The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet. This was the Captain Samuel Vimes "Boots" theory of socioeconomic unfairness.
-Sir Terry Pratchett
The problems for the poor in modern America are health care, education, and rent.
Health care: you can afford your insulin or you blood sugar goes out of whack and you end up in the ER.
Education: you can't afford the time to learn a new skill (or even attend school) so you can't move up out of your low-paying job.
Rent: you're paying high rent instead of owning.
The issues extend from these all the way down to the boots level.
Literature doesn’t have to write literally about something for the point to be made. The boots are a stand in for whatever the issue at hand IS (rent vice buying a house would be apt).
Now. But in the past it was plausible. See this list of assorted wages and prices for items in the mid-19th century in the US .
Boots were around $25. There were many jobs that paid low enough that $25 would be in the neighborhood of 1.5 months worth of pay.
Credit cards and payday loans support all purchases and actually exacerbate this issue by extracting money from people. It makes sense after all, they are a service that has to make money and if rich people don't need their service, where is the money going to come from?
Affirm could work if it was not trying to make a profit (maybe off VC funds), but it is difficult for me to understand how it will solve this issue and be profitable.
I'm a disabled American who is the breadwinner for myself and another disabled person. Saving would punish us: My sister would lose her health care and I would lose the financial assistance I get for my MS meds. Even if I make more money, it's all going to medical costs, so what's the point?
It is a horrific crime that the incentives are so perverse. I live in New Zealand and we have the same thing to some extent, but mostly not nearly as atrocious as the US systemic abuse.
Here’s hoping that modern medicine finally finds a solution to fix MS for you - disability is often invisible - an analogue to the author’s pervasive problems with poverty. All the best.
And yeah, I'm pulling for medicine! Pretty hopeful about it, though with my luck they'll figure it out when I'm 65-75 and I'll be able-bodied but too old to change my financial fortunes lol
Yes, unforeseen things will still arise but you’d rather have the $1k you need to deal with it than not.
I’m more partial to the argument that splurges allow people to temporarily feel like they aren’t poor
Recognizing everyone is different, the question is, how much hardship can you endure before you just give up?
If wealthy people would only spend their money wisely there wouldn't be a need for things like inheritance tax breaks and family trusts to prop up their wealth. :D
And a splurge for the impoverished isn't '$50 here and there'. My last 'splurge' was 12 dollars for a pair of fleece lined tights so I don't freeze on my way in to work (I walk to work). Or 3-4 bucks at McD's once every two weeks or so.
The $50 figure was what I was replying to. I don’t see how inexpensive clothes or $4 at McD’s is a splurge.
I'm supporting 2 people on 15/hr. Those are splurges. The 'splurge' is not being cold for 15 minutes on my way to work or having a night where I can choose what to eat for dinner.
Nearly 30 years ago, Clinton's "welfare as we know it" reforms were being normalized by the likes of the New Yorker/Atlantic/NPR smart set who were doing the heavy "interpretive labor" of explaining why poor trash waste hundreds of dollars (careful, those are 1990's dollars!) on crap like track suits and sneakers which ultimately reduced to so much status-quo-affirming "empathy". These discussions focused primarily on black people, not more generally on poor, disenfranchised people. The message was that you needn't worry about it because it was a "minority" problem.
Since then, how has the conversation permuted? It has simply become more performative and more mired in the vocabulary of race. Now that it is a problem of race, not class, one merely needs to be "empathetic", which, incidentally, is free.
During Clinton's reign, the discussion about the regression to a society with classes like the 30's (upstairs/downstairs) was handled more abstrusely than the easy pre-chewed treacle about racism/welfare (much easier to mouth platitudes or diatribes about black people or the villian du jour than address the fundamental unfairness between capital and labor). Whatever is systemic has to do with power, and power cares not a whit what you look like, how you talk, or what hole you prefer to fuck or be fucked in. People need to stop looking at the color or location of their fuck-hole and simply find solidarity in the fact they are fucked.
But this, like the possibility of the public lending-library being invented today, is nil.
The cost of credit, unstable housing situations, having a car that breaks down all the time etc. all conspires to keep you poor. As the OP points out, when you are below the threshold needed for "basics", the interest on your debt is always higher than any return on any hypothetical investment you might make with savings (which you can never justify allocating).
American society is great at convincing people that this is their personal moral failing, rather than a system designed to keep the maximum number of people as debt slaves.
So began an odyssey with Ferguson police, municipal court and city hall that left her with $1,200 in fines that to this day she still doesn’t fully understand. She paid the sum because endless court hearings about the car wore her down.
“I don’t have a lawyer. I’m not a lawyer. It’s me going up against the city of Ferguson when the attorneys won’t help,” Hoskin said this week.
From a NPR story:
Earlier this year, in the series Guilty and Charged, NPR's investigations unit found that the practices in Ferguson are common across the country. The series reported that nationwide, the costs of the justice system are billed increasingly to defendants and offenders, and that this creates harsher treatment of the poor. Because people with money can pay their hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines and fees right away, they are usually done with the court system.
It's one of things that boiled over with a lot of the civil rights protests.
This wouldn't necessarily be the case if poor people had access to 401(k)s with matching contributions. But even when they do have "access" to investment accounts it's really rare to have matching contributions of any kind.
And yeah, even if they had it they still couldn't necessarily afford to pay into it.
When I finally had excess income I got a guaranteed ~10% rate of return by paying off my credit card debt. And that's what I did instead of investing. (That, and buying a new mattress.)
While this does add some drag, in most of the situations I've actually seen, it isn't the main barrier to getting out of poverty. The main barrier seems to be a culture or mindset that prioritizes short term benefit/feelings over long term benefits even when there are other options. For example, things like getting a dog, signing up for cable TV, getting an unnecessarily expensive new phone, spending money on going out to eat, etc.
For many people in poverty, their experiences make these decisions feel very rational so it is hard to think any differently.
