• What It Means to Be Impoverished In America.

    History is a literal "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe" guide when it comes to things that any normal human being should see coming, but usually don't until is well too late. People may read about history, but they don't really learn anything from it unless it happens to be something immediately tangible they can get out of it like financial gain, and even then they end up dooming themselves thanks to the inevitable greed that comes over them. In short, people are forever stuck in the remedial classes, repeating history because they slept through it and failed hard when it came time for the test.

    The socioeconomic elite, mainly the wealthy individuals and families who spend their time in the pursuit of money and power whenever they're not pursuing leisure, always allow greed to overcome their best judgment and forget (or don't care) how continuous hording of 99% of the monetary and physical resources, combined with continuous extortion of that last 1% from the 98% who are flat broke always results in said people rebelling against the elite in the worst ways possible. Sometimes the elite manage to escape to various boltholes prepared for such a purpose. Sometimes they earn a spot on the guillotine or gallows. At any rate, desperate people who are eating shit sandwiches while seeing the elites live high on the hog will snap and get their piece of the action by all means at their disposal.

    Which brings me to this fellow by the name of Robert Rector, a gentleman in the loose sense of the word who believes that America's poor are living to high on the hog themselves to be technically poor. Granted, America's sky-high standard of living allows our poor to have more material things than poor people in other nations. Actually, that's the point Rector tries to make.
    The overwhelming majority of the public do not regard a family living in these conditions as poor. For example, a poll conducted in June 2009 asked a nationally representative sample of the public whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “A family in the U.S. that has a decent, un-crowded house or apartment to live in, ample food to eat, access to medical care, a car, cable television, air conditioning and a microwave at home should not be considered poor.”[42] 
    A full 80 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Democrats agreed that a family living in those living conditions should not be considered poor.

    I do realize my fellow Americans can be some rather cruel and vindictive cunt stains now and again, and that most polls get their sampling data from populations small enough to fit inside the local Wal-Mart. But having a roof over your head with air conditioning, a car, food on the table and cable TV automatically disqualifies you from being considered "poor?"

    To those who subscribe to the "I lived in an old boot, ate grass clippings and watched ants crawl by on the sidewalk when I was growin' up" and "That's not poverty, [add description here] is poverty" memes, it may not be at first glance.

    Lets play a game and see how far the average person who's technically not in poverty can get on their normal wages.

    For starters, the average American under the poverty line takes home less than $1,200 a month in hourly wages. If you're paid on a weekly basis, that amounts to around $312.50/week. For the sake of this exercise, that's minus the payroll taxes that have already been taken out of your check - no one likes comparing between the gross and net amounts of their check.

    Well, you'll need a place to stay. And your wages dictate that you rent an apartment, in most cases. Most of the run-of-the-mill apartment complexes with relatively frequent maintenance and amenities (that you'll be too busy working to enjoy) start at around $500 and up. That's for a place on the outskirts of the city or within the less desirable or "in demand" parts of town that's relatively safe with residents who are relatively decent and keep to themselves. The closer you get to town, the more expensive the apartments get. If you find something for under $500, chances are it's a shit pit with shady maintenance and even shadier people living next door. Of course, you could rent a single-wide mobile home for well under $500. For this exercise, say bye-bye to nearly half of your monthly wages.

    You need air conditioning. In most parts of the country, that's non-negotiable, unless you or your loved ones want to end up like elderly Frenchmen and women who died of heat-related illnesses in their non-air conditioned homes.* Most apartments have central HVAC units. Others have window-mounted air conditioners. Depending on how old those are and how hot it gets outside, that'll account for most of your power bill. Mine was about $75 this past month, in a 1BR/1BA with the thermostat set at 77-78 degrees. God help you if it breaks, especially during a succession of 90+ degree days with heat indexes of well over 100 degrees. Let's just say you'll put $100 towards utilities. That's $650 left in your wallet.

    You need a car, especially if you live in areas where public transportation is threadbare or non-existent. Or if the bus lines just don't run where you work. You could try your hand at buying a car through a private owner, if you have the money saved up. Or if you can find an auto auction venue that's open to the public (or if you're lucky to know someone with a dealer's license), you can pick up a $500 beater that might last for the next two years. Or two months. Or two weeks.

