Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hot Topics: The Poor Trap

I've put off doing this particular blog because its not only personal for me, but personal for many people I know. Keep in mind what I'm about to discuss is my experiences and knowledge within the United States only. If it applies elsewhere, or is still better than other places... that is not the point of this particular blog. So lets begin.

So what is a 'Poor Trap' you might wonder from the title? Its not the first time the term has been used, nor do I think it will be the last. It means in short... a trap that keeps poor people poor. The 'system' that is supposed to help and support the community, which in fact, creates a cycle that is nearly inescapable. When people (usually those who haven't been poor) say: "Its America, everyone has the same opportunity if they work hard and apply themselves," its a lie. Maybe they truly believe this lie, maybe some just say it to dismiss the subject and move on in the conversation so they don't have to face the reality. I even have family who have said these very words. I say again: its a lie.

America's foundation may have started on the concept of hard work and perseverance. America had many times in its history where this very concept is what made this country a great place. That's not what it is anymore. Most likely if you are born poor in America... you'll be stuck poor the rest of your life. If you disagree, I'll be explaining further as we go in this blog on why this is true. We aren't supposed to have a caste system where your station is based on your birth... but the way things work, this is how it turns out.

People may want to believe that if you work hard, it pays off. That one day all of that hard work will add up to you living a comfortable, sustainable life or even better. This partly stems from the days where skills were passed from parent to child, and often times the children got to learn things that could be applied later in life in a job. Now, labor jobs are limited; several companies outsource to other countries for cheaper labor. A growing population also makes demand for jobs higher. Then there is the failing health system that makes it nearly impossible for someone to work if they've gotten any kind of injury or illness. Think they can just jump on Disability? Think again. One of the hardest programs to get into is the Disability program. Its limited, its losing funding, and fraud (as in all systems) drains on its resources as well. There is also the baby boomer generation that needs SSI to live on (another thing constantly getting threatened to lose more and more funding.)

Lets say you are born into a poor family. Maybe its a single parent household, or two parents but one is injured, sick, or unable to find work. Heck, with the cost of living now, maybe even both parents work! Now, there are several factors to consider (how many children, where do you live, how is the current economy) but lets just go with a simple average one or two kids, in an average town. Minimum wage in the USA is $7.25 as of 2015. That is about $15,000 a year working full time (40hrs a week) all year. So families of two? That's below the federal poverty level. Most jobs these days wont pay more than minimum wage, and if they do, it takes about a year to start really increasing at all.

Now, imagine something happens that makes you have to call in to work on occasion. Maybe your child is sick and you have no other family to watch them. You can't afford a baby-sitter on your wage either. So you miss work. You now are going to make less than that $15,000. That's looking long term too. Most poor people have to live month to month... week to week... or even day to day. So because you or your child were sick, your paycheck will be smaller. Is your car in working order? If you're like most poor, your car was bought either used, or was a gift (if you're lucky.) You better hope that your car doesn't break down, because just having enough to pay gas to get you to work is all you can afford. Public transit? Yeah... get ready to get sick more often, be late to work several times, oh and the cost of daily public transit can sometimes add up to be more expensive in a month than just buying gas.

Have all your bills paid yet? Poor people often times have to decide what to go without, because they don't make enough each month to cover the basics of living on their wage. Food... or heat? Gas... or hot water? Then you have to remember if you have kids... they grow. They need new clothes, even if you don't. You aren't likely to make your kid go without food if you can help it... but are you getting all your meals? Research shows adult parents will -often- times (not sometimes... often) go without eating to ensure their kids can eat. Have you ever tried working a hard labor job on an empty stomach? I have. Its not easy and you're a lot more likely to faint, slow down, or get injured (not to mention your mood.) And don't get me started on the quality of food... okay fine, I will.

"But Jessimi, aren't there all sorts of resources out there for people to get food?"
Sure. You can get food stamps (about 190 a month for one adult now), and if you are fortunate enough to live in a place with these resources, you might also have food pantries that give food to the poor. Oh, but don't think that's easy either. Make sure you have time outside of work, and someone to watch your kid, so that you can go stand in a huge line (probably in the blistering heat or freezing cold, outside) just to sign up. Then you have to go back in a month to stand in that same (or worse) line to wait to get your food. Sure, its free... you aren't going to starve now. Except the food they give you is often times expired or on the verge of expired (yes, I'm not lying... I've experienced this over and over myself.) Fruit full of bruises or bug holes, bread that is beginning to get hard or will mold in probably two days, and mysteriously branded canned meats that you can't even make taste good mixed into other things. Some places might be better about this than others, but I suspect more often than not people experience the same I did. But alas... its free food... and you aren't going to starve now (and yes... poor people will be grateful for ANY food, even if its bad.) If you've never felt true hunger, then you probably can't understand why.

Its a struggle just to stay poor and not homeless. I'd bet money though that if you ask someone you know who is poor if they've ever been homeless before or know someone close who has... they'll tell you yes. In a way, its ALMOST easier to be homeless. No more worries about bills, endless paperwork, people judging you on your home or lifestyle... but then there is that every day struggle to survive. Find food, stay warm, and avoid dangerous people and places. Did you know that currently 1 in 30 children are homeless in America? Children. Hungry, scared, cold, probably dying too... children. Not to mention the adults, many of whom are Veterans who served and protected this country.