Interesting because the main barriers I see are how the system creates perverse incentives for poor people re: getting to be not poor. For example, people on SSI aren't allowed to save. If my sister makes more than ~1k/mo or I save too much (as she's my dependent) she loses her healthcare which is what keeps her from going full Kanye. If I make/save much, I stop getting assistance for my MS meds. Basically, working to get out of poverty wouldn't actually get us out of poverty, we'd just end up giving our money to healthcare companies instead of buying ourselves little luxuries. Another example is that often assistance programs won't help you unless you empty your savings. So if you have 200 dollars and can't make rent, they'll take it from you before they help. So it's more 'rational' to spend that 200 on something else.
Disability, chronic health conditions, and unexpected dependents (be it children, elderly parents, or (in my case) a sibling who manifested a severe mental illness in their 20s) are huge factors in poverty.
Obviously not a solution, and these options are worse in many respects than a basic savings account, but if a savings account isn't an option they may be a good idea. Assuming, of course, that total assets aren't accounted for by the assistance programs.
Jewelry is the classic go to for women.
Probably not, or rich people would already have abused the system, and a lawyer who could give advice on whether it was legal or not would cost too much.
Credit is most available and most advantageous to those higher up that get new money first, and creates a moving target that makes long term stability artificially difficult for those with no capital.
Material poverty was much more prevalent in the past than now, but the kind of housing instability and moving goalposts people experience is I think relatively new for the US. I’m not entirely sure/my history is not good enough to know, but I think local ties and familiarity with neighbors used to be much more instrumental for housing stability. Local banks used to be way different/loans were much more about community buy in and local sponsorship than the kind of disconnected financial blob it is now. That came with all kinds of cons, but I think there were some unappreciated pros we’ve forgotten about; I think the different social dynamics when banking was local is part of why housing was treated like more like a commodity than an investment.
A lot of the problems we have now seem to be a consequence of scale and increasing disconnect. Modern access to cheap low interest credit seems increasingly political and disconnected from the real economy, and responsible for keeping old, creaky, dysfunctional behemoths from imploding and restructuring.
That kind of credit heavy policy made sense when there was massive growth opportunity, but it seems increasingly perverse and going to maintaining existing systems instead of investing in new systems, and is I think partially responsible for the amount of centralization of assets we’ve been experiencing.
Without cheap credit, it’s much harder to suck up as many assets as have been centralized the past couple of decades, and wage decreases are much more transparent and difficult to get away with. Cheap credit also severely distorts prices signals/makes it hard for both consumers and producers to know what is getting cheaper to produce and what isn’t.
On the other hand, without cheap credit, a lot of capital intensive research heavy startup companies would be much more difficult to start, which is essential to lowering production costs. The material advances due to production efficiency are under-appreciated in the US, which makes sense when cost of living and basics keep expanding, but are still extremely beneficial, especially on a global scale.
I wish it was easier to know what a good solution was to lowering the cost of living without hampering innovation. They seem somewhat inversely related right now. But this stuff gets complicated and is not my area of expertise.
See Cantillon Effect .
> I wish it was easier to know what a good solution was to lowering the cost of living without hampering innovation.
I advocate opening real estate to true free market pressures over a couple decades. It now strands egregious amounts of capital in developed economies, is the most heavily-subsidized market in developed nations, is the lowest hanging fruit of middle class household budgets that can benefit the most from a deflationary adjustment transition to the asset class, and offers near-zero national competitive advantage in a future where cognitive leverage is the key to dominant power that will extend beyond the Earth's biosphere.
The things that prevent poor people from becoming not poor, in my experience, are things like chronic health conditions and abusive upbringings. The things that have gotten people I know out of poverty have usually been education. I don't know a single person who got out of poverty by cancelling netflix. Where are you getting this idea from?
While there are definitely elements of spending badly, this idea that they spend money on the “wrong” things gets dangerously close to dehumanizing the impoverished. Those people are still people, and they like to have the joys and feel included in society like everyone else. There’s a huge mental health aspect to that which can mean the difference between being motivated to change your situation vs just accepting it.
Having cable TV gives you access to unlimited entertainment. A smartphone gives you access to all known human knowledge, and is essentially required now to access benefits, banking, etc. Dogs are widely recognized as being one of the most beneficial things to help with general mood and mental health.
The decisions people are making are rational, their just not aimed at the goal you think they should be aiming for (getting out of poverty).
So does having Internet access, and I don't think very many people pay for cable TV but not Internet.
> A smartphone gives you access to all known human knowledge, and is essentially required now to access benefits, banking, etc.
GP said "an unnecessarily expensive new phone", not "a smartphone". A $160 Samsung Galaxy A03s is perfectly capable of doing all of the things you mentioned. If you're having trouble making ends meet, there is zero excuse to ever buy the new $1000 iPhone.
> While there are definitely elements of spending badly, this idea that they spend money on the “wrong” things gets dangerously close to dehumanizing the impoverished.
Literally: what is the point of saving up 5$/wk? That's less than 300$ by the year. What can you realistically do to get yourself out of poverty for a one-time payment of 300$? You can't even afford therapy to help you get yourself out of immense, soul-crushing burnout because you've been doing nothing to enrich yourself psychologically such as companionship, entertainment, or gifting yourself a nice meal all year.
10$/wk is $520. You can't even start a business selling soap on etsy for 520$. You can maybe get a loan to do so, but now you're on the hook for even more debt for entrepreneurship and the majority of businesses fail.
This is assuming you never have a health problem, you never need medical care, you never have someone you love need medical care, and you have superhuman discipline to go without love, joy, and little pleasures in life for a year.
People who don't have thay ability make mistakes when emergencies inevitably come around.
Those 10$ a week after a year is enough to make up a small car repair, or problem with your paycheck.
Just last year I had an issue where my paycheck was short 1000$, because I wasn't spending everything as it came in, it wasn't a problem. I had a big enough buffer in income and emergency funds to make up for it.