    Chances are you'll end up on a buy-here/pay-here lot and end up with a 15-year-old vehicle for $50/week. That sounds reasonable until you do the math and discover that's $200/month for the next 12 to 36 months. Your sub-600 credit score will get you laughed out of most new auto dealerships and others will ask for a huge amount at signing ($2000+) and a much higher per-month note with a higher APR % rate. At least the BH/PH lot offers zero down and wants only a check stub for verification. You have $450 left.

    Cars need fuel to run. The costs of fuel depends on your commute length and the kind of car you have. Just you? Most likely a run-of-the-mill sedan with a 4-cylinder engine or a "premium" V6. Have kids? Minivan or SUV for you. Like doing side jobs or just need a truck for work? There ya go. Regular unleaded fuel is currently $3.50/gal. If you have a 30 mile round trip commute 5 days per week and your vehicle gets 25ish miles to the gallon, you'll end up spending around $85 in fuel per month, not counting any other driving you may do. $365 left.

    Cars need maintenance. Set aside at least $50 if you can wrench on your own car or $100 if you can't. $265 left. Insurance, too. Without it, you may lose your car and your license if you're pulled over or get into a wreck. Assuming you're over 25 with nary a traffic ticket to your name and your driving skills were honed at the Our Lady of Blessed Vehicular Management, add $50. $215 left.

    You need some way for your family and employers to contact you and vice versa. Phone plans from the big four (soon to be three) phone carriers are expensive. Say hi to your new prepaid phone for up to $50/month, if you use it only for emergencies and official business. $165 left.

    Cable TV. Some say you don't need it, but the days of pulling signals out of the air with a $5 pair of bunny ears are over - it's all digital, baby. Prepare to purchase a digital tuner for $50, not including an external antenna. If you want cable, so you can momentarily lose yourself in other people's scripted drama or park your kids in front of Nickelodeon for a few hours of respite, prepare to pay $50 for a basic cable package. Internet connectivity is extra, if you want to surf the web on the low-end computer you bought for $400 at Wal-Mart. Yeah, you'll be doing a lot of your shopping there. That's where you bought that "fancy" flat screen TV for $200. Folks like Rector think you should stick to the old, bulky CRT-type TVs. Set aside $75 for cable and Internet. Notice I didn't even touch on the purchases you might make at BH/PH furniture and appliance stores like Rent-A-Center and Aarons. 20+% interest rates abound there, too.

    Everyone needs a fridge. Not having one means you're really in the shitter. $200 may get you a used fridge that hopefully won't run out of Freon or break down between now and the next few months. Fortunately your apartment will have a relatively new one that won't break any time soon.

    Look down and despair over the $90 you have left. You haven't even bought food yet. Clothing purchases are sporadic and done only when you're damn sure you have the spare change for a new shirt or pants. Thrift stores and clearance racks are your friend.

    For extra or unforeseen expenses, you borrow from family and friends. If you can't do that, you break out the credit cards and charge your head above water. Say "HI" to 29.99% APR if you miss a payment or max the card out. If you can't do that, you take something of value to the pawn shop and leave it there for the next month or so. Whatever you end up loaned is probably 1/3 of the actual value of whatever you pawned, and you have to pay north of 20% interest on it, too. For bigger expenses, there's the title loan place down the street. You give the guy your car title and get anywhere from $500 to $2000 in cash. And you have to pay it back with 20+% interest, or you lose your car. Good luck with that.

    The above assumes you're single and living alone. God help you if you have kids. You either take a second job or supplement your income with state and federal assistance programs.

    Yes, there are expenses you can cut out. Fast food is a big one, but that means cooking and preparing everything at home. Sometimes, people simply don't have the time, energy or patience to do that. You could sacrifice the phone and the Internet, but if you rely heavily on both like most of America does, that's a no-go. People have to have some form of entertainment, so the cable will most likely stay put. You could leave the car parked and start taking the bus, but bus schedules can be fairly fickle things. Your bus runs late? You're late for work, and you could get fired. Bus changes routes? If its far away from where you work, you're walking to work in 90+ degree heat. Need to go to the store and have a cartload of food? Better hope you can carry all of that. If the store is not that far away, you could "borrow" the shopping cart for a while, but let's face it - no one walks back to the store to return it, so they all end up around the corner where no one can see them, and then other people make off with them for their own use.

