I am poor. I have been for the majority of my life. Money has always been tight; only once in my life did I make enough money to be considered “lower middle class;” and it seems like no matter how much I budget or save or take on side jobs, there is just no escaping debt and money worries.
So this little rant comes from first-hand experience, in addition to a general knowledge of the systems, as well as a SLEW of experiences that friends and relatives have had.
Here’s what’s really grinding my gears: it costs so much to live, or to better yourself, or to even attempt to get ahead in life. D’you know why so many people are poor? It sure as heck isn’t for lack of trying. It’s because it all costs so much.
People tell you that education will help you get a better job. But guess what? EDUCATION ISN’T FREE. Simply APPLYING to colleges costs money. Need to take a GRE in order to get into graduate school (and these days, good luck getting a job that will allow you to pay rent on a one-bedroom house without an advanced degree)? That’s going to cost you test fees plus fees for study materials. Need a certification course to try and get a promotion at work? Money–plus the time it takes to do the course while you’re also working that job (and possibly another job on top of that).
What about the place where you live? Let’s say you live in a crummy neighborhood, or you want to find a place that has a teeny yard or at least doesn’t have neighbors on top of you or sharing a wall with you. You might have gotten that crummy promotion that allows you to shell out the extra $200-$700 a month to pay for those little “perks,” but guess what? You ALSO need to set aside at least a couple hundred or more so that you can pay all those rental application fees–because goodness knows you can’t just apply to one place these days, you need to have several irons in the fire. You need to buy moving/packing supplies and maybe even take time off work to actually do the move, not to mention renting a truck or van or trailer — unless you’re lucky enough to have a cadre of friends with vehicles and time and the desire to help you out. Oh, and don’t forget that deposit. And the place is probably farther away from work than your old place because the only places with teeny yards that you could afford were more of a commute. But you’re so desperate to be able to just sit outside in the open air in your own damn yard that you shell out the extra gas money each week.
Or you give up after getting denied by all your top rental choices, because that expendable income is quickly drying up. And you try and convince yourself that hearing the upstairs neighbors kids STOMPING their feet doesn’t really bum you out as much as it does, and you try and pretend like having a little outside space is nothing special, and you try and tidy up your little apartment and make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. You ignore the nagging gloom that hovers around the place and you pretend, because it’s either pretend or it’s give in to the crushing weight of full-blown depression.
Need to get new clothes because you lost weight or gained weight or your clothes are threadbare? MONEY.
Need new shoes? MONEY.
Need a real vacation because you haven’t had one in like, three years or more — like a real, soul-refresher of a vacation, where you don’t have to worry about anyone or anything? GOOD FRICKING LUCK. Also — MONEY.
Need to restock your pantry or your medicine cabinet or your linens or any consumable household good — the ones that you don’t necessarily use up weekly, but that slowly go away over time? MONEY.
If you are poor and you don’t budget EVERY SINGLE DOLLAR, you feel like you are being wasteful. And if ANYTHING happens that you don’t budget for, you are screwed. Your bank account goes into overdraft, and even the smallest charge that hits that negative balance racks up more overdraft fees.
If you are poor and your job pays you monthly or even bi-monthly instead of weekly, it is SO HARD to make sure that you are constantly on track and that you aren’t going to use it all up before that next paycheck comes. You want to actually frickin’ treat yourself when payday comes around, but you KNOW that what a “lower middle class” person would see as a reasonable treat — like a dinner out, or a new top, or putting some $$ into the vacation fund — would be wasteful for you.
When you can barely afford your basic needs, you start to prioritize your basic needs. Because sometimes, you have to GO WITHOUT A BASIC NEED IN ORDER TO SURVIVE.
Transportation (because you have to get to work first and foremost.)
Food (because you WILL pay your water and electricity bill before you buy groceries).
Healthcare (and I’m talking–OTC medicine, bandaids, neosporin, etc. The BASIC stuff that you can do on your own because going to the doctor for something that you can fix yourself is wasteful when you’re poor).
Do you know how FUCKED UP IT IS that poor people have to prioritize their basic needs? It’s not for lack of trying or because we’re shitty humans or because we don’t deserve better. It’s because the system that keeps us poor wants us to stay that way. The system profits off of the misery and misfortune of others. It’s a lot easier for some people to believe that “poor people” are just strung out welfare abusers who have gotten the shitty life that they deserve due to shitty choices.
You know what? Everyone is capable of shitty choices, and generally everyone makes some in their lifetime. And yes, some people start with certain financial privilege and they make shitty choices over and over again and end up poor. That’s a whole other story. The story I’m telling is the story of my life and so many millions of other people’s lives. People who have it WAY worse than I do, even at my lowest points. And no matter how hard they try or I try, the system is rigged against us, making it a near-impossible feat to overcome the poverty we live in that enriches the pocketbooks of the mega-rich, both directly and indirectly.
When people are miserable and feel they are worthless, it is so much easier to control them.
When people are at rock bottom despite all their efforts to rise up, it is so much easier to dehumanize them.
They want to keep the poor folks poor, not because there isn’t enough to go around, but because they want to keep as much as they can for themselves — even though they’ve let the surplus rot and fester and corrupt them and everyone around them.