Poring over the facts from this week’s cover story, “Poverty Inc.”, one seems to provide underpinning to the entire episode.

It is ridiculously easy to take advantage of poor people — to gain the upper hand, to apply leverage, to disenfranchise. But to make real money at it, you have to apply it to large groups of them.

Over the course of the story it became clear that many clients of United Youth Care Services did not have keys to their own living spaces, were subject to arbitrary rules and forced to attend recovery meetings whether they used drugs or not.

Many took advantage of the opportunity presented: a short-term place to stay with a few strings attached. Many of them were single mothers looking for any safe port in their personal storms. All of them were subject to the fear that one day they’d come home and see their belongings out at the curb, and there would be nothing they could do about it.

James Baldwin remarked in 1961 how expensive it is to be poor, with the corollary: “[I]f one is a member of a captive population, economically speaking, one’s feet have simply been placed on the treadmill forever.”

But it’s easy to forget — say, from the comfort of an air-conditioned office or in a car speeding down the highway — just how vulnerable they are.

This is why religions around the world bless them, and why we judge people and the societies they create by how they treat the least among them.

For there have always been poor people, just as there have always been those ready and willing to take advantage of them.

Our policies and government institutions need to address this, not exacerbate it.

The scheme “Poverty Inc.” uncovered saw scared and hungry people being mined for their misery, the tab picked up by Medicaid dollars without question or examination. And it all seemed so easy to perpetrate.

Simply being poor was the most difficult part of the arrangement.

Read the full piece online here.

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