If it had happened to my colleague who doesn't save up, he would have had to get a payday loan to put food on his families table.
That's how people stay poor.
How much money do you think it takes to get out of poverty? Is not buying an iPhone and having an extra $1k, even - let's say they went big on the phone - "out of poverty"? That may not even be a month's rent, depending on location... to have security, you need many multiples of that.
In a way, people without a lot of money need to "learn how to be poor"
When you're low on money, you eat sandwiches and ramen and beans and potatoes. You don't eat McDonald's or get Starbucks.
A McDonald's for some of these people IS life. It's the point of being alive, now that they have so little. It's the special treat that they've worked hard for, and it's pretty much the lowest tier special treat.
I remember every single one I had; I didn’t have many.
I'm not poor but I'm realizing just how insane it is to eat out regularly now.
When I was a grad student, my McD's trips were 'hey I found a toonie (Canada), I can treat myself to a McDouble'.
There are poor who are so exhausted and so without capacity to move up that a little enjoyment from fast food is what keeps them going.
And there are also poor who are wasting resources they could be using to move up. Such as young kids with stable homes working retail/hotel/other lower paying jobs, but instead of a making a healthy moong bean salad at home for $3 of ingredients and 30min of their time, they order a $25 chipotle meal from door dash everyday at work.
 I wouldn't say it was 100% true - McDonalds is a pretty cheap way of getting calories.
I'm also not saying poor people do t get any joy. They just don't get to have every joy they want. Even if you're not poor you don't get to do that.
At what point do you see the irresponsibility? Applebees? Ruth's Chris? The French Laundry?
Definitely not the $2 burger special at Mcdonald's, that's for sure.
Lenders and borrowers alike can’t rely on the borrower having a source of income at all.
For most people on a low income, it could be better to be on an even lower income if in exchange that income could be made more reliable. The instability and stress of precarious employment is worse than the low pay.
This seems contradictory: if rates are sky-high, but they need to be that high to avoid the lenders losing money due to the huge risk of default, then they're not predatory.
Credit makes the modern economy run, but it churns out winners and losers. And some types of credit have more winners or more losers. At what point should society start banning such credit? Just once it crosses over into loan-sharking? Once it results in a net decrease of GDP? Have such analyses been done?
> The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet. This was the Captain Samuel Vimes "Boots" theory of socioeconomic unfairness.
Telling poor people to simply make better choices is downright shameful. Close though is the “effective altruism” crap when it goes so far that even holocausts can be excused. We should be trying to make the current moment sustainable and better for all. Aim for giving people enough stability to actually make decent decisions before worrying about petty things and far off futures.
Without those three ingredients, you have a serious handicap to a stable life.
I make more money now than I ever did, and expected to be much happier. My pandemic "depression" has killed my hope and that money is not making me happy.
Anecdote is not data: understood.
> This is true if you are free to choose to buy a new shirt now or save a bit and buy it later. But if you are running out of shirts now, you don't have that choice.
Do you have any better example? Shirts can be bought used. I do not consider myself as being in poverty but often I use to buy something used, especially if I know how to fix what is broken.
A poverty mentality is about 'today'. Food, rent, clothes. So education and planning for the future get pushed down in the stack of what's important.
Also had interesting stuff about humor among the impoverished, the middle class and the rich.
A personal observation: The poor in my community don't know how to 'work' the system. There are free (used) computers available to school kids, but the parents don't make use of them. Super-low cost internet access is available, but I saw one family succumb to an 'up-sell' to TV and Cable access, which they couldn't afford (oh yeah, installation cost too, we didn't remember to tell you about that) and in the end, default on the payment, which disqualified them from the low-cost program for a year. Living with three families/12 people in a two bedroom apartment means the child qualifies for benefits for the homeless, but no-one knows, the benefits don't get used.
This part really stuck out to me:
> A few years ago, a friend of mine, in a well-meaning attempt to understand the impoverished diets of poor people, ate a Food Stamp diet for a week. On the last day of the diet, he talked about what he had learned and spoke philosophically about his renewed appreciation of healthy food as he prepared to end his restricted diet with his first good meal of the week: homemade vegetable pizza. He thought about what he had learned as he kneaded the pizza dough. He had already sliced the vegetables, and they sat piled high on the cutting board. While he had the best of intentions, what he said made me sad. He had misunderstood.
> In his week of eating like poor people, he had missed two crucial ingredients: fear and shame. While he was looking forward to breaking his fast that night, poor people don’t get to do that. They don’t get to look forward to the end of impoverishment, to a good meal. My friend would eat a healthy meal that night, and he had known throughout the week that he could stop whenever he wanted, that all he had to do if he missed healthy food was open his refrigerator. Poor people never know when their next good meal will come. They look in the refrigerator on the 25th and maybe they only have enough food for a couple more meals but they don’t get paid for a week. And vegetables are expensive. Most poor people can’t afford them. All of this causes great shame. Shame that they don’t make enough money, shame that they can’t give their kids decent food, shame that they must rely on government assistance, shame that they can’t afford the restaurant their friends want to go to on Saturday night. That shame never goes away. It is not my friend’s fault that he does not know this. He doesn’t know it because society does not talk about such things, does not want them talked about. The result is that my friend would never understand how poor people feel—never understand me—and I felt sad and alone.
It's a doublet of suffering: not just the material burden of living in poverty and being unable to provide for yourself and family, but the ideological burden of being shamed into believing it was caused by your own personal failure.
It's just so odd to me as someone who has actually been very poor that according you (and seemingly the rest of the professional managerial class) I was at that time completely without agency. Nothing I did or didn't do was in my control, apparently. I was but flotsam in an ocean of systemic effects. I have to tell you, that's not how it felt to me.
I felt like a person making choices.
