If you’re reading this article, you’re one of two people: The one who tells everyone that being poor is somehow a ‘choice’ in that it is the result of ‘poor life choices’ or some kind of deep character flaw that makes a person a ‘burden to society’, OR you’re the one who hears someone say all that and just shakes your head at the sheer ignorance of such a perspective.
If you’re the former, you’re already shutting down the ‘learning’ parts of your brain because you just read something you don’t want to believe. So I have no illusions that you’re going read on and become thus enlightened. You guys just don’t do that sort of thing. For everyone else, ‘I know a guy’…
That particular guy is a social media ‘friend’ named Derek. He is the former, and he fits all the criteria for a know-nothing, learn-nothing ‘conservative’. One thing Derek likes to do is find examples of someone overcoming poverty against extreme odds and then declare that ‘If they can do it, anyone can do it.’ To be fair to Derek, there is some definite truth to that. Can ‘anyone get out of poverty’? Absolutely… just like ‘anyone can walk on the Moon’, or ‘anyone can beat Mike Tyson’ in the ring, or ‘anyone can summit Mt. Everest’. Those are all ‘true’ because probability is kind of funny and can give anyone a one in a billion break. But the idea that everyone can transcend shitty circumstances just isn’t based in reality.
“Wait. You mean. THAT Tyson?”
In Derek’s world, anecdotal evidence represents reality. Here in actual reality, in the US, poverty is an intractable situation for millions of people. When I asked Derek how he managed to stay out of poverty, his answer was the same unimaginative response you’ll get from anyone who never noticed they had resources and privileges that many others do not: “Hard work.”
“Well, okay,”, I said, “What ‘hard work’ did you do?”
“I fixed cars in my driveway and built a business out of it.”
“So, you’re saying you had tools, a driveway, skills, and connections to get customers, right? What about the people who have none of those?”
And that is what most conservatives can never understand: What it’s like to have no resources. They love to say things like ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’, but they’re imagining that everyone must have been born, like them, with silver boots in their mouths.
“Just how does one do that?”
Their obliviousness to the realities that millions of people deal with daily is proof positive that not only are most of them blind to the fact that they’ve had advantages others did not, but because of that blindness, they are incapable of imagining that there are people who have never had the resources that they’ve relied upon. Because they believe that they ‘did it on their own with no help’, which is an absolute fantasy for anyone who has managed to succeed, they can’t understand what ‘having nothing’ really means. Sure, Fox News tells them that poor people ‘own big flat screen TVs’, ‘smartphones’, and ‘refrigerators’, but they leave out a few details like how those refrigerators are often empty, how those TVs and Phones are necessities for communication and sanity. They act like someone can just ‘sell some of their stuff’ or just ‘not buy’ that stuff (when they can afford it) and somehow they’ll suddenly be living within their means.
Those ‘luxury’ items are, more often than not, the very things that keep people from losing everything. Without a refrigerator, people can’t store nutritious food and have to resort to buying prepared foods. That alone can double or triple food costs for a family. For many people, that means just going deeper into poverty. A smart phone is a lifeline for the working or work-seeking poor. For many poor, a smartphone is their only means of communication, without which finding or maintaining a job becomes exponentially more difficult. As for the TVs? Entertainment at home is a much cheaper alternative than going to the movies or a sports bar, and let’s face it: aside from the very few of us with the altruism and discipline to only read books or put on puppet shows for each-other, who can really say they could live without one? We need news, sports, and a connection to our culture to be part of it. And really… just how expensive is a TV? For a $400 flat screen that lasts at least two years, it works out to no more than $17 a month. That’s hardly ‘luxury spending’… and most TVs last longer, making them a good investment.
What could you sell all of those for? Let’s pretend we live in a universe where you can sell anything for what you paid for it. Then maybe you could get $1000 for your fridge, TV, and smartphone. Expect that to pay the bills for ONE month. But here in the real world, you wouldn’t get enough to cover a week’s expenses, and then suddenly your food costs double, you can’t call in sick to work or get calls to pick up extra shifts, and you slowly lose your mind because everyone else knows what’s happening in Game of Thrones.
But being poor is so much worse than being told you live in luxury because you can store food and watch the Superbowl. It’s even worse than having to pay more for everything because you can’t buy in bulk, can’t afford a bank account and pay higher fees to cash checks and pay bills, and get screwed on loans and credit. No, the ‘Broke Trap’, as I often refer to it, puts you in a position where one small disaster can make you lose everything.
