Overheard on CNN.com: What's the best way to get people out of poverty?
Each member of the Bryants' co-op pays $3 for over $100 worth of groceries and is required to pitch in with the distribution.
January 9th, 2012
07:02 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: What's the best way to get people out of poverty?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

More than 4,000 comments (and counting) have been written about the story of an Atlanta couple who came upon hard times and high medical bills. Alan Bryant is a line cook at Ruth's Chris Steak House, where he cooks pricey steaks. His wife, Andono, is shown picking up groceries at a food co-op. Readers took a look at the story and offered their opinions in the comments section, encompassing a wide variety of views.

Poor, but feeding the rich

The most-liked comment on the story was posted by a reader defending the Bryants, saying that some people come into life with different circumstances than others. There was a response from another reader who had beaten the odds and said the Bryants had options they could have pursued.

chiefofsages: "It bugs me when people keep saying 'well, they should've gone to college and gotten an education rather than popping out kids,' or crap like that. The article says they were from lower-class families that very likely could not afford college. Even with grants, scholarships, etc. ..., it's still very expensive to attend. And if you need loans, you're screwed. Additionally, an education doesn't always mean you're guaranteed a job or safety. My sister has a bachelor's degree and two years later is making just over minimum wage. One of her best friends went for a master's degree and is still looking for a job. My other sister's co-worker (who held a master's degree as well) was let go because the economy sucks. So, please don't sit there and say that everything is their fault. Did they make some choices that could've negatively impacted their lives? Absolutely, I think they're partially to blame. Do I think that they're completely to blame and that they are victims of their poor decisions? Not a chance in hell."

Sebastian293: "At 13 I lived in a homeless shelter. I remember on more than one occasion that dinner consisted of boiled onions. I lived in Minnesota and for four years I made do with a fleece jacket we had bought at Kmart for $12. Don't tell me they were poor and could not go to college. There was financial assistance available, there were scholarships. I grabbed every opportunity and made sacrifices. In my junior year I took advantage of my state's post-secondary program and was sent to college for my junior and senior years. Friendships? Sacrificed. Leisure time? Sacrificed? I like to joke that I was taking finals in college while my classmates were at prom! I finished with a 3.93 and a lot of debt ($17k), but I did not major in basket weaving. I knew to study something practical, not fun. Am I a millionaire today? No. I make just under $50,000, which for the Midwest isn't so bad. So does it bug me when people say: 'Oh, they came from a poor background they can't help it'? Yes, it absolutely does."

DoNotWorry: "I know dozens of folks with 'good' degrees who are not working. Attorneys and paralegals. Out of work. I've seen three law firms crash in a row. I know about a dozen and a half attorneys who've lost their homes. More staff who've stumbled. I apply for jobs and compete against attorneys who will take a paralegal job. And still the UI office tells the newly unemployed people to go to paralegal school, amass debt and add to the numbers. Why? More debt and no job?"

ibivibiv: "Not everything was their fault, but how about deciding to have kids when you can't be responsible for them? My wife and I aren't having any yet, you know why? Because we can't do it right now; it would be irresponsible. Sure everyone has the right to, but that doesn't mean you should."

This reader said the family spent beyond their means, which contributed to their situation and is an example that others should take note of.

LC23489: "I feel bad for them, but some of their situation could have been prevented and it should be a lesson to others. When you have five children, and you only make $40,000 a year, you can't afford a house. And you can't afford vacations. They spent money on both of those things, probably without saving much in the process. It is a learning lesson for them and others about financial responsibility."

Some commenters said a few readers were judging the couple too harshly.

NahImSerious: "As a middle-class-raised black person I see that many of my fellow Americans, mostly those who don't know anyone outside of their upper-middle-class world, don't understand that continuing a cycle is far easier than breaking out of one. It's hard for a kid who went to private schools and a good college to be anything less than middle class. It's much harder for a person of color, with a public school education (Very bad outside a cul-de-sac near you.) Please, get off your high horse. I know a lot of us would be in bad shape if you were born into a family in a different tax bracket and went to public schools that weren't like your perfectly good, safe, public schools. But you have, and will never have to know that life, so it's easy to degrade anybody who needs help. And for those who are commenting on the young lady's weight, you should also be aware that not everyone has to eat large amounts to be overweight. It's also far easier to be overweight when you can't afford to make sure everything you buy is gluten free at Whole Foods."