Poor people typically know lots of other poor people. I knew a lot of poor people. Some of them made good choices. Many of them made very bad choices. The ones who made good choices are universally doing well 20 years later.
yeah, were you a family on food stamps? Two adults, one kid? Or were you a single person on food stamps? I was a single person and like you I did pretty well, I sort of have the feeling that the dynamic would be different for a family though, it seems from what I know of family life is more problems show up and then you don't manage to take care of it the way you can as a single young person.
And just to re-emphasize something I said in another comment: people make mistakes and this is an extraordinarily wealthy society. I'm a strong proponent of a welfare state. I don't want anybody to starve because they made bad choices. But getting pregnant when you're young and poor is correctly described as a bad choice! Ejaculating inside a woman who is ovulating isn't something that happens to you while you're sleeping.
The correct message to somebody who has fallen through the ice in the middle of a lake on a winter morning is, "let me help you."
The correct message to everybody else is that there are things you can do to avoid falling through the ice.
A person is in some way a sort of god that has complete control over the world and can only be brought low by making a 'bad' choice.
That second group simply doesn’t exist. Every single person who believes genetics are a significant factor in life outcomes also believes that environment matters.
There is only one side that takes a hard line.
So it is here. There isn’t a side that thinks everything is environmental and a second side that thinks you can overcome anything with choices and hard work. The side that thinks choices and hard work matter also acknowledges that environment is very often a factor and that there may be situations that are insurmountable. It’s the other side that takes a hard line, that never acknowledges the role of choices, that always cowers from telling people that there are things they might do to improve their situation.
Of course life outcomes are a mix of nature and nurture. And of course (even though choices matter) there exist people who make all the right choices who nevertheless are held back by external factors. But believing what I just said entails admitting that choices do matter!
I constantly feel like middle class individuals just don't "get" what it's like to be poor. It's really common for there to be this sort of "woe is them" mindset, as if they're talking about farm animals or something that fundamentally has less intelligence/autonomy.
The vast majority of my schoolfriends who worked hard, focused on the correct things, and budgeted well, did well. The ones that went to prison or had children at age 18 didn't. None of us are billionaires, but neither are we all some sort of sub-human, toothless, brainless mass.
One of the amusing things about having money now, is that I have to "play along" to some extent. I can't just tell someone that they're an idiot for trying to find a place in London when they're a single person without any real income to speak of, even though 99% of people back in my hometown not only think that's not unreasonable, but that it's completely self-evident.
Some people face real barriers. Try being born into a country in which a Western visa costs a month or more of your wages. Hell, try just being on an H1-B. The way we talk about "poverty" in the West makes an absolute mockery of that.
That was happening 20 to 25 years ago, and in the meantime I have managed to attain a middle-class status, sort of (I still don't own an apartment, never mind an actual house), enough to say that I can't complain about my present financial situation.
Even so, I'm fully and acutely aware that my choices alone wouldn't have made all that possible. I also needed luck, lots of it, and the presence of people whom had no obligation to me whatsoever, at least on paper, but who nevertheless helped me at some crucial points in my past. Yes, it was my choice to make good on that help and to take advantage of some of the luck I had, but, again, my choices alone, without said luck and without those people that have helped me would have meant nothing.
Those are just things I eat because I’m not a great cook. My gf cooks things like pies and casseroles.
Another thing that weirds me out is how many different kinds of junk and processed foods are EBT eligible.
It's just an endless array of easily-overcome excuses (mostly from people who have never been poor and don't actually know any poor people).
Work hours are not usually the issue. It is the wasted hours on all the things where a high earner can trade $ for time, versus the poor person that need to use an hour to save a dollar of cost.
Upper-income earners have different choices than the poor. Travel choices - Uber versus the bus, a car that works versus an clunker that costs maintenance and heavy breakdown side-effects. Appliances save time: dishwashers, your own washing machine, and a clothes dryer. A comfortable bed in a quiet and safe neighbourhood with helpful neighbours. Upper-income earners can buy services that give them time: cleaning, takeaways instead of cooking, supermarket delivery, childcare, massages or other re-energisers, good healthcare, yada yada yada.
When you get $40 dollars disposable in your pocket after household expenses for 40 hours work (ignoring travel), spending an hour to save a dollar is sensible.
Ideally if they worked an extra marginal hour, they would get a large marginal increase in disposable income. Somehow that doesn’t seem to work in reality (for many reasons, sometimes perverse government incentives).
One commonality amongst the less-well-off people I know, is that they are all tired. They can’t decide to spend another hour at their job because they are physically and mentally drained after a days physical work, and dealing with stressful people/children all day. Doing an hour on something different can make perfect sense to “earn” their $1.
I am not disagreeing with your main point - I do also see my friends spend their time and money poorly (in my opinion from an outside viewpoint).
The answer is to alleviate the environmental conditions. You have mentioned in another post that you have benefitted from food stamps for a while (did I understand that right?), allowing you to eat healthy; other people need that and maybe a little additional help with food, housing and clothing (all of it basic human rights anyway and relatively cheap to provide for in a modern society) to reduce the pressure and higher order effects of not having that safety net.
Absolutely. There’s a false dichotomy that runs all the way through this entire debate, which says that in order to demonstrate that we are compassionate and that we care about the plight of the poor and working class we must also insist that their condition is never the result of personal choices, but always external factors. This makes no sense. It is not particularly hard to keep two sets of books, one that says we should help those who need it and another that tells people who can benefit from this message that they do have agency, that their choices matter, that they can do things to improve their situation.
People need to believe that their actions have consequences. And the good news: it’s not a lie. Actions do have consequences. There actually are things you can do to improve your situation. That’s a hopeful message, not a cruel one.
And yet, there will of course be people who for whatever reason are unable to improve their lot in life. We should help them. There’s no contradiction here.
I don't think this includes commute times or waiting in line for a security check. But maybe it does since these are all self-reported figures.
