Sarah Blake LaRose (3kitties) wrote,
Sarah Blake LaRose

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poverty in America

There is a discussion in the psychology community which mostly concerns the earning potential of a person with a Bachelor's degree in psychology. The original question was whether it's possible to earn $40,000/year without going to grad school. So far the general consensus is that most entry level positions are low-paying with the exception of computer-related work and that a person either must work somewhere for a long time in order to earn the big bucks or else hav an advanced degree. An advanced degree! To earn $40,000/year! That's just middle class!

How is it that we live in America, where high lifestyle is glamorized, and so many jobs are so low-paying? It seems to me that this situation only creates a divide between the rich and the poor. Supposedly we have a middle class; but I wonder how much of a middle class we would have once we figured out the cost of going to work. Cost of going to work? Much of the American populus supposedly espouses "family values." Yet what happened to the stay-at-home mom? A number of families prefer this lifestyle; but many claim they can't afford it. Yet what is the impact of the cost of the child care that allows the second parent to work and the cost of the gas that is spent getting to the job? How much money is left from that job for other living expenses in the two-income household? I sometimes wonder how many people need the second income and how many fool themselves into believing they need it because they haven't figured the impact of work-related expenses. This is only a theory, but in some cases it might be worth examining. Do we create the illusion of middle class status when money is being spent unnecessarily solely to attain that non-poverty status? Defining poverty as that magic $20,000/year mark, how many households are living truly below that level once taxes are withheld and work-related expenses are discounted?

Certainly we don't have the kind of poverty that exists in other countries--I've heard this argued a few times (actually by people who have plenty of money and are in the mood to criticize this country's poor people for not getting off their bums and getting jobs and getting off welfare). Their favorite solution is to just scrap the welfare system and have the faith-based communities take care of the truly needy people. If the faith-based communities did a better job of it and it was reasonable to live as a single person on the kind of income one brings in from minimum wage--which, by the way, is as low as $5.15/hour in some states--I would not be opposed to the idea in principal. Parenthood is a choice. Existence is not; and at the bare minimum a person should be able to support him/herself without seeking assistance. Oh, I should also assume as part of this equasion that people with significant disabilities actually had a fair chance at equal employment and at having their disability-related medical expenses covered by standard insurance programs. None of those things are part of reality.

Reality is that:

  • The cost of living in this country is driven by people who have money.

  • Meeting basic living expenses as a single person at the standard entry-level salary, which is generally well above minimum wage, is extremely difficult.

  • Many minimum-wage jobs that do not require high school diplomas force the employee to work unpredictable hours, which means that single parents are unable to locate quality child care, much less pay for it. (If people cannot meet living expenses at entry-level salaries, how will they do it at minimum wage?)

  • Standard insurance programs MAY accept a person with a disability; however, they likely will not cover any preexisting conditions. This means that disability or chronic illness-related expenses, which are likely responsible for the majority of the person's medical bills, are not decreased for the person by having the insurance coverage; thus living expenses increase while earning potential does not.

  • The answer for people without money is to "be satisfied with the basics" while those with money (who are content to give this advice) continue to amass more luxuries and complain about not being able to get by. I wonder how many $100,000/year earners have ever lived on $500 or $1,000/month--that translates to $6,000 or $12,000/year, folks--without any savings in the bank and without any rich benefactors and have managed to work their way up to that six-figure lifestyle. Furthermore, "the basics" is a very relative term (see below.)

I mentioned that "the basics" is a relative term. J does not have a cell phone; and most people would consider this a luxury. However, if I watch C on a day when J is not at work and there is an emergency, I have no way to reach J. Consider the importance of a cell phone for the single parent whose family members are all nondrivers or otherwise not reliable. A cell phone becomes less of a luxury. Likewise, consider the necessity of a cell phone for a disabled individual whose means of travel is walking, bus, or taxi, and who may not be able to locate a pay phone visually.

Along the same line, the Internet is less of a luxury for a person who uses it regularly to access information, pay bills, correspond without the use of printed mail and thus lowers the costs associated with hiring a reader. Transportation to the library, assuming there is an accessible system in place, could mount within a few visits.

What I have not addressed here is the impact of scrapping the welfare system on people who are unable to work due to severe disabilities. I will leave that alone for now--this post is getting long, and I have other ponderings in me today.

I realize that to a lot of people this post will sound bitter. It isn't meant to. I don't covet other people's belongings, and I don't even want their money. I do think it's detestable that people who have not truly walked in my shoes--or J's or any number of other people's shoes I know--tell me these things and don't do much to make it a bit easier for others. Where are the good Samaritans in this country: the people who will hire someone with a disability who may have a crummy work history because no one else wants a disabled worker; the people who will insure that person so that she can continue receiving medical care and working once her Medicaid benefits stop; the people who will provide child care for those high school drop-outs who are supposed to work those shift jobs for the sake of getting off welfare... Oh, but we don't have poverty in this country. We just have a laziness problem. Perhaps there is a reason for that laziness problem... I've lived it. It's called despair. It's an illness--the worst kind of illness. Fortunately, I have faith and a good network of friends and family to help me heal from it... Since I have met no good Samaritans lately, I must dig my way out of the poverty situation while also fighting my health battles. And so I am digging and fighting, sometimes more successfully than others.

The miners' story is very interesting to me... I followed it during the time they were still missing, when there was no evidence of them near the search site and they were presumed dead. But once they were found, even though they did not survive there was evidence that they had done what they could to boost the odds. If only something had been in their favor, they might have made it. Sometimes I think life is like that for people who struggle with the welfare system. To the outsider, it may appear that the person is doing nothing to get off. But inside that person's mine, in her personal life, she is picking up pieces, trying to get out alive without triggering another explosion somewhere in life. Sometimes it takes a lot of planning, and sometimes there is just too much debris and she has to wait until something gives. It's part of the survival strategy. And if there is a child she's responsible for, it can completely change that survival strategy. Sometimes, she's even fallen into the mine unwittingly after pulling the child from it because the child is heavy with disability-related needs... We don't know the condition of each person's mine; but we sure are quick to assume it. Sometimes those "luxuries" (a phone so that the person can hear a friendly voice, a TV so that once in a while she might laugh, a new book or CD once in a while, a burger once or twice a month) can do a great deal in helping to fight that despair--and it's awfully hard to fight despair when a person is digging her way out alone. I know a number of people who are doing just that. Their support is far away, or their friends are fighting their own despair and are still in the mines.

Just some things to ponder.


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