I use the following example because I’ve been there. The only thing that saved my ass was having someone I could borrow money from, and that I had tools and enough knowledge to fix my car… and I still faced the possibility of becoming homeless because of an expired inspection sticker.
In my case, I had a VW Jetta. Great car. Except for the fact that Jettas from that year (2000) have what’s called an ‘interference engine’. That means that if the belt goes, all of the sudden all the injectors get hammered to hell by the pistons and the head warps. At the time, I had a decent sales job and was making around $500/week. Not great, but enough to keep on top of things. I used my car to get to and from the field I’d be working each week, but then one winter night the water pump froze, the belt snapped, and the car died. Here’s why I was VERY lucky: It died around the corner from my house and a friend helped me push it to my garage. I had a garage. I had a Campbell Hausefield compressor, air tools, and a garage full of other tools. I had some money saved. I had a friend with a car and more expertise than I when it came to Jetta repair.
I bought a re-machined head for my engine, a gasket, and a whole host of new tools I needed to replace it. All told, it would wind up costing me the $700 I had saved and an entire week of lost work trying to fix the damn thing by watching internet videos and my mechanic friend coming by to ‘help’ a couple times by mostly pointing to stuff and laughing at me. Suffice it to say, I hate German engineers now.
Ein anderer Amerikaner versucht unser Auto zu reparieren! HAHAHA!
But after it was fixed, I still needed to get my inspection updated. With my friend’s reader, I found the codes that indicated what parts needed replacing and bought more parts, and tools, and tried to get the codes to go away. They didn’t. I replaced damn near everything from the air intake to the muffler and the codes stayed. My friend, the expert mechanic, was even stumped and said I needed a new computer or chip or something else that was as likely as me putting an Ipod on the Moon. No one was going to pass my car for inspection. So I drove, was pulled over, got a ticket I couldn’t pay right away, it doubled, I borrowed, I got back to work with a bank account in the negative and bills piling up again.
Now, here’s what I had that most poor people with a car do not:
– Money saved.
– The luck to have my car die close to my house.
– A friend to help me push said car to my house.
– A friend to run me to stores and salvage yards to get parts and tools.
(Try carrying a 2L engine head 50 miles from the only place that has one)
– A garage in the winter.
– A friend to help my amateur mechanic’s ass for an hour here and there.
– A fuckton of tools (and still had to buy more).
– A job with enough flexibility that I could take a week off.
– Someone to lend me money so I could avoid going to jail for an expired fucking inspection sticker.
What happens to a poor person without any of those things when their car dies?
Yeah, they’re done. JUST the inspection sticker alone is enough to destroy someone’s life if they don’t have the money to fix the problem or pay the fines. Either way, once they can’t get to work, they’ll lose income and likely even their job… putting them deeper in the hole.
But wait! It gets WORSE!
If a person not lucky enough to have all the resources I did gets pulled over (and survives), they potentially face a whole nightmare of getting tied up in court, charged fees they can’t pay, jailed and put on probation, and then jailed some more when they can’t pay for their probation. This often becomes a self-sustaining vicious cycle that obliterates a person’s life. The reality that so many conservatives can’t wrap their heads around (and yeah, there is a relatively smaller percentage of privileged non-conservatives with the same mind-set) is that we live in a system that is designed to make people poor and keep them that way.
“Well Y’all shoulda’ finished school, got a degree and a career and not had kids till you wuz ready.” – The Barely Literate Conservative.
Yeah, that’s the usual fallback for them. But once again we find the dearth of imagination at work here. They got to go to school and finish. That’s great for them. But school apparently didn’t teach them that many people simply can’t afford to go to school, for many reasons. They also didn’t l earn that wages have not kept up with costs for over 40 years. So when someone says, “Well I worked a summer job to pay for school and buy a car.”, You know that they’re just a few breaths away from fossilization.
It just doesn’t work that way anymore.
So yes, most conservatives have their heads up their ass when it comes to the issue of poverty. You know which ones they are when they say, “The poor should just work harder”. Forget the fact that many poor people work more than one job.
Some people can’t just ‘choose’ to have enough advantages to do that.