We’re living in economic conditions worse than those during the Great Depression. The wealth gap is greater now than it was then. But it seems that many live in denial with rising gas and food prices. It surely soon will become untenable.
The middle class is shrinking. The wealth gap is widening.
People say “live within your means” like it’s not becoming almost impossible with rising costs for housing, food, and gas.
There’s a difference between being poor and being broke.
Many people are struggling and broken.
The availability of credit and the expectation of debt makes many people believe they’re just supposed to be broke all the time, and it’s accepted by almost everyone.
Financial hardship can come on suddenly – medical bills, student loans, divorce, children’s expenses, job loss, housing repairs, car trouble, vet bills.
My grandparents grew up during the Great Depression and those ideals and traditions trickled down to my parents and to me. I understand and respect those values even if I don’t always share them now that I am an adult and parent.
I never thought I grew up poor.
My needs were met. I didn’t grow up around a lot of wealth disparity. There was no Internet or comparison readily available so how could I even know other than watching Silver Spoons and Richie Rick. I lived and played and went to school and suffered the lot of a child in the 70s, 80s, 90s – mostly unseen, unheard, free range. As were all of my peers.
My father worked a steady full time job during the week and was in the Army Reserves. My mother left her job and stayed at home when I was born. Most mothers I knew stayed home. I’m an only child. They paid their mortgage and bills on time. I don’t know much about their debt levels, but I don’t think they took on too much and their credit was always good.
But there wasn’t ever anything extra.
My mother certainly didn’t seem to enjoy being a stay at home mom. She didn’t like cooking or cleaning or looking after me. She did enjoy socializing with friends, neighbors, family. Times were different then. Expectations were different. Most of my memories of my mom were of her smoking while on the kitchen wall phone. I was left to fend for myself, entertain myself, while staying quiet and out of her way.
There’s a big difference between being broke and being poor. I was poor for about 2 years. I was broke for the following decade.Erynn Brook
My mother returned to work when I was in the third grade. She impressed me with her decision by saying we could eat often at Pizza Hut. I was 10, so…
We did take Florida vacations for a week in the summer after my mom started working. That was nicer than camping weekends.
There was still nothing extra for ballet or piano lessons or any extracurricular activities I asked for. I’m still devastated about the ballet and piano lessons I longed for. I have tried to offer lessons and classes to my kids and provide for all their passions, however fleeting.
But I don’t remember eating often at Pizza Hut until 8th grade when I managed to catch a ride with another cheerleader’s family after football games. My parents both worked and I don’t remember them ever come to see me cheer at afterschool games.
There still wasn’t ever much extra.
The end of 6th grade, my mom cut and permed my hair at home after I begged to get bangs and a style like the magazines, like my peers. I couldn’t get a salon spiral perm or feathered bangs like my schoolmates. My mother controlled my appearance.
I was 14 the first time I was able to get a shirt from The Gap. It was on clearance and I loved it so much. Dark blue sweatshirt with a mock neck striped green and white. I cherished that shirt.
We moved the spring I turned 16 and I had to switch schools that next year. Looking back, I realize my parents scrimped and saved and always said they had no money maybe because they wanted a better house in a better neighborhood. I didn’t appreciate moving or changing schools or their timing.
My dad bought me my first car: a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle for $600. The summer after I turned 16, I got a job at McDonald’s to fix it up.
I was so proud of that car but it was frozen one night when I got off work late and my mom was furious that I had to call her to come pick me up. I’m still pissed that my parents sold it and got me another (newer safer more reliable) car that I didn’t even want.
I didn’t have a lot of choices growing up. My clothes and food were chosen for me. Everything was chosen for me. I didn’t get to make any decisions. That’s not a great way to become a young adult or learn how to be responsible.
They told me there wasn’t any money for me to live away at college in a dorm. I didn’t ask questions because they just got mad at me. I commuted to a local community college, then a state university. I earned academic scholarships. I am the first girl in my family to get a college degree. I got a loan for my master’s degree. Thankfully, it is paid off. I am horrified how the college loan situation has escalated in recent years for so many people.
My maternal uncle passed when I was about 19 and there was some money left to my mom, but they didn’t use any of it to help me with my education. My paternal grandma died when I was 18 and the sale of her house went into their savings, eventually becoming the down payment for the even bigger newer house they bought when I was 28.
I don’t have a home to return to anymore.
So I never thought I grew up poor, but money was always such a stressful topic. My parents constantly complained they didn’t have any. I learned not to ask for things I wanted. They still complain!
They still complain about money now that they are retired. Their retirement income exceeds my husband’s salary by more than half. They are paralyzed by a scarcity mentality.
I still don’