Society in the United States is full of perceptions that those that are poor, choose to be, or that they have metaphorically or otherwise earned their poverty. I argue that neither of these perceptions is accurate.
I’m a intelligent adult, with a college education, residing & working in the USA. I have mad skills, an excellent ability to work through most any problem, examine possible solutions, and make an educated decision based upon researching the many facets of said problem. I cannot speak as to the situation in other countries, only to my own experience.
That being said, the poverty situation in the United States is not just mine, nor is it easy to break free from. Nay, to the contrary: it is a loop that is nearly impossible to break free from. In my following discussion, some might call rant, I will outline my discoveries on this matter because I feel it is every citizen’s social duty to understand this matter. Ultimately it will only change if we all come together and make it change, and that will require resources that those in poverty do not, and will never have access to, until there is real lasting change.
Let’s start by examining basic legal requirements just to live in the United States.
First you must now carry health insurance by law. Our family brings in less than $24,000 per year, despite my best attempts to create more, which puts us within current recognised poverty limits. Many argue that current limits are still far below actual poverty when based upon cost of living averages. We are a family of 4. Our insurance for last year ended up costing me almost $400 after government subsidies. That insurance covered about 1/4 of our actual medical costs, leaving me to pay an additional $800 out of pocket at offices and pharmacies, and that’s not including Nathan’s heart meds that run a thousand dollars a month. We jumped through all of the hoops to get assistance from the drug company for that one. However, if I had not carried that insurance I’d have been fined $1400+ through my tax return.
Our family qualifies for food stamps. How is an additional $1200 to $1400 per year okay? Prior to that law I could go to a local public health office for $10 and only pay for prescription refills, which I always asked for scripts to be written for the cheapest possible medication. The list of generic price medicines used to be twice as long as it is now. In fact my thyroid medicine is supposed to be the generic yet I now pay $100/month. I see a problem here.
Next vehicle requirements: A vast portion of the United States is rural. Additionally, most of the metro areas lack adequate public transportation. Further more, zoning rules and regulations in the United States have created a split, so that businesses with good paying jobs are rarely located near homes or apartment complexes. Thus, if you wish to work, it is very likely that you will need at least one vehicle per family so that working bodies can even get to their place of employment.
So to solve that need you must either buy a new or used vehicle.
New vehicles are very costly, and most American families would need a loan to even purchase a new vehicle. However, you must have credit to get any loan, & cannot get credit unless you have made payments on something that reports to credit agencies- keep in mind rent rarely does unless you have failed to pay and been evicted, & then it will report negatively. If you have limited or no credit, as for example someone that may have only paid an electric bill as far as reporting is concerned, you may be able to get a loan that is very high interest. If you have bad credit from anything having defaulted due to lack of payment for more than one month (regardless of reason), you might welcome that high interest loan, but good luck acquiring it.
In that situation, you will likely end up purchasing used, and usually by cash transaction, which can take up to $6,000 possibly more. The used car market has skyrocketed in pricing since our wonderful government destroyed older model cars through the cash for clunkers program.
It’s been awhile ago, so apologies on the lack of source, but I have read an article that was examining pros and cons of purchasing used. It discussed that used cars often actually cost on average more per month than new cars, due in part to poorer fuel economy, but also because of the greatly increased costs of much more frequent repairs, many of which can run into the thousands of dollars.
I am no stranger to this concept having gone through 4 clunkers that I could barely keep running, finally relinquishing to scrapping them when the cost of a repair outweighed the value of the vehicle. One year I spent literally every spare penny I had trying to keep the one van running $400 and $600 at a time. If I’d been able to get a loan with that payment structure I’d been driving a new BMW.
That’s just the cost of the vehicle. Once you own a vehicle you are required by law to pay for tags & taxes yearly, & insurance monthly, regardless of the vehicle’s age. Supposedly each of those categories is based upon the model and year of the vehicle. However, now having had an ’89 Toyota pickup, ’90 Pontiac Sunbird, ’93 Plymouth Voyager, ’03 Chrysler T&C, and an ’05 Chrysler T&C. I can tell you for certain there isn’t much difference in costs. Used is used. New cars do have higher costs in all 3 categories, but once a car is no longer considered new, you’ll be paying about the same amount regardless.
