Months ago, I read an article (I forget the source) stating that people who live in poverty have a lower IQ than middle-class and wealthy people. The article didn’t contain any proven reasons behind this, but there was some speculation. Poor people work long hours for low pay in menial jobs, and when they get home they’re too drained to feed their head even if they have the opportunity to do so. Poor people can’t think as clearly as the rest of us because their nutritionally bankrupt whatever’s-on-sale diet doesn’t allow for brain growth and development. Poor people don’t value education, and are more likely to buy a gigantic TV than spend their scant leisure dollars on books or classes. Poor people didn’t do well in school because their parents didn’t value education, either, and didn’t support their learning efforts. Poor people are lazy and don’t care to improve their lot by studying or encouraging their children to study. The author was careful to assure readers that not all of these things apply to all poor people, and that more exploration of this issue is needed.
I confess that I mentally yawned, and moved on. “Poverty” is an important word with deep, wide meaning – but, like “injustice” and “climate change”, it has been used to the point of desensitizing many of us. Yes, we know we should care – and we do – but sometimes these words make our eyes glaze over. I had Christmas shopping to do, we were expecting weekend guests and the house needed cleaning, it was time to pick Fiona and Bridget up from school. The article was forgotten for the moment. The next week, something happened that rattled it back to the forefront of my consciousness: a water main broke on our street. It went down on a Monday afternoon, and was fixed by Wednesday night. During this time, sediment built up in one of the pipes leading to our washing machine and jammed it. Our hot water tank burned out. So, first we were without any water at all. We were buying water to drink, brush our teeth and cook. We were bringing in buckets of snow to flush toilets, and wash dishes and ourselves. Then, we had water, but no washing machine or hot water tank. So, I hauled about four loads of laundry to a local laundromat to wash, then hauled them back home to stuff into our dryer. Washing alone was $9; drying would have made the cost double. I boiled about eight pots of water on our stove to fill the tub a quarter of the way so Fiona and Bridget could have a warm bath. Ryan and I got cleaned up at work, since there’s a gym and accompanying showers in the basement.
The whole experience was tiring and stressful. Do we have enough water to drink? Should we wash these dishes now or wait til there’s a bigger pile? Hope nobody at school makes fun of the girls for being a bit funky …. Oh, I’m out of clean underwear – better load up the trunk and head for the laundromat. What? It’s only open until five today? The hot water tank guys can’t get here til Friday. I guess we could shower at work. We’re not supposed to unless we’re gym users, but my hair’s too greasy even for a trip to Walmart. We had everything else we needed, and we knew that the water, washing machine and hot water tank were coming back in a matter of days. Yet all I could think about the whole damn week was water.
Imagine if I not only had to scramble constantly for water, but also for food, clothing, toiletries, electricity, heat, medicine, and school supplies – and there was no end in sight. If this was my life. What brain cells would be left to consider my financial options properly, or relax with a book? What energy would be left to help my children with their homework or cheer them on academically? What energy would be left to educate myself? How could I value education if I was being crushed daily by tough, nobody-wins choices: I can bring Fiona to the dentist and fix her cavity, or we can buy groceries for weeks. I can buy excema cream for Bridget or I can buy her new boots, because the ones she’s wearing are letting in water. I can have heat, or I can skip a trip to the food bank and buy fresh vegetables for once. I need milk, cereal, bread, aspirin, shampoo and laundry detergent – but I can only buy two of those things right now. I think that winter coat will have to wait a few more weeks.
Maybe poor people are not less intelligent than the rest of us. Maybe their minds are just completely taken up by the struggle to get by. Perhaps they need stability and reassurance that their needs will be met before we toss IQ tests at them and tut-tut-tut over the results from our seat of comfort and plenty.