Low-income people are often criticised for making ‘poor decisions’ in the eyes of observers who think they have a better understanding of how poor people should live their lives, prioritise their spending, and live within their own communities. Yet, these criticisms are often made with a lack of understanding about how income levels influence decisionmaking, and how certain habits can become ingrained even after years; if you have lived with insecurity at some point, you are likely to continue to retain habits that reflect the experience of financial insecurity, even if those habits are actually detrimental to saving money, developing more independence, and living securely.
The thing about being poor is that it requires a radically different approach to life, and one that often doesn’t involve a long-term view, because you can’t afford to take such a view. When poor people are criticised for ‘bad decisions,’ it’s often for things like not buying in bulk (the econopack problem rides again), not renting more affordable housing (yes, because people choose to live in expensive rentals), not buying things that are more expensive in the short term but pay off in the long term (‘why keep buying crappy $20 shoes when you could buy a $100 pair of long-lasting shoes?’). So many of these judgments involve how poor people use their money, and they betray a fundamental lack of understanding about some basic facts of being poor.
When you are poor, you do not have savings, money in reserve, or a safety cushion in your bank account. It’s not that you’re being cheap and refusing to buy those $100 shoes, it’s that you have $35 in your bank account until next pay day, and your child needs shoes today. You don’t have access to credit, and if you did and chose to put those better shoes on a credit card, you wouldn’t be able to pay them off anyway, because most of your next paycheque is already allocated to expenses like rent and utilities that must be paid immediately (and in some cases are overdue).
When you are poor, there is no safety net, and this is something many middle class people do not understand. They confuse broke and poor, and don’t understand the genuine difference between their way of life and that of others. Those who retain cushions of hundreds or thousands of dollars start getting nervous about ‘not having enough money’ when they still have more in their accounts than poor people make in a month—and while one might argue that savings and maintaining such cushions is an example of good financial planning and a good idea, it’s only accessible to people who make enough money to do it.
And who have trained themselves to have the habit of doing it. One of the facts of poverty is that you become accustomed to spending money when you have it, and it becomes hard to check your spending habits in the unlikely event you do start making more money; consequently, it becomes very hard to save money, or to use your funds on practical things. Thus, a poor person might buy something like a television instead of bulk foods for the pantry, attracting disdain from critics, simply because she wants a television, and she has the money. Next month, when her income fluctuates and an emergency eats up her extra cash, she’s right back where she started, but at least she still has that television (for now, until she’s forced to sell it to pay the water bill three months in the future).
Decision making is complicated when you’re poor, and you have a very different rubric for decisions that other members of society do. Being poor isn’t mysterious and noble, but it’s not the fault of people who are poor, either; and it’s not necessarily something that people can magic their way out of just by making ‘the right choices’ as deemed by other members of society.
Decision making while poor can involve being forced to choose between two important expenses with the knowledge that you can only cover one. Food or electricity? Rent or garbage bill? Water or phone? Copay for the doctor’s office or transit pass so you can get to work? Car insurance or parking tickets? While many people are familiar with constant demands on their finances, people in the middle classes can generally handle these needs routinely as they come up; pay it off, move forward, maybe shift the budget around a little to accommodate unexpected expenses. When you are poor, even five dollars more or less can make a huge difference in your life.
The role that poverty plays as a looming shadow in the lives of many people is often discounted. To be poor is to make decisions solely on the basis of money, sometimes in the active knowledge that they are bad decisions but that they are also the only choice; this raises questions about the nature of whether they are truly decisions, or could be more accurately termed forced sacrificial moves. And to have been poor is to fear poverty again, to attempt to pull yourself out of harmful set habits that you recognise, but don’t necessarily know how to address, because you’ve never known anything but finance-induced decision making.
Is the money there? Spend it, quickly, before it slips away. Address immediate needs as they arise, because everything is a right-now crisis, and try not to think about the future. If the car breaks down, hope that it’s an easy fix, because the thought of buying a new one is insurmountable right now. If you can’t fix it, buy another old clunker even though you know it’ll break down too, because it’s all you can afford. Or search for a new job that will let you take transit, and hope that you don’t end up short on bus fare at the end of the month in that awkward period when all the money’s gone out and nothing has come in yet.
No, no! Of course I wanted to finish what was a nice evening of a beautiful day by stopping at every light from the Boulevard in Dover all the way to Sugarcreek (yes, there are eight or so stoplight-less miles between, but I hate stoplights and they don’t usually act like Wooster’s lights), then changing a flat (recently purchased brand new) tire in the dark. So much fun!