Heaven forbid that times get too tough to pay for those things, because if they do, the penalties will damn you for what seems like forever. On only one occaison I wasn’t making enough to pay for EVERYTHING when it came due (because as is often the case all 3 came due at the same time). I failed to pay tags and insurance. I hit a deer the following week damaging my head light. I was pulled over. I received a $125 ticket for tags being expired (my tags at the time were $86 for the year), & a $700 ticket for failing to renew insurance, and a fix-it ticket for the light. Then when I went to make everything right (which I had to borrow money for) I was also forced to pay late fees on both tags and insurance. It ended up costing over $1000 when all was said and done. News flash: if you can’t afford the bills, you can’t afford those massive penalties.
Now in our country, there are assistance programs for utilities and rent, there are assistance programs for food. However, all programs require diligent paperwork, and none of them account for costs as mentioned above. If you have a car they only account for a flat amount as determine by the government, which amounts to tags, taxes, & liability insurance cheaper than I’ve ever been able to find. I would love to know what insurance company gives them the insurance estimates. If you know, please let me know! I’d switch in a heart beat.
Beyond that, I’ve yet to find any assistance program that will help you pay for the tags, or taxes, or insurance, let alone any car repair. You are simply on your own.
Now the United States is very concerned about communication. To be able to apply for assistance, rent an apartment, purchase a vehicle, get a job, or any variety of other things, you must have a phone. Even the cheapest phones in the US will run you $25 per month plus taxes. By the time you add 4 categories of taxes you are talking at least $5 per month, so really your phone bills start at $30 and go up from there. You also have to have an address for those same things. Having come close to, but never actually have been homeless, my heart goes out to anyone that is. They are in a veritable catch 22 of the worst kind of Murphy’s law in that they need an address to get a job, but need the job to get an address!
Next: Drivers License – mine costs $55, not all do, but all cost something.
Need not forget about taxes. What’s the old saying? “Only 2 things are guaranteed in life: death and taxes.” Yep, that’s right! There’s phone taxes, utility taxes, property taxes (especially on vehicles), sales taxes, income taxes, city taxes, county taxes, self- employment taxes, educational taxes (post- secondary), school taxes (k-12), vehicle tags, farm taxes, fuel taxes, cigarette taxes if you smoke, alcohol taxes if you drink, healthcare taxes, and professional taxes masquerading as licenses on the city and county and state level, which doubles through the same business licenses. I have paid every tax on this list (except cigarette) at some point in my life; many- several times over.
Now on the less legal, but no less required by society.
Bank accounts are necessary to be able to pay many of these things, as fewer and fewer bill sources accept cash. Banks have always, but especially these days, often charge fees for transactions even when nothing is wrong. They also charge you for your check book. Yet they can deny you an account for bad credit, even if you are not seeking a loan. This can happen even if your bad credit is linked to a medical situation. If you can’t get a bank account they’ll charge you for every check you cash, and then turn around and charge you for every money order you request.
The United States is far from being a clothing optional country, and beyond that most employers have very specific regulations as to what you wear, even if you spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year sitting at a computer in a cubical. There are some charities that will help with clothing, but none that I’ve come in contract with consider that. There only 2 in Kansas City that I’ve found, & one limits the number of pieces you can get and the needy get the joy of shopping from the dregs of cloths that couldn’t be sold via thrift to regular customers. The other gives you a 2 hour window (based upon the first letter of your last name) to dig through unsorted piles & racks of clothing searching for something that will fit- they at least made sure that the clothes were work and interview friendly. Fortunately, I’ve graduated away from needing clothing assistance, because if I hadn’t we wouldn’t have a stitch of underwear or socks in our family, except for the 2 packs of socks the kids got from a church one Christmas season.
Now, we’ve discussed the many varied causes of the poverty loop, but I haven’t really discussed why it’s so impossible to climb out of.
First, if you penalize a poor person for not paying something like noted above, you are contributing. I realize that everyone has their hand out demanding payment for something they believe they deserve, but when legal requirements cause the payment in the first place, & then penalties are often 3 to 5 times the original cost- you are creating a problem, not solving it. It should be common sense that if someone is driving a 20 year old vehicle and failed to pay tags and insurance, they might be in poverty. I don’t know, MAYBE we should offer to help, even if it’s just connecting them with hidden resources. INSTEAD of massive outlandish penalties.
Another cause for the loop is how our society decided it should be corrected 40 years ago, and the resulting train wreck that ensued.
40 years -or so- ago, there was growing industry in a variety of fields. It was decided: educate the young populations so that there can be something to help determine those more qualified for those new expanding fields. For years it did actually help and produced more jobs of higher pay and greater skill for more people.