But, some opined, there's a reason why some people become poor and some don't.

1Truth2Tell: "Most people are poor because of the decisions they make, not going to school, having kids young, etc. So stop blaming others for the decisions you made. Own them and work out of them."

One commenter said the economy is tough for everyone.

SLBoston: "Wow. The comments on this article absolutely astound me. The middle class is disappearing before our eyes. Wages have been stagnant for 30 years (fact) while the cost of everything is going up (fact). I have friends who have degrees in 'real' majors - accounting, business, even a few attorneys - that had a really hard time finding a job. Many are working for $12-$15 an hour in their late 20s or early 30s with degrees. The economy is bad and good jobs just aren't as available as they used to be. My husband and I make six figures together and are by no means rich. We have significant student loans, a modest house and one small car payment. We're doing OK but are very middle class. We were just talking about that over the weekend ... if we're just doing OK on six figures with no kids, what chance do people making 50k with four in their household stand? I can't even get out of the grocery store these days without dropping $100 just for two people! Our utilities for a 1,600 squar foot house are over $400/month – that's just heat, electric, and water! Sales and property taxes where we live are also high. We have savings, but I can see where it would be hard, if not impossible, for a family of four living on 50k a year to have any savings at all. Then someone loses their job, and then what? You heartless people on here would say it's all their fault. Instead of maybe looking at the state of America today and realizing that we're really headed in the wrong direction, you just blame the citizens. Just like the ultra-wealthy want you to. They outsourced jobs to China and Mexico to line their bank accounts and then you turn around and blame citizens who can't find decent paying jobs to support their families. Boggles the mind. Sorry for the wall of text, just had to get it out."

One of the biggest debates taking place was about the relationship between income and the ability to be healthy. Commenters talked about preventing heart disease and weight control, as well as the affordability of healthy food.

catmouse: "There have been many comments attacking this woman's weight. Fact: The most affordable foods are unhealthy, high carb-processed foods that are cheap due to corn subsidies. This is why so many poor Americans are overweight. Fact: As women age, they tend to gain weight and without the financial means to afford healthy foods, it is more difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Let's stop the bully-attacks and focus on the real issue: The American middle class is disappearing."

bwmurphy4486: "Fact: Eat less and you save money. If you're eating higher-calorie food, then eat less of it. Healthy foods don't cost less. I eat a healthy diet and spend less than $10 a day on food! The No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in America is medical debt. That is a fact. Look it up. The middle and lower classes are the ones most likely to be overweight, to smoke, and to drink too much. If you're poor, then being fat and having bad habits make it worse. I'm not arguing there isn't income inequality or that things need to change. I am arguing that we are making it harder on ourselves. If you find yourself in a hole someone else dug (the .1%, not the 1%), don't be stupid and help them bury you!"

Some argued about the cost of healthy food.

whodey: "Obesity is always the highest among poor, not because they 'eat too much' or are 'pigs' but because the cheapest foods have the highest fat content. We subsidize unhealthy foods (corn) and make healthy foods expensive."

Genealogist1: "I have spent a lot of my life below the poverty line. NEVER have I eaten the garbage I see people regularly buy with food stamps at the grocery store."

camklr: "If someone is truly poor, they would not be able to afford any food, much less fast food. Next time you are at the grocery store, take a look at prices of vegetables vs. processed food; you'll find veggies are cheaper."

Some talked about the benefits and challenges of providing government assistance.

wonfish: "When a person falls down along the Walk of Life, you reach down and give them a hand up. You don't stand there and judge whether they deserve your hand or not! We will all be judged at the end of that walk."

lvanhelsing: "I agree ... but what the heck does that have to do with expanding the size and scope of the federal government? There are plenty of good organizations that actually HELP people get out of poverty. Statistically speaking, people who get trapped in government assistance (especially women) never get out. In fact, it becomes a generational addiction. My wife was a social worker and I've seen this with my own eyes in both New Orleans and Atlanta. Welfare does not lead to success. Period."

We heard from a number of Canadians who were shocked at the $47,000 medical bill.

