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Why are people poor? Truth is, a lot of reasons

Mike Desmond

Reaching back half a century to Martin Luther King Jr., economic activists have revived King's Poor People's Campaign with the Truth Commission on Poverty.

More than a dozen speakers told a large audience in the 1199 SEIU union hall in North Buffalo what it is like to be poor, or to grow up in poverty, and then raise children in poverty. The causes ranged from health issues to domestic violence.

The single issue that dominated the discussion was the low pay for so many jobs that keep people in poverty. Andrew Tripp, who works in a taco shop and goes to college, said his poverty issue is a combination of things.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"If you ever know what it's like to pay for the air that you breathe, you will know what it's like to pay for insulin," Tripp said. "My life depends on it and half of my paycheck goes to insulin pumps, other medical supplies. The other half goes for gas, of course, to make it to my lovely job. Rinse and repeat. On top of the current struggle, I leave college with a piece of paper and tens of thousands of dollars in debt."

Tripp said college debt is an issue that is not discussed enough.

Sara Palmer said retail does not pay well and, with past violent relationships, with her kids are paying the price.

"I had my first child five days after my 21st birthday and my third by the time I was 26," Palmer said. "I cannot afford to buy for my children in the way that I would like to and give them a life outside of poverty. I have trouble paying for their school supplies during the school year and I have to have my mom help."

Palmer said she cannot afford to send her kids to the after-school, weekend and summer programs that might help them move up from poverty.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Another mom said she eats bread because it is cheap, so she can feed her children properly.

There are also people pushed out of jobs by bad treatment at work. Victoria Guite said she just could not handle her boss.

"During the holiday season, I am ashamed to say that I started to have a bit of a drinking problem," Guite said. "I just could not handle it - and the thing that surprised me the most was that all of this was legal. Because I was a temporary associate, all of this was legal."

The commission, led by Buffalo NAACP President Mark Blue, said it will eventually prepare a report with the evidence presented at Thursday night's speakers.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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