Sunday I was to drive myself to work. After work Sherilyn and Mom would drop the boys off with me and then take our 4-year-old with them to my cousin’s bridal shower.
Well, my car started dying by Java Jo’s, so I coasted down the hill to the side road and around the S-curve with the car off. Then I tried to start the car and get up the hill to 201 with a buggy in front of me. I could not get around the buggy.
I finally made it to Kline’s gas station and walked the quarter-mile to work, clocking in five minutes late. Either I ran out of gas and the gas light doesn’t work or else I finally blew a head gasket or something.
Thankfully, I only ran out of gas, but that’s only part of the story. After work, Mom picked me up at work and dropped the boys and me at the gas station. I got the car started, but the boys were standing beside it arguing over who gets the front seat, and the car died a final time.
Mom already left for the bridal shower, so I had my 10-year-old sit in the driver’s seat, foot on brake, and had him put the gear in neutral while I tried to push the car. It went nowhere. My 8-year-old tried to help push, then switched spots with the older boy.
The car did not move. So we walked the one mile (measured later) down to the restaurant where they were having the bridal shower, along a county road with lots of traffic, narrow berms, and no sidewalks. And the whole way, 10 kept saying, “Let’s walk back home!” My simple response was that there was no way I was walking 15 miles to get home. Nicely, about 3/4 of the way to the party, a work colleague drove by, stopped, turned around, and picked us up. My oldest, of course, kept complaining, wanting to walk, but I made him get in the bed of the pickup truck and sit down.
We got to the restaurant and the kids needed to use the toilet. Mind you, the restaurant itself is vacant and closed but for the buffet rooms, so we went to the hotel next door. The front desk lady was nice enough to let the kids get cereal and drinks, too. Finally, we took Mom’s car (I had my own key), drove home, got the mower gas can, drove back to the gas station, poured that gas in, and the car thankfully started right up, so I pulled it to the pump and put more gas in.
We decided to take Mom’s car back and walk back to get my car, but 10 kept bugging me, wanting to walk back to the party and then back to the car again. Being me, I finally relented and let him go, thinking he knew well enough how to be careful as he ran down the road. The entire, hillly mile.
When we got there, my aunt came out, carrying stuff and advised me that the party was over, so we just hung out and I let the kids go down to the fish pond. Behaviorily, it was downhill from there for my ADHD/ADS boys, but that was the end of my own adventure for the evening.
Mind you, this is after a Saturday in which this slightly overweight, very out-of-shape 40-year-old played in a coaches’ game of soccer, injuring my toe and almost hyperextending my knee. And my wife had to go to the ER late at night to find out she may have a torn miniscus in her left knee.
Oh, and we discovered the passenger rear van tire has a golf-ball sized bubble in the sidewall. Our neighbor put the donut on while I was at work. And we drove 150 miles on that because the tire shop couldn’t not get us in when we could be there.
That is my life. Can I go back to bed now?
Americans are literally working themselves to death. America is the most overworked nation in the developed world and Americans have become hostage to their jobs that has made their work-life balance unattainable.
President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937 signed into law the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as part of his New Deal agenda, establishing the five-day, 40-hour maximum workweek. The unions pushed it, and business leaders went along with it, since the research conducted in the five decades before that consistently found that 8-hour work days and 40-hour work weeks kept workers productive, safe, healthy, and efficient over a long period of time.
The 40-hour workweek, however, has slowly become a thing of past. More people in the middle-income bracket, as well as those in managerial positions are working longer hours.
In the 1970’s, 34% of men in professional-managerial positions worked 50-hours or more per week. Today that number has increased to 38%. As far as middle-income male workers are concerned, 21% worked more than 50-hours per week in the 1970’s, whereas today they account for 23% . With professional women, only 6% worked 50-hours or more per week in the 1970’s, whereas this figure has since more than doubled.
Tragically, Americans are working approximately 11 more hours per week now than they did in the 1970’s, yet the average income for middle-income families has declined by 13% since the 1970s.
Something to remember next time someone says that people complaining about having difficulty making ends meet aren’t “working hard enough” or that people complaining that their wages are too low are being “whiny” or “entitled”.