Most of America has horrible public transit. I don't know if it would even be possible for me to get onto a bus from my house to the nearest grocery store without first walking a mile. Some of the bus routes in this town turn what would be a 15min trip in a car to a ~2hr trip with a transfer in the middle.
In 2011, I briefly lived in a house in Northeast Tacoma, right by Dash Point State Park. Beautiful area. No buses. There wasn't even a sidewalk on the road I had to walk along to get to the bus. It was a mile walk from my house to a bus stop in Federal Way. From there I could get to a hub and get on another bus to anywhere I wanted. It was awful.
This is not been my experience. Poor people having too many jobs to cook just isn't a thing that I saw growing up as a migrant worker (and with, very, very unstable housing, no hot water, abject poverty, etc.) If anything, most of the poor people I knew had no job or a side hustle under the table for cash because any income would reduce their benefits. Regarding transportation, again, people usually go with someone that has a car and pay in foodstamps or buy them somthing at the store or give a little for gas. Or walked if it was close enough. Granted, I did not grow up in giant metropolises, so it might be different there. Regarding disability, nearly every poor person I knew was trying to get disability classification, because it meant constant stable income. If you are disable and can't cook for yourself, in the US, you can get people that will come to your house and help you for free (paid by the government, I know many people that do this as a job).
but hey, you're only a debilitating illness away from SNAP benefits!
That's just not true. People who live in actually impovrished countries don't eat junk food; they eat rice and eggs. The US has a %40 obesity rate. That doesn't come from "extending your dollar." Poorer people have an even higher obesity rate on average in the US. That doesn't suddenly mean that "junk food will extend your dollar further."
What we really need is to limit food stamps (or SNAP, EBT, whatever name) to healthier options. Junk food and fast food may be easier but becoming obease is a terrable financial decision which will increase medical cost, may cause diabetes, drain evergy ect. all which have a disproportionate effect on poorer people. I don't blame people for taking the faster and tastier option but the government should not allow food stamps to buy soda, doughnuts ect. in place of cheap eggs, rice and beans.
That'd be super fun for me, as a person with MS. I literally don't have the energy to cook a lot of the time, and am often only awake for 1-2 hours when I'm not at work, during which time I already have to shower, do chores, pay bills, etc.
Oh, and I'm hypotensive and on medication that often means I don't feel hungry. Junk food is great because it's so easy to eat even when you don't feel hungry. Eating healthy foods often results in me severely undereating calorie wise which causes more problems. Junk food is also easy to snack on at work because I don't get sit down breaks some days. A little salt every few hours keeps me from fainting.
And RIP anybody with any kind of dietary restrictions.
If it were restricted, I'd have major issues eating because what is and isn't healthy would be determined by upper-middle class people who work in think tanks and based off of some weird ideal diet, completely ignoring the varying health needs and ability levels of the people actually using SNAP.
They looked at what we had put together and said, "My kids won't eat that."
While they definitely had financial difficulties to overcome, it wasn't a lack of resources that was their biggest barrier.
This is very common for people I know these days (including my own kids, sadly). It is interesting that when I was young (and we were very, very poor) we (the kids) never had an option. We could eat what we were given or not eat at all, that was the choice we got. And we mostly ate what we were given.
- the key line.
Since debunked, mind you - "Celeste Kidd published The Marshmallow Study Revisited in which she disproved the conclusions made in the original Marshmallow experiment"
Just work hard in school to get out is actually pretty hard. Learning is like swimming through molasses because of the constant stress. It gives you a lifetime of trauma and damage.
It took me a long time to understand where it came from in myself - until I spent time with folks who themselves grew up in actual poverty, and had similar experiences to mine.
What they don't see is how I spent half of my career working for a poverty level wage. Making a top 5% income now doesn't erase years of dread every morning going to work, stress of choosing which bill you will and won't pay this month, or constant fear of having an unexpected expense.
There, I found out that people who grow up poor looked at me like I was a total idiot. There were daily reminders that I grew up privileged. That my brief stint as an enlisted scrub were not enough to understand what it meant when the military was your only option.
That said, I benefited greatly by not having an actual war during my tenure, having access to distance learning education, and finishing a degree there. I learned that I could get a super low rate VA mortgage as well. These things made a lot of difference and saved me at least a decade of working shit jobs to catch up with my peers after getting out of the military.
In contrast, my fellow enlisted from poverty never aspired to anything more than Chief (US Navy) (edit - nothing wrong with Chief Petty Officer - enlisted vs officer was a real class thing as I recall and it stays with me, sorry). That is, if they made it past the DUIs, economic/financial shame of buying expensive cars and crashing them, bad relationships with rampant abuse, etc.
As someone who could "see hope" because I wasn't mired in poverty's terrible view, I could actually take advantage of what military life offered.
I cannot adequately describe what it is like to be surrounded by people from poverty: to live with them, experience their pain vicariously, and not understand WHY they couldn't do what I was able to do.
The mindset is a real handicap. Changing your mindset is the core of moving from one place in life to another. I will never forget that lesson. Come to think of it, I know wealthy people stuck in detrimental mindsets. But that is another discussion.
I was lucky. I was able to leverage the US education system to rise far above where I grew up, so I left at 18 when I was still young and hadn't been permanently ground down. Even though I've had a very successful career (beyond anything I could dream of as a kid, truly) I still struggle socially a bit in tech. So many American tech people grew up in the same milieu of upper-middle class American suburbia that their attitudes, (not voting but simply interpersonal) politics, and experiences are both homogeneous and yet extremely different from mine. So many smart people I work with and am friends with talk about their exhausting childhood being pushed from activity to activity that I can never connect with. And yes, sometimes I'm insensitive that friends of mine complain about parental pressure because my parents never had the resources to even send me to any of those activities. That I had parents in a stable marriage itself was a virtue where I grew up.
It's still crazy to me that I work with engineers who are second, sometimes third generation programmers. I had friends who couldn't even afford a computer until adulthood.
