Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Honest, and dishonest, poverty in Phoenix and Los Angeles


In a longish life, I've met a lot of people who have been poor. Some of them, I can tell, have been genuinely poor, but most have been like the little rich girl in the story who is asked to describe a poor family: "The daddy was poor, the mommy was poor, the children were poor, the butler was poor, the chauffeur was poor..." And I understand. It's all a matter of point of view. And the most common thing I hear about people being poor is that they had honest poverty. They may been poor, but they didn't steal stuff. Of course, there's always that one uncle...

Honest poverty, and dishonest poverty, go hand-in-hand. If someone has plenty of money, they can afford to walk past a hundred dollar bill lying there on the sidewalk, but for people who really need to pay the rent, buy food, that sort of thing, something like that can seem like a blessing from heaven. Yes, it's stealing in a way, taking something that isn't yours, but it's hard to imagine someone passing that up who really needs it.

I've lived in poor neighborhoods in Phoenix, and in Los Angeles. Most of the people I know nowadays can't even imagine that sort of place. The crowding, the noise, yes even gunshots. And don't even think about leaving a bicycle outside, even with a strong lock - if it can't be stolen, the parts will be stripped by the time you get up in the morning.

I've been lucky. When I moved back to Phoenix, at 31, I got a good job at Valley Bank in the graphics department (yes, banks have corporate graphics departments!). I was able to move out to suburbia, which is where I still am. I still see honest, and dishonest, poverty in my neighborhood, but not as much as where I used to live.

Poverty sucks. And it can happen to anyone. What people do with it is the measure of their character. I've seen honest poverty, and dishonest poverty. And sometimes the most honest people are the ones with the least money.

Image at the top of this post: the 1891 flood in Phoenix, Arizona.

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