Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Poor? Then You're Bad

If you are poor, you are bad. Why else would the American society, government, and economy be set up to penalize the poor? Let's explore all the ways the poor are punished, and how this punishment keeps people impoverished, and even works to further impoverish those on the bottom.

Firstly, in a capitalist society where money is king, poverty is connected with low status. Necessarily, someone who is poor not only has little power, as capital is a type of power - a way of changing one's environment or situation - but a poor person has low status because they are labeled as a loser in the game of capitalism.

Along with "loser" label comes the associated visible distinctions. Someone with high net worth has a certain appearance - they have nice things, they have good health (because up until this point health was something someone had to buy), they have good education, good connections, and the list goes on. These things are visible to even the most casual observer in how clothes fit, their condition, to even the vocabulary and cadence of a person's voice.

This highlights the problem of quality of life. Because a poor person doesn't have the capital to take care of such needs, like preventative health care, a good portion of their income ends up being spent on emergency situations. For example, I can't afford to pay a dentist for a regular check-up so I wait until my teeth hurt and instead of getting a cavity filled, I now require a root-canal. The cavity would have cost less, but because there wasn't spare income to cover regular check-ups, the care was put off. The result is a more significant intervention that costs more time and money - two things a poor person doesn't have to spare.

Time is invaluable to a poor person. The reason is a poor person likely has to work longer hours for lower compensation. The result is someone making minimum wage at two or three jobs, and often times this still isn't enough to cover basic living costs.

The irony of this, is government programs require a person to have no assets in order to qualify for pitiful subsidies (think: $44 a week to cover food costs). So having a job that pays more than minimum wage, an IRA, or even a car can hurt the poor more when applying for food stamps (and traditionally federal medical coverage). Also, keep in mind that good food tends to cost more money. So in order to be really healthy, as a poor person, you'd have to either make more money at your job, or try to find a food pantry that gives out fresh produce.

Now that we've covered the problems with social stigma, healthcare, and government assistance, what happens to people who'd like to better themselves? That's the American dream - the myth that keeps everyone working hard; if you work hard enough, you can better yourself.

But if you're poor, that's pretty unlikely. The reason is a poor person needs resources in order to get out of poverty - resources he doesn't have.

Let's say this person has some debt because he fell on hard times (an emergency situation like an ER visit or car problems caused him to spend some credit). Debt is built to penalize the debtor. This is because the debtors ends up paying much more than the initial money credited him. This is made even worse when he can't pay.

Take a step back and think about this for a second; the debtor can't pay, so his account goes delinquent, and then we charge him more fees that he can't pay, so we charge him more fees... until his credit is shot and he has no way of digging himself out of this indebted hole.

I don't know about you, but this makes NO sense to me at all. It's one thing if a person is refusing to pay but when they simply can't afford to pay? That's crazy. And this poor credit impacts other aspects of this person's life - his ability to rent (because of course he can't buy a house, and even if he could, he probably couldn't get a loan at a good rate), to buy a car, and even to get certain jobs...

Now let's say our poor person wants to change their fate - they want a better job. But how can he get a better job?

First, he needs a computer, printer, and a phone. He needs the computer to research potential jobs. He needs to printer to print off application forms and resumes. He needs a phone so he can call employers and employers can reach him regarding interviews.

These three things are crucial, yet many are simply out of the realm of possibility for a poor person. Even one of the $99 Chromebooks is an extravagance when you're worried how you're going to buy food or pay the electric bill. And let's not even get into all the little fees and costs involved in having a smartphone, which might substitute for a computer in a pinch...

Let's say this poor person somehow, miraculously, is able to land an interview. What are they going to wear? If he's lucky, he'll find something at the thrift shop that is in reasonable condition and is actually his size. He might not be able to wash it beforehand (laundromats are more expensive to use than having your own washing machine in the long run).

Maybe our man gets the job. What is he going to wear to work? He can't wear the same outfit everyday. Is he going to find 5 suits that fit him and are in good condition at the thrift shop? It's unlikely, but it isn't impossible. But again, he needs to make the time to search for these things....time he may or may not have. He'll need to be at the store when it's open...which might or might not happen, especially if he's reliant on public transit which frequently takes twice as long as a car in most places (and his credit was so bad, he probably doesn't have a car).

In every aspect of the poor man's life, he is penalized. He has to work longer hours for less pay because he doesn't have as good of an education. He doesn't have time with his family because he has to work so long. He doesn't have as good of clothing so he looks like a lower status person to society. He can't afford to cover preventative care, which means he waits until things are emergencies and this usually results in a worse situation for his health as well as his wallet. He is charged fees when he can't afford to pay his bills which puts him into an even worse situation. This screws up his credit so he has difficulty renting an apartment or getting a loan (which makes it hard to start a business as well!). He can't get a good job because he doesn't have the communications equipment to find and apply for one, let alone the wardrobe he would need to hold it down.

All this happens when you are poor in America. Because of this, the logical conclusion is that poor people are bad and have little to no value. Why else would everything in society be set up to punish you?

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