I've been homeless. If you've read some of my other blogs on personal experiences, you'll have seen a bit about it. I've been hungry, several times in my life, where I would eat -anything- edible available to me. Yes, in my youth, I even stole for food once or twice. I've been cold; my Mom and I if not sleeping in our car (which you can't afford to keep running all night with the heater) would sleep on the floor of a generous stranger's home or one time even a church roof top. We woke up soaked and near frozen due to the morning dew having soaked our sleeping bags. I've been scared and in danger of my life. On numerous occasions, the only places to stay, hang out, or rest... were places of danger. Places other homeless might go. Places shady people or drug users might go to ALSO avoid the police who arrest the homeless for where they sleep. Tents don't protect you from knives by the way. My Mom did the best she could... she worked anywhere that would let her clean a floor or some other degrading job. It was enough to feed us sometimes, and keep a tiny bit of gas in the car that we lived in.

So what if you are poor, and on the "system" in America? The system would be a mix of things like SNAP (food stamps), maybe some cash aid or WIC if you have kids, SSI if you were fortunate enough to somehow get in that system (which is near impossible), and maybe a program here or there to reduce the cost of your bills. I've already explained a little bit why this system doesn't work. Let me give you a further look into some of the things people in the "system" have to live with and why its nearly impossible to get out of.

If you look it up online, you can determine what the current cost of living is in America. That is going to change based on things like state, city, gender, children, unemployment rate... you get the point. Well maybe you are wondering why poor people don't just save up money over time, even if only a little bit. First off, saving any money is nearly IMPOSSIBLE... trust me, there is not even a penny left by the end of the month. Lets say you're lucky though and somehow had something left over. Well, in many of these "systems" you're on, you have to report any extra money you get. Doesn't matter if it was a gift, or maybe a $20 you found in your purse you somehow missed. They expect you to report all of it. Now, lets say you are an honest person and do report any and all extra bits of money here or there to them. Well... first off they'll ask you why you have extra money; how, when, and why. Then, they'll calculate any extra you got or made... and get this... deduct it from the next month's benefits you get. Yep. If you somehow goodness forbid, get AHEAD... they will take it away from you the next month so that you're no longer ahead. So there goes that great idea of saving money. And if you happen to do this too often... perhaps you make money mowing lawns on the side for example... eventually, they'll just straight cut you off your benefits. Its determined you don't need them anymore if you're able to make this "extra" money now. Well... most likely, any of this "extra" money is only temporary, and good luck getting back on the system again. Ever wonder why there is so much fraud out there?

So back to those children again. Remember earlier when I mentioned the caste system in America? Well if you happen to be unfortunate enough to be born into a poor family, you are likely to grow up this way. You will live in low income communities.

Your child's education wont be even close to the level of standard of schooling that a higher income child would get. Schools in poor communities are a joke. They're over-crowded, their teachers are under-paid and overworked, their food is usually some kind of imitation mush of whatever its called, and because of these things the students are pushed through the system whether they are learning or not, just so they can graduate and free up a spot for the next kid so the school can make their money and stay open. Not to mention the extra dangers because kids from poor families and poor communities are more likely to be around crime, and have health and mental issues. So now your children are caught up in the poor trap. They aren't going to get a good education in the K-12 system, and you can't afford to pay for them to go to college. If they want to pay for themselves, then they have to find a job. Remember those struggles on work I mentioned earlier? Good luck kid. If you do get a job, it wont be enough to pay for all your classes and books and the transportation to get to and from your job and school. (Are you getting any sleep?) If you get a degree you can afford in that community college... you better hope it was for a job in demand. I know several millennials personally who got college degrees that ended up being totally useless in this economy. But good job going to college... at least you made the effort to lessen your ignorance on many things. (I mean that sincerely, being one of those graduates myself.)

Your child in this low income community must have also survived growing up to even reach college and not just end up being one of the 1 in 30 homeless kids today.

Low income communities also have very bad health systems... which just adds further into the cycle of the poor trap. When people are unhealthy and unhappy, they're not going to be able to work as well. Have you seen how much it costs to go to a doctor now? Let alone afford meds? You better hope you don't get sick or injured. Oh and they don't care about your mental health, so don't even bother. Most insurance that the poor can even get, doesn't cover things like meds, mental health, or dental. No help for the mentally disabled? Hello increased crime, injury, and homelessness. Oh and guess where your tax dollars go... yep, paying for all those hospital emergency visits by people who can't afford to go to a clinic; or the cost of hiring police and keeping people jailed so they don't hurt you and your loved ones.

This blog is barely scratching the surface of the issues in America today regarding the caste system and our poor. I touched on some of my own personal experiences, or those of people I know. Every day is a fight for survival when you're born poor... right from birth. You can try to work hard, and educate yourself to work toward getting out of that low income system you grew up with in your house, and maybe... just maybe... you'll get lucky enough to. But for most in America, the cost of living is too high, income is too low, and there just isn't enough care in our country for the ones who struggle; because "work hard and it'll pay off" even though most low income people already work two jobs and more than 40hrs a week and are still around the federal poverty level. But working hard like that doesn't count, right?