It takes tremendous, disciplined effort to survive destitution; people work hard at it. In a significant article in the Times, Jason DeParle described how people thrown off public assistance by the 1996 "welfare reforms" -- initiated by Republicans and colluded in by Democrats -- keep themselves alive, mostly outside the consciousness of most of us.
I see the can scavengers every Thursday night when I put out our recycling bin. They are just part of the urban economy.
This is what we get when the "survival of the fittest" crowd (of both political parties) make public policy. The very poor don't vote; you can do anything to them to keep life chugging along merrily for the one percent. "Welfare reform" -- pushing the poorest off government assistance and out of sight -- is deemed a great success. The poor are working too hard to pose any threat to their masters.
It is not that no one knew this would happen when cash welfare was destroyed in 1996. DeParle goes back and interviews Peter Edelman who quit the Clinton Administration in horror over its acquiescence in this Republican initiative. Like having been right about the immoral folly of the Iraq war or the housing bubble at the Wall Street casino, this prescience gets those who showed it little applause in retrospect.
Our "leaders" might do what they did to the very poor to any of us if we let them. We mustn't any of us ever forget that.