I am curious: what made you able to leverage the US education system? Was there a relative that influenced you to study? A teacher? Were you a part of a community program? What do you think got you out of the cycle?
It is how I learned how people rationalize their world and the things they experience into some kind of logical end they deserve.
I would never say mindset is what makes a person poor.
• 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Poor, May 27, 2011: https://web.archive.org/web/20221021114455/https://www.crack...
• The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor, January 19, 2012: https://web.archive.org/web/20220607063905/https://www.crack...
• 4 Things Politicians Will Never Understand About Poor People, February 21, 2013: https://web.archive.org/web/20220904014612/https://www.crack...
I'm now much older, and my partner's family are lovely but, to my mind, rich. She spends so much money on frivolities that I continually have to bite my tongue and accept this is normal. Going shopping is a totally different experience with any of them. I love them all dearly and give my mother money per month to live on, but this feeling that I shouldn't spend money on myself, should be sure to always maximize value per unit in the strictest possible sense (including longevity) and repair rather than replace things lives on. I often wear clothes until they break, and then continue to wear them until they become literally unusable. My partner has two double wardrobes filled with clothes and many shoes and handbags.
It's a very different path through the world.
The origin was in employers competing for labor during a time of wage controls.
The continuation is driven more by people who have good health coverage not wanting to lose that and the fear that their doctors visits will feel like DMV visits. That’s a powerful force.
Also, while anecdotal, I've never met anyone who is actually opposed to changing the healthcare system. I understand that the main talking point on one side is the fear of lower quality medical care, but I've honestly never seen this brought up as a genuine point. I've seen it used as a straw man because it is a weak argument though.
The origin of the current system was in the AMA and insurance companies lobbying to make everything except health insurance illegal, trampling all over the system put in place by employers, unions, and mutual aid societies.
The best thing that could happen to people who currently have private health insurance and wish to keep it is that a public health system appears, forcing the private health insurance oligopoly to actually be competitive.
I pay (employer plus employee amounts) just under $20K/year for a family of four. I doubt anyone in the “vast majority” is paying over $50K/yr. Three orders of magnitude less than that is $50/yr. How can anyone, anywhere provide meaningful private health insurance for an individual (let alone a family of four) for $50/yr?!
A regular no-frills, some-copay insurance plan would probably cost around one to two hundred euros a year. So, yeah, two-ish orders of magnitude.
The likely amounts owed below your out of pocket maximum also have to be incorporated.
Also, my gold metal level BCBS network PPO plan is near $30k per year for a family of 4, so $20k seems like it might be sacrificing quantity/quality of in network providers.
I've lived all over VA - Richmond, Fairfax, Alexandria. All felt like DMV. In Michigan now. Feels like DMV.
Thing is, too - by all accounts I can tell - people are largely satisfied with their State Healthcare, in those places that have it (Whichever form it takes). Sure people have critiques. But some people saying something can be an issue is not the same thing as the entire system being broken + in the other system everyone gets good instead of just a few + no reason to try + instead keep this system with the same problems but also costs more.
My regular doctor’s office schedules appointments easily online, keeps to the schedule, communicates well and answers questions online within 24 hours, will follow simple instructions to help me get a script or something else basic, and clearly explains my situation and makes relevant recommendations based on test results. The DMV is (and most government services I’ve had to interact with are) pretty much whatever the relevant opposite of that list is.
We switched doctors in part because the previous didn’t have their shit together in terms of these basic interactions. The new one (4+ years now) is great.
Merely being able to fire your doctor and find another is reason enough for me to want to keep a significant private aspect.
So basically I had to choose between healthcare for MS and the other basics in my life.
But alas, this seems to be the equilibrium we're satisfied with (or insist upon) for now.
I wonder if holding conversations haphazardly across various social media platforms with essentially zero coordination or teaching/enforcement of skilful thinking and speech is an optimal way to run a planet. I've never encountered it in a corporation (at least not to the same degree), which suggests that it is not optimal.
Oh well, I guess we will never know!
Strangely, it seems to be almost an unassailable phenomenon, like there is an intuition in people to defend the perspective. Granted, there is substantial propaganda in play, but one would think that at least some people would be able to transcend it.
There are myriad social safety nets out there for people if they'd only take advantage of them. Yet there are people roaming the streets and picking out of trash cans. Why? Because they've lost their families, they've lost their minds, they struggle with addictions and mental health, so they don't really fit in anywhere.
So you really only manage to be poor by becoming an utter social outcast first. If you can hold down the fort and navigate a bureaucracy, you can get on SNAP, Section 8, Voc. Rehab. and all sorts of programs that will get you back on your feet, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and that's not even counting the faith-based charities you could avail yourself of.
Our town has clothes available for people who need it and (in some circumstances) housing. When people go to clean out the houses afterwards they find lots of dirty clothing. Instead of washing the clothes (in a machine or by hand), they go back and get more clothes.
On one hand we could say they should know better, but really they probably don't. All of us have blind spots and people in poverty in the US typically have lots of blind spots about how they could live differently.
You have a lot to learn. Start by reading the article, and understand that the effects of growing up that way are hard to overcome - psychologically. The author has a Ph.D and still suffers from it.
You may also want to look around at low cost of subsidized housing. It's often closer and more common than we think.
I know a person living it, and I can look at the situation and think about how I might handle things better. But that ignores a huge part of the reality of what it's like to be that person, or live that life.
The author grew up poor and has a Phd? Sounds like all the arguments here about how it is impossible to escape poverty are at odds with that fact.
-- someone who grew up poor
Disability! If you grow up poor, you can make it out as long as nothing goes wrong. You have no grace. The clock's ticking.
Oh, and you'd best be prepared to leave your family, friends, and anyone who has helped you to drown.
Hyperbole. As long as nothing major goes wrong. Lot's of things go wrong. As long as:
1. There is shelter,
2. There is rice and beans,
3. There is school,
The outcome looks good.
