Young, broke, applying for food stamps: Who gets to be poor?

Karina wrote a piece for The Billfold that’s worth your read, taking on a particular query that her generation of struggling Brooklynites faces: Who gets to be poor? It starts with Karina in a coffee shop in Bed-Stuy talking to friends about applying for food stamps, when a nosy Nancy interjected saying, “Excuse me, but you’re all disgusting,” and that what they were talking about was wrong “because you’re overeducated white people. Just get a job.” The piece is a meditation on what kinds of people we consider socially acceptable to be “poor,” and whether every young person in Brooklyn is bound to be a stereotyped caricature of a Girls character, instead of perhaps the hard-working, trying-to-make-a-living mindset that brought a lot of people here in the first place (and Karina is one! -Her Editor). Read an excerpt below, and the full thing at The Billfold.

An excerpt:

Being young, privileged, and poor is not a fun twenty-something adventure. I’m not one cheeky fourth of Girls. This is not an audition for the Bohemia life before I return to my family’s house in the suburbs, or get a job at a financial firm owned by my father’s friend. I don’t have a family in the suburbs, and my father doesn’t have those friends. Moving in with my mom or dad is less an option than it is a death sentence for my professional life, barely existing as is. For me, my need is simple numbers. It’s not the social poverty we know from textbooks and nightly news. It’s transitional and temporary, though there is no guarantee I won’t again find myself in a similar spot.

Follow Karina and buy her cheese wheels: @karinabthatsme.


  1. Talia

    Oh my word – the comments on that piece, of course it’s the kind of thing the trolls come out for. Worth the read just for bon mots like ‘It’s morally wrong to get foodstamps when you /could just ask your rich uncle for money/’.

  2. beezy

    I think the older woman was right – pursuing your dream job is a luxury that these ‘overeducated white people’ can afford. It’s not as if they’re filling out applications at McDonalds or Target or to be the person cleaning gym equipment at 24 hour fitness.

    If they were truly poor, the comments they received from the woman at the coffee shop would be a daily occurrence – not cause for a 1,000 word blog post.

  3. conaldarcy

    I think the subtext is “only black people should have EBT (or, as a corollary, no white people should have EBT)” That’s a really hard position to open justify, so it takes the form of criticizing people in public.

    Perhaps everyone should mind their own business. (No, I don’t have EBT).

  4. beezy

    I think that’s a false distinction, conaldarcy – there are plenty of broke white people with no education, no family, no money, and most importantly, NO OPTIONS. The distaste at the prototypical 20-somethings pursuing their dream jobs (rather than just trying to survive) is that they have options (even if they are poor ones) and they are choosing not to utilize them.

    • conaldarcy

      But how does the state determine whether you have or had no options? Should they run a credit check on your extended family members? Do you need to fill out a questionaire about what kind of job you ultimately want to have? Do you need to take a strength test? A spelling test? A math test? A lie detector? Please describe this “prototypical 20-something” so we can change the rules and exclude him/her from the benefits package.

      My point is, the only requirement for getting EBT is a fixed address in the city and a certain income level. If you don’t like that, lobby to have it changed. Remember that, from a legal standpoint, trying to determine a person’s intent is horribly complicated and usually winds up with someone deserving state aid getting screwed.

      • beezy

        The question was never if they were legally able to receive food stamps, but who “gets” to be poor from a taste/values standpoint.

        To answer the original question: No, Karina Briski and her roommates don’t “get” to be poor. They’ve haven’t lived the plight of the urban poor; and barring a disastrous turn of events, never will.

        • Tim Donnelly

          So what makes the “urban poor” more deserving of our support than an educated person from a poor family? Are we saying that the people who deserve to get food stamps can’t get jobs on their own?

          • beezy

            At this point, I think a more formal response is required; but the short answer is – Karina (not to single her out; this really applies to a vast majority of us) won’t be starving, with or without food stamps; and she won’t be homeless with or without housing vouchers or subsidized rent. For many people in this country (the “truly” poor) the only remaining options are to starve and to be homeless.

  5. dl4001

    didn’t we already cover this ground with the “rejected from food stamps” article? maybe that one got tons of traffic and multiple comments so were looking to capitalize again on those types of page-views? (and its clearly working, since here i am commenting again…)

    i agree with beezy. its not by definition a race issue. it’s just very easy to associate it with race in this city where so many of the young white kids ARE people who have voluntarily moved to a very expensive place to pursue very high risk/low pay careers.

    And I like those young white kids chasin their dream. they all tend to be very polite, nice, morally-sound members of society who really do wish they could work hard and succeed in their chosen field. but the problem is that is not the requirement for social welfare. social welfare if for people that didnt have the opportunity and options to make it based on hard work alone.

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