    Some people say gambling is a big thing among the impoverished, and you would throw $5 away on lotto tickets every once in a while, too, if you were poor. Some people spend their extra money on booze, cigarettes and other things that help the poor calm their nerves and help them momentarily forget they are poor.

    Hmm...I didn't include health insurance. For the poor, it appears to be a waste of money, especially if you end up being denied coverage for certain procedures or have your coverage cancelled. The Emergency Room is your friend. So is Medicaid, if you or your kids qualify for it. Ditto life insurance. It seems like a useless venture with no immediately seen returns. Not to insult the poor, but they think in terms of "right now" and don't have the luxury of long term planning.

    If you fuck up on one single aspect, it usually starts a domino effect that pulls the whole shebang down. You get sick or your car breaks down and public transportation is useless to you (or not available), you can't go to work. The boss cuts you loose and grabs another eager soul for your replacement. No job equals no bill payments, unless you luck out and get unemployment benefits for a short spell. Can't pay the car note? Say goodbye to your ride unless you paid for it in full already. Can't pay for the rent and utilities? Say goodbye to that roof over your head, courtesy of the sheriff's department. Unpaid bills go to collections, and those records end up on your report for the next seven years. In the meantime, your credit is worthless and you have no chance of getting a loan to right yourself up. Banks generally don't like lending money to people who don't already have money.

    In the meantime, you are broke, homeless, unemployed and desperate. If you still have your car, you're probably living in it. If not, you may be lucky enough to find a homeless shelter that'll take you in. You may not agree with the rules and regulations, but it's better than nothing on a 20-degree day. You may even be lucky enough to cop a shower and a hot meal or two.

    If you have family and friends, you may be able to crash with them for a short spell. Young American adults fresh out of college are finding themselves back at home thanks to the lack of jobs and the attendant lack of money and inability to get a place to stay. It won't last forever and you'll be back to square one.

    A measure of last resort would be to squat in someone's abandoned property. Not legal by most standards, but the housing apocalypse has left untold thousands of homes and other properties effectively abandoned despite technical ownership by banks and lenders. It's a bit ironic how there are millions of homeless people in a nation where millions of homes lie vacant.

    Once you fall into this state, it's hard as hell to claw your way out of it. Lots of people pray for a swift change of circumstance, usually in the form of a large amount of money left to them by relatives or won in a lotto or other contest. It doesn't happen often, so you're left to just scrimp and scamper, praying that nothing else comes out of the blue to knock you back on your ass.

    It's no wonder that many people do crazy things like deliberately put themselves in jail for those three hots and a cot. Too bad you'll end up with a scarlet letter of a felony record that effectively blacklists you from jobs with wages over $25k, unless you start your own business, and that takes financial capital that you don't have and aren't able to get, in most cases. You just can't win.

    If you aren't mired in poverty and are particularly well off, you're probably a bit disturbed by all of this, but like many Americans, you won't let it trouble your conscience for much longer. Conservatives expect that much from you. They could care less about the trials and tribulations of the poor because they expect those people to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In the Calvinist/Puritan model intended for America, poverty is considered a failure of personal character, and it is up to the impoverished person to correct that failure on their own. That's why you won't see breakthrough social programs that will actually help lift people out of poverty -- universal health care, public works and other job creation programs, low-cost or free secondary education, etc.

    America is a relatively young country and thus hasn't hit the sort of bottom that other countries have - the kind of bottom that causes people to revolt in class action against the absurdly wealthy. Most Americans still genuinely believe that those who have accumulated a vast amount of wealth got it through sweat-and-blood work, and are thus deserving of their haul. America hasn't lived through several dozen generations of ogling at vast inherited aristocratic wealth while wondering why they themselves are working off indenture on the manor farms. We haven't hit that point and I fear we never will for at least another 25 to 50 years.

    So impoverished Americans aren't really impoverished because they have "nice" things that are actually necessities by nature? Rector is an ass.**

    *From what I hear, you could get away with A/C in Europe's more temperate climate, but don't take my word for it. *Cue Reading Rainbow sound effect*

    **Yeah, yeah, I know about his last name. Make "Rectum" jokes as often as you like, I could care less.

    Hat tip to that wonderful bastard Tom Degan at "The Rant"