“I cannot understand anti-abortion arguments that centre on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain and lifelong, grinding poverty show us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred.” — Caitlin Moran (via pro-meth-eus)
Oh, well, then, that makes perfect sense.
Seriously, what an incompetent thought. Besides the fact she makes it sound like all humans everywhere completely support war and are obviously the only causes of famine, epidemic, and pain, who do absolutely nothing about poverty anywhere - which is obviously not true - she also falls into the fallacy that the existence of some thing automatically negates any opposition to it.
What a pile of bull.
Not to mention we can look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese and Indonesian tsunamis, the Joplin tornado, Libya and Qaddafi (sp?), Syria and Assad (although not enough response yet), Trayvon Martin’s murder, and even as far back as the 9/11 attacks, etc., etc., and see how much we as a species don’t give a d*** about life.
Not to mention that the only facts every individual who ever walked the Earth has in common is Life and Death. Really? Life is not sacred to humanity? How about someone shoot you and we’ll see about that.
Shut up and think, Caitlin.
“The real problem here is that we’re all dying. All of us. Every day the cells weaken and the fibres stretch and the heart gets closer to its last beat. The real cost of living is dying, and we’re spending days like millionaires: a week here, a month there, casually spunked until all you have left are the two pennies on your eyes. Personally, I like the fact we’re going to die. There’s nothing more exhilarating than waking up every morning and going ‘WOW! THIS IS IT! THIS IS REALLY IT!’ It focuses the mind wonderfully. It makes you love vividly, work intensely, and realise that, in the scheme of things, you really don’t have time to sit on the sofa in your pants watching Homes Under the Hammer. Death is not a release, but an incentive. The more focused you are on your death, the more righteously you live your life. My traditional closing-time rant – after the one where I cry that they closed that amazing chippy on Tollington Road; the one that did the pickled eggs – is that humans still believe in an afterlife. I genuinely think it’s the biggest philosophical problem the earth faces. Even avowedly non-religious people think they’ll be meeting up with nana and their dead dog, Crackers, when they finally keel over. Everyone thinks they’re getting a harp. But believing in an afterlife totally negates your current existence. It’s like an insidious and destabilising mental illness. Underneath every day – every action, every word – you think it doesn’t really matter if you screw up this time around because you can just sort it all out in paradise. You make it up with your parents, and become a better person and lose that final stone in heaven. And learn how to speak French. You’ll have time, after all! It’s eternity! And you’ll have wings, and it’ll be sunny! So, really, who cares what you do now? This is really just some lacklustre waiting room you’re only going to be in for 20 minutes, during which you will have no wings at all, and are forced to walk around, on your feet, like pigs do. If we wonder why people are so apathetic and casual about every eminently avoidable horror in the world – famine, war, disease, the seas gradually turning p***-yellow and filling with ringpulls and shattered fax machines – it’s right there. Heaven. The biggest waste of our time we ever invented, outside of jigsaws. Only when the majority of the people on this planet believe – absolutely – that they are dying, minute by minute, will we actually start behaving like fully sentient, rational and compassionate beings. For whilst the appeal of ‘being good’ is strong, the terror of hurtling, unstoppably, into unending nullity is a lot more effective. I’m really holding out for us all to get The Fear. The Fear is my Second Coming. When everyone in the world admits they’re going to die, we’ll really start getting some stuff done.” — Caitlin Moran (via relatedworlds)
Seeing as how the great majority of people currently living and ever having lived on this planet believe in some kind of life after this one - heaven, reincarnation, or what-have-you, waiting for the majority to someday believe there is no afterlife will take… an eternity. Humans will no longer be humans, the Earth will no longer be recognizable, all will be a distopian wasteland no science fiction writer could think of.
That said, I strongly that “believing in an afterlife totally negates your current existence.” As with any line of thought concerning the unseen, there are those who can take something and make it worthless. The existence of a real Heaven, though, does not give people a free ticket to not live this life. And Heaven is not all sunshine and wings. There are no wings. And there really is no sunshine.
The afterlife, according to my theology, is the reward for what you did with this life: the choices you made, the people you helped, the words you spoke, the love you lived. It only takes one choice to get a ticket to Heaven, but that choice must be lived out fully and must encompass one’s entire life, livelihood, and thought.
That choice is a choice to live, a choice to to indeed say, “WOW! THIS IS IT!” and to live, as you yourself say, “more righteously.” Belief in an afterlife does not negate that out-of-hand, but should enhance that.