> Oh, and you'd best be prepared to leave your family, friends, and anyone who has helped you to drown.
Of course - if your family and friends cannot come with you to university, you should immediately give back the scholarship money and reject the acceptance letter! /s
Honestly, you come off slightly illogical (Is your MS in the humanities by any chance?). Your argument, taken to its logical conclusion, i.e. that you must not go to university unless all your family and friends can do so to, is frankly stupid.
'Leaving your loved ones to drown' wasn't about not going to school. It's about the economic feasibility of dragging oneself into the middle class/PMC and how often the most economically 'responsible' actions mean watching your loved ones suffer. For example, my financial situation is terrible in part because I'm responsible for my mentally ill sister, who can't work. Or I have a friend whose mother has Parkinson's right after her father had early onset Alzheimer's. THAT'S what I meant by 'leaving your loved ones to drown': Having to make the choice between being economically stable/ensuring your future and helping your loved ones. Which is a pretty common poverty problem.
I was flippant, not illogical, and I don't have an MS. Different Master's degree.
0.000x%? 0.x%? 1%?
It raises bar
Those of use that have escaped it know that you have to work harder for the same result, but this constant argument about poverty being inescapable is now tired and worn.
A friend of me recommended to me on this subject the book: Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_at_the_Bottom).
Engineers and other techy people that peruse HN probably don't spend a lot of time around less-than-average folks on a routine basis, I figure.
raises an eyebrow in disabled
It's patently clear to any of us who have experienced poverty that Eleison23 hasn't actually looked into any of this. Ignore that part for now, and instead ask:
Why does he need to believe & say these things? What fear does this false view assuage? What feelings, what thoughts, are throttled?
It's really hard being alive during a collapse.
I had to learn adulting under duress. Many poor people don't know (or they fear) basic things like how to prepare meals, wash clothes, pay bills, clean the house. Many people choose the freedom of homelessness over the burdens of operating a household.
SNAP is a supplement, of course, and totally unnecessary even if you're dirt-poor. You can get by on food boxes and other donated food, free meals in parks and at churches, etc. SNAP does have a lot of hurdles in place.
Once again, there's no poverty in these United States for those who are determined and not overly impaired. Perhaps we're into "No True Scotsman" territory but I wouldn't even label as poverty someone's life in a shelter, where they can access 3 squares a day and comfortable hygienic bathroom facilities and usually a spot to try and land a job and increase their opportunity.
I've seen poor people living in garbage, like literally they scour garbage pits and they live among them. Poor people with children who have distended bellies and they're stretching bowls full of rice with dirty water because there's just nothing else to be had. Abject poverty such as that is just unheard of in our borders, because there's too much subsidy and programs and infrastructure that exists.
And elderly poverty is also a thing.
Then, I got a job at a big tech company and got to see how the other half lived.
I had a very different experience than you describe, and I think that your definitions of poverty are still doing work for you -- perhaps different work than I suspected, at first, but you are still rationalizing the horror.
There are many degrees of poverty -- by minimizing all but the most abject cases, you're moving the goalposts.
I also strongly suspect you're still in your twenties, but that's another matter.
BTW, a lot of these markers - especially food and hoarding - are pretty well known for people who survived the Great Depression, too. Those habits die hard.
I'm a first generation college grad (both undergrad and grad school) raised by blue collar peeps (sort of - it's complicated). In professional environments, talking about your life or the impacts of poverty will get you pushed out. You're not a 'culture fit', you make people uncomfortable, the upper-middle class/PMC assume that if you have poverty problems you can't work as well, etc.
It is 100% passing. I'm very good at it, because my mother was a defector from that life and passed on the social mores for us to use, but I hate it, and the energy it takes up is immense. I didn't even realize until I worked in my first 'non-professional' job in retail. I don't have to hide everything about my life and childhood, I don't have to watch my language so I don't give away I grew up poorish, etc.
And I have it very, very good in my groups. (Poor-raised + disabled).
Regardless of that there are benefits to be had here. Very few products (especially tech products) are targeted exclusively towards people from wealthy backgrounds.
Cori Bush was once homeless. I guarantee she will work harder for people in need than Nancy Pelosi ever will.
Healthy, tasty food is cheap. It really, truly is. If you have a smartphone, you can learn how to make cheap, tasty and filling food. And you can afford it.
Here's what you can't afford: the time, the equipment, the space. Can't buy frozen meats because the freezer is broken. Or it's small. Or it's already full of your flatmates shite that they've had in there for 15 months and never going to eat. Same with the fridge, you can't shop for a week (but you wouldn't anyway because you don't have a car) because it's already full of your f**ing flatmates rotting, half eaten yogurts, rancid meats and leftovers. So you buy what you have to eat for a day, today.
Also you're tired because your commute was 80 minutes on two buses, each way. And your feet hurt anyway because you stand or walk for 7 hours every day. And your back hurts.
But even if you weren't tired and in pain, you don't have a chopping board, or a knife that isn't blunt as a spoon, or pan that isn't rusty, or a large cast iron cooking pot. You have whatever random collection of burnt, greasy, mouse dropping covered (Yay London!) weird iron pots were in the cupboard when you moved in. And why buy anything nice? Your flatmates will use it, not wash it, scrape off sauces with metal cutlery on a non stick pan (really!) and generally mistreat anything there. And you have exactly one working hot plate left and even that's got dodgy heat.
The Capex (equipment, use of a large, working kitchen) for cooking healthy is expensive. The time Opex for cooking healthy is expensive. The human willpower for cooking healthy is expensive. The ingredients, however, are not. Neither, actually, are the skills and knowledge of how to do it.
* minimum wage UK in London, no ability to get credit.
Things you take for granted like wanting to read a book or going downtown Toronto to visit friends. Every drive with the car was a gamble. It's this sort of constant pressure that eats up so much of your mental energy.
