Why I’m Poor
It used to be that you couldn’t find yourself in poverty unless you couldn’t or didn’t want to work. Generally the unemployed were mentally or physically handicapped. Sometimes they were alcoholics or drug addicts. Mostly they were considered bums though. The mentality of the Baby Boomers has always been “get off your lazy ass and support yourself!” But things have changed since the Boomers graduated high school and started their families. Now days you can work your ass off and still be considered under the line of poverty. It is no longer a question of laziness or disability. If you get a job making minimum wage you aren’t going to be able to support yourself.
According to Peter Eldelman in his book So Rich, So Poor, the poverty line income is $18,000 for a family of three and $22,000 for a family of four. Unfortunately, nearly half the jobs out there pay $34,000 or less. And one fourth of the jobs pay $22,000 or less. Currently over 103 million people in the United States are considered living in poverty. This is 1 in 3 Americans! This is ridiculous since we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world!
In her 2001 book Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich goes under cover to investigate what its like to live on these poverty-level wages. So she did what millions of Americans do, she looked for a job and a place to live, worked that job, and tried to make ends meet. She worked as a waitress in Florida, and a cleaning woman a nursing home assistant in Maine and at a Wal-mart in Minnesota. Quickly she realizes that she needed a second job to support herself. A single minimum wage job is simply not enough.
Part of the problem is that rent and mortgages are unreasonably high compared to most people’s income, making it impossible to afford decent housing. This book was written before the housing bubble burst in 2007, but the housing bubble was another huge factor in poverty. Greedy banks provided high risk subprime loans, which many people could not pay on after a few years. This led to banks having to go under or be bailed out by the government. The United States fell into a recession that was worse than the Great Depression in many ways and unemployment skyrocketed.
The 2007 book Strapped by Tamara Draut explains why today’s 20 and 30-somethings are having a difficult time getting by. Getting ahead is a great deal harder than it was when our parents were our age. A college degree is the new high school diploma and costs a fortune to obtain. Good jobs are scarcer thanks to stagnant wages and disappearing benefits. And, the cost of everything (starter homes, health coverage, child care) keeps going up. With increasing competition for higher education and student loans that are impossible to pay off, today’s young adult can no longer rest on their laurels. We have debts for our diplomas and very little to show for our expensive educations.
Not to mention the fact that women still make less at jobs than men do. Despite the leaps and bounds we’ve made over the past century, there are still inequalities out there. Women are largely the ones missing work due to pregnancy, childbirth and childcare. The unequal wages and wages lost due to child-related absences from work severely put a dent in our efforts to support ourselves and our children even in today’s society.
So why am I poor? Because my degree isn’t enough and I can’t seem to get a good steady career going. I am about to be a single mother and I have to worry about expensive things like childcare and high rents. Minimum wage isn’t enough to live on and it is difficult to find a good paying job. I am well educated and intelligent, but that isn’t enough in today’s society. I am poor, but not because I am disabled, stupid or lazy. I am poor because I have not been fortunate enough to have the kind of breaks that successful or rich people have gotten. The truth is that whatever socio-economic status you were born into; you are likely to die in. Rags to riches is the exception, not the rule. My mother struggled on welfare while I was growing up, which means has been no surprise that I myself have received state help. I am not proud of it and I hope to be in a position to no longer need it one of these days, but it is better than nothing.
There is a lot of prejudice surround the poor. My parents and other family member have not been able to grasp how times of changed and that poor choices alone are not responsible for the situation I find myself in. There are other forces at work beyond my control that make me have to fight twice as hard and twice as long to gain the kind of meager success that my family members have achieved over the years. So think twice before you open your mouth to criticize someone who is struggling to make ends meet.