However, once those new industries fleshed out, as with anything, they eventually began to level out and expansion slowed. Though CNN & other media outlets would like you to believe that no such thing happened, there are many books written on the subject from the academic views of our economy.
Regardless, industry slowed, but the push for college educations never did. In fact by the 2000’s more kids were enrolled in college than ever, & marketing for collegiate systems was precious with it’s income projections of educated people vs non-educated people. Of course, hind sight being 20-20: I suspect those figures we’re either inflated or projections based upon old data- especially since they never cited their information. Imagine that: marketing posters and pamphlets for colleges- not citing sources!
So you now have more students enrolled for educations for jobs that are either diminishing or at least holding steady. Where are all those graduates going to go? I doubt anyone even thought of that, the colleges just wanted to keep making money.
AND OOOH THEY DID! I attended the University of Iowa, a Big 10 school. They made millions off of football, AND basketball. Less of of other sports perhaps, but no sport at the U lost money. The U was also great at earning money through research grants and fellowships. In fact the minimal staff of bonofied professors were spending more time working at research and publishing papers than teaching students. No us students were taught by associate professors and TA’s, mostly grad students- which really meant they might have been making slightly better than minimum wage and would turn around & give back half in tuition. The reasoning: budget cuts.
I found that hard to believe. With all the money they made on sports, they rebuilt the stadium & put Megatrons in, and still had much left over. They were pulling in millions in grant money and government funding. Yet, they increased Tuition twice while I attended with 13% increase one time and 18% the second. Yet the same time span only saw 4% increase in cost of living. So they were making money at every turn, how is it they couldn’t afford to pay professors to teach?
Yet the drive was to get students in. At any cost. In comes student loans. Unsecured debt, supposedly. I was under the impression that for unsecured credit you had have spectacular credit scores & history. I would argue students- freshly adulted- getting a degree, rarely meet that requirement. Especially when the loans aren’t even checking credit. There was no balancing of loan amount vs projected income from the degree. But loans have been handed out by the millions for 10’s to 100’s of thousands of dollars each.
So to summarize the train wreck that has already ensued. Millions of overly & expensively educated fools, up to their eyeballs in debt, with few underpaid jobs in their field of qualifications to fight over. More students graduating every year. Now those already underpaid jobs are looking for something to set you apart from all the rest- experience. How does one simply gain experience if they never landed the job they went to school for in the first place. You don’t!
So now there are quite literally millions of us fools- I’m included- working for jobs that require no or little education, not being able to pay their loans back, and barely paying their costs of living. I call us fools because we were all naive enough to fall for the gag, believing that the system must have our interests at heart, because it wouldn’t willingingly cause so many of its citizen’s pain and suffering would it? What good does it do the nation to have a mass of over educated under paid poor? I honestly think they just didn’t have the foresight, and simply wanted the profits. However, I wonder if the man I met with the PhD driving taxi would feel the same?!
Pile on top of all of that, the growing amounts of unhealthy chemical laden junk food the FDA allows to be called food, causing all manner of illnesses. We now NEED healthcare just to stay alive. So, why on earth wouldn’t the government look at one of a dozen countries that have successfully instituted government healthcare in the last 3 decades? Why wouldn’t they say “hey, they did it with a minimum of painful transitions, let’s do what they did”? I sincerely have no idea, because the butchered piece of crap that finally went thorough is not only worthless, it contributes to the poverty situation in the United States.
So now do you understand the poverty loop- nearly impossible to break free from?
I sincerely hope that my current efforts will eventually break me free from the cycle. I’m against all odds, with bad credit, a husband with a bad heart, 2 kids, a trashed thyroid, & too often not enough money to just make it through, but I’m going to be living in the empty shell of a mobile home building a new reality one piece at a time as I can managed to pay for supplies. What I don’t already know, I will learn, on my own – without professors and costly student loans, and I’m going to teach my children that they can do the same. You don’t need an expensive degree, essentially it’s just a paper saying you know how to learn something well enough to do it. So do that on your own, & then do the things you chose to learn, & you’ll have just as good of pay without debt that you’ll never be able to pay back. And the next time you are in a thrift store looking at a garment that you know is priced almost as much as it sold for new, give the manager a piece of education that many people in this country can’t afford to pay new prices for used items, and that thrift stores should be more considerate of that, than making a buck because shopping thrift is trendy for some.