Journalist on learning for herself: ‘poverty is a circumstance, not a value judgement’

The Washington Post

Darlena Cunha wrote Tuesday about finding herself driving a Mercedes to pick up food stamps. Cunha wrote about a series of big changes in her life for The Washington Post.

In 2007, Cunha took a new job as a producer in Boston. The following year, she discovered she was pregnant with twins. Then, the recession hit.

The weeks flew by. My boyfriend proposed, and we bought a house. Then, just three weeks after we closed, the market crashed. The house we’d paid $240,000 for was suddenly worth $150,000. It was okay, though — we were still making enough money to cover the exorbitant mortgage payments. Then we weren’t.

Now, Cunha is a freelance journalist who blogs at and has written for The Huffington Post, among other places. Her family’s finances are back on track.

But what I learned there will never leave me. We didn’t deserve to be poor, any more than we deserved to be rich. Poverty is a circumstance, not a value judgement. I still have to remind myself sometimes that I was my harshest critic. That the judgement of the disadvantaged comes not just from conservative politicians and Internet trolls. It came from me, even as I was living it.

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  • pierecache

    You do know food stamps were discontinued in favor of debit cards before she said she went on Welfare. If that point is obviously false what else is untrue?

  • janinedm

    I was replying to sargeh….

  • Joshua Echt

    What is NOT mentioned is how she was able to get to go to grad school!

  • Alice

    Kristen is just pointing out the irony of her circumstance, so I don’t see why it’s an issue. I appreciate car loyalty; my paid-for 1999 Volvo is reliable, safe and familiar. Under Kristen’s circumstances, the car she’d paid for gave her comfort and reliability. Let her have that much anyway.

  • janinedm

    If you read the article, you’d find that the Mercedes was paid in full before she and her husband even met. Her argument, which I buy, is that it doesn’t make sense to sell it in favor of a car they would owe payments on that may have even been more prone to break down.

  • jpres

    Clearly you didn’t read the complete article or didn’t understand it. The mercedes, a 2003, was purchased and paid off before her husband lost his job. If they would have sold it, they likely wouldn’t have been able to get a car as reliable with the proceeds. Also, why should they sell a car that is paid off and was purchased prior to losing their job just so they aren’t judged by people like you?

  • steve849

    Was going to say. That’s a value judgement I’m comfortable making.

  • sargeh

    She makes a good point, but maybe a Ford would have served her as well as a Mercedes.