Scuddy: "The fact that people who are struggling just to get by have to worry about medical bills is insane. I live in Canada and, guess what, I have had two angioplasties and stents and guess how much it cost me? $0. The United States really needs to get on board with the rest of the advanced countries and treat their citizens with respect and kindness, but when I listen to what is spilling out of the mouths of the Republican candidates I don't see much hope."

redprinceton: "It might have been $0 for you, but it costs somebody something."

turtle995: "In other developed countries, health care is paid for from tax revenue, which forces the system to be more efficient. In the United States, our taxes pay for wars. Where would you prefer your tax dollars go?"

This commenter said the couple didn't make the right decisions to get them to the right place in life.

vegasguy: "Did they go to school? Did they get married before having children? How many kids did they think they could afford? It isn't rocket science. We have too many people who don't live according to the rules! I'm tired of supporting these welfare cheats!"

Another commenter said the assistance this couple receives is an investment in the future.

Dragon68: "I have no problem with people like this receiving food stamps. These are not people riding the system generation to generation. He lost his previous job, and is working what he can right now. She is seeking education to improve her position. Isn't this exactly what should happen? They have hit a rough patch and are doing what they can to get through it. When she graduates from nursing school, she will be able to make $40,000 a year on her own, and will get health insurance again. Even if he stays at Ruth's Chris making $11 an hour, that is still $22,000 per year, which will give them a family income of over $60,000. At that point, they will be paying back into the system. On top of that, they are setting a great example for their kids on how to handle adversity and get back on your feet. I wish them all the luck!"

That's quite a bit of conversation. What do you think about the Bryants' story? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: Economy • Jobs • Overheard on CNN.com
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. jo36

    READ THE ARTICLE. Their children are grown and is a blended family. Both of them had been with other people before. Wow it bugs me how people can read articles and totally get the facts wrong. Her children are not HIS children, HIS children are not HER children. How about giving them some kudo's for the volunteering and donations they made to homeless people when they where in better economic times. I work with low income people. All 6 of my appointments last week were white people, in the suburbs. Bet you wouldn't be seeing this crap to the US MILITARY member and his family that I helped fill out a food stamp application with.

    January 10, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tully

    I'm one of those PPL who dropped out of 11th grade to take a Factory job at 16 years old, with all the answers. I found out the hard way, about life. After years at the edge of poverty, I bought a GED study book for $12, studied, passed the exam and got my diploma. Determined, I enrolled in Adult Ed Math course, passed, got a student loan and worked 2 jobs for 3 years to get an associate degree. Paid off my 10 year Student Loan ONTIME while making min. Wage. Another 10 years Exp to learn my Craft and finally found a good job, then another. I'm 56 years old now, but I own a wonderful life that I sacrificed and worked my tail off for. No Arrests, No Grants, No freebies. Just Hard Work and DETERMINATION, and AMERICA. ANYBODY CAN DO WHAT I HAVE DONE, ALL IT TAKES IS NOT GIVING UP, EVER, NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE TOLD OR HOW MANY TIMES YOU FAIL.

    January 10, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Think

    Stop having so many kids. It's all about responsibility. In the 70's it was zero population growth ... not now... it's the new rage...... just pop them out, ignore what your costing society and the environment... it's all about you.

    January 11, 2012 at 2:16 am | Report abuse |
  4. Carol A.

    My mother just left the hospital. I was told that the remaining medication that she was taking will be thrown out as the hospital cannot prescribe medication. What a waste. Why not donate the millions of medicines prescribed every year(as well as the perfectly usable remaining diapers and other medical disposables) to needy people in our country or around the world.

    January 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ron S

    Look at the picture and notice every "starving" person in the room is a FAT ASS. Thermodynamically lazy. Fact! Not Working now....understandable. Not working most of their lives – their fault. Uneducated – their fault. Sooooo many programs exist with the help of my tax dollars to help these parasites. To break the multigenerational system abuse, the children need to be educated (as well as most socialists who are all for spending other peoples money on these lost causes)as to how horrible their loser mothers are. Don't know your Daddy? He is a loser too. The main crisis is illegitimacy as it is the best predicter of failure in society. Black, white or purple, if momma has many kids and no dad around, the kids will learn that as a way of income or how to skip out of responsibilities. Obtaining handouts, cheating the system and being cool are far more important than work, school and responsibility. An adult that chooses not to work or train or get an education and receives government aid betters serves the planet as dog food.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
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