that we can’t count on public policy for change.

When wealthy lawmakers and their wealthy supporters believe that poverty is due to a lack of motivation and not a lack of opportunity, it’s unlikely they’ll support policies to help close the wealth gap.

It’s easier to blame poor people for their plight and create an “us versus them” narrative that suggests policies that “help them will somehow hurt us.” (We could afford trillion-dollar tax cuts for the wealthy, but free school lunches will strain the budget.)

What’s worse is that perpetuating these ideas even further widens the human divide of the “haves” and “have nots,” and it’s all exacerbated by social media echo-chambers reinforcing what’s comfortable for us to hear.

So, what can we do? The one and only thing we’ve always had the power to do: check our own attitudes. Are we blinded by our privilege? Have we unfairly judged?

Here’s something else we can do: Support Luverne’s Luv1LuvAll Poverty Initiative. Believe it or not, Rock County families aren’t all privileged, and some of us are trying to help.

Find them on Facebook, or email the board at

— Lori Sorenson, editor

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