Image Credits: Huffington Post

Recently, my Facebook timeline exploded as my fellow politicos shared a speech in which Bernie Sanders implied that white poverty didn’t exist, and certainly was not an issue we needed to worry about. Seeing someone who claimed to be “for everyone” say that set my blood boiling. Sorry Bernie, but white poverty DOES exist, and it is a big problem for the people I know and love.

I was born and raised in Kentucky, the Eastern end, which is not exactly known for being the most prosperous area in our great nation. I love my home state, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t perfect, and Eastern Kentucky experiences some of the worst poverty in our entire country. Eastern Kentucky is also predominantly white.

Kentucky counties have been ranking as the poorest counties in the United States for years, so hearing Bernie Sanders deny an experience I have lived first hand was frustrating to say the least.  2014 research found that Owsley County, Kentucky has a mean household income of $19,624, making it, at the time, the poorest in the nation. Other counties near the poorest end of the list included Wolfe County ($21,168), McCreary County ($21,758), Jackson County ($22,213) and Clay County ($22,296).  In particular Wolfe County is over 95% white (closer to 99% if you look at the 2000 census) and 35% of the population lives under the poverty line.

When people like Bernie Sanders say white poverty doesn’t exist, they are invalidating the very real experiences of people all over the United States. Poverty knows no color, no state, no gender. Poverty can and does affect everything. In my town alone, I know several African-Americans that are extremely wealthy, and several Caucasians that are extremely poor. They don’t fit the agenda that Bernie Sanders is trying to push on the American people, because he is absolutely out of touch with the citizens he is trying to represent.  

Poverty rises out of many factors, whether it be genetic predisposition to alcoholism and drug addiction, lack of education, lack of resources, or the economic situation of an area. The best way to combat poverty is not, however, to give everyone a hand out. Instead, we need to give everyone a hand up. Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, we could all use a hand up every now and then. We all experience poverty, and we all wish we didn’t. Giving hand outs to one sector of the population because you think that are predisposed to poverty reeks of racism and ignorance. Poverty is a major problem for everyone, and the way to help everyone get out of poverty is by creating more jobs to give them that opportunity.

Bernie’s support of a $15 minimum wage and attacks on the fossil fuel industry stand in direction contradiction to his platform to fight poverty.

By now, we all know that $15 minimum wage is not going to help the population as a whole. When you increase wages drastically (a $15 minimum wage would be double what the minimum wage currently is in Kentucky), you are taking away jobs from lower skilled workers, those who are most affected by poverty on average.  

Last year, it was announced that the plant and refinery in my hometown would be “idling” due to new EPA and anti-Fossil Fuel regulations. Hundreds of people lost their well-paying jobs, leaving them much more vulnerable to falling into poverty.  Many of these now unemployed husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers had worked in the plant and refinery for the majority of their adult lives, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else, even if they had the skills to.

If Bernie Sanders, or any candidate for that matter, wants to truly fight poverty, they need to open their eyes to what poverty is across the country. Poverty is not just inner-city Detroit or Oakland. There are people experiencing poverty all over the nation, from sea to shining sea, and if we don’t implement broad-reaching programs and models to help EVERYONE, regardless of their skin color, we won’t help anyone. We need more jobs, that’s what it comes down to. We don’t need more jobs for one race over the other, or one gender over the other.

Poverty can affect anyone, and if Bernie Sanders thinks that white poverty doesn’t exist, he needs to clean his glasses and look again.

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member