Healthy food on a budget is easy if you're not depressed. Bake some sweet potatoes. Raw carrots with hummus. Eggs. The problem is that you didn't clean the kitchen because you hate your life and now there are all these little ants all over the place. And now you don't want to be home to cook and you can't really go anywhere either because you're broke. But you do anyway, because you want to be around people, and so you stretch that $5 pint of Labatt 50 across as long as you can.
It's not a fun life. I don't recommend it.
 Startup poor in 2009, as in, my startup was failing but I could get an above average job with little more than a resume. I understand that this is not the same thing as proper poor, but it sure felt horrible anyway.
When bread was on sale, often 3 for 2 sales, we’d buy six loaves and stick them in the freezer. Meat was almost always whatever was on sale.
They are not expensive, but they take planning or at least putting off some other big ticket item u til they pay for themselves. What the poor also can’t do is afford to experiment on things that may or may not pay off. That money could have been spent on something else. Including a little bit of fun. VCs aiming for a one in ten success rate sound like madmen. To this day I still scratch my head at that.
Now that they are all grown up (the youngest is 48?) it's interesting to see how they all ended up.
Some worked a factory job for years, and ended up with a nice house, retirement, etc. some worked the exact same job and are still paycheck to paycheck.
None of them were really skilled workers, professionals, etc. My one aunt has never had much more than a minimum wage job, had five children with three different fathers, and she's probably in the worst position of them all. She's been given cars etc by the others but always screws up. Her children (and grandchildren) have carried on the tradition.
Looking in from the outside, it seems like the big factors are your work ethic, who your friends are, and what you with your spare time.
My dad has a great work ethic but he's an example of work smarter not harder.
You seem to be an average of your friends, and my aunt for example, hangs out with some real winners.
Spare time is related to your friends a bit, but spending all of your time and money at the casino doesn't get you anywhere, and neither does hanging out drinking until 2am.
And remember that I'm talking about my family here! These are the people I love the most in the world. I don't want them to starve. I'm glad there's a social safety net and I'd like to see it expanded. But these are not people who are giving it their all and coming up short in a society that's structurally in opposition to them. They're drug addicts and alcoholics and the ones who aren't watch 14 hours of TV every day. I never knew my grandparents to have even an ounce of ambition. My grandfather had a "nervous break down" in his 30s and never tried to work again. (He was by all appearances entirely capable of working.) I don't think my mother ever once made a plan for the future. Etc, etc.
> In his week of eating like poor people, he had missed two crucial ingredients: fear and shame. While he was looking forward to breaking his fast that night, poor people don’t get to do that. They don’t get to look forward to the end of impoverishment, to a good meal. My friend would eat a healthy meal that night, and he had known throughout the week that he could stop whenever he wanted, that all he had to do if he missed healthy food was open his refrigerator.
Reminded me of Common People by Pulp:
Rent a flat above a shop
Cut your hair and get a job
Smoke some fags and play some pool
Pretend you never went to school
But still you'll never get it right
'Cause when you're laid in bed at night
Watching roaches climb the wall
If you called your dad he could stop it all, yeah
The entire song has some of the best lyrics I've ever heard. It pictures life in England's left behind towns perfectly and also the disconnect you experience when you have a rare encounter with one the bourgeoisie. Fun fact: Jarvis Cocker supposedly wrote that song about the wife of Yannis Varoufakis, the left wing Greek finance minister who was in charge during the EU bailouts.
'cause everybody hates a tourist
This essay resonates with me as well: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=30043719#30047716
Today, I never feel like I fit in with my colleagues or direct reports.
The mindset itself is limiting and I fear I’ve passed along this same mindset to my
Nothing good comes from shaming struggling people for making short-term financial decisions. It only breeds more shame, makes people afraid to express their needs, and pushes the poor even further out of the public’s eye.
The annoying thing for me, is that I got out and I can't seem to help get my sister out. I was using a shitty "hustle" / "self-improvement" mindset that eventually taught me about delayed gratification, skilling, fake-it-until-you-make it, eating and cleaning-up well (part of self-improvement was also tied with "I'm very lonely how do I attract girls" -- dealing with shame and self-value.) -- now I have a very good job, wife, kid, and working on savings myself.
But what worked for me is polar opposite to what my sister needs. She already has a partner and 3 kids, and they're effectively re-living the story (after a long slog, partner does work now, so there's improvement there.) things can go sour quickly, and it'll be disruptive to her kids.
I was thinking of sending her some of my paycheque automatically each week/month (ala UBI) mainly as I'm skeptical of the UBI model myself, so I would look at it like a sort of experiment in to how does it improve things.
I've sent her "once-off" lump sums, which just get spent on "paying back [partner's] family members" or buying a mini quad-bike / latest xbox / massive TV, etc, for the good times.
We live in Australia, so healthcare, education, etc, are all provided for us as long as she actually goes to it. There is a large mental barrier to everything, and sometimes even going to the doctor is just "a huge drama" that is not worth it. The kids have changed school maybe 3 times in the past 2 years.
Sometimes I wonder if it is even worth to do anything about it on an individual level. As an atheist I can only say, may the unknown save us from the world of known.
The shame and fear is real, but the "passing" bit is no less important.
Even if you get out of this, you can't relate to e.g. your current co-workers, because you didn't have the same upbringing.
It's much like being an immigrant - I've been one too and it was a similar feeling.
We are sorry to inform you that you are in a cult [1,2]
If this were a honest approach, and depending on interpretation, not a way to lure somebody into another cult, what could such a rehabilitation program do to make somebody successful?
Today I’m thankful I’m not poor, and my family doesn’t know what it’s like. But I struggle every day with exactly the long term effects she talked about.
Limited financial resources in my childhood limits me now in my life, work. So many time I truly can’t connect to lunch or coffee conversations between colleagues because those feels like two persons in car fighting or waiving to each other while I look through bus window on the roadside.
I was financial limited then and because of that I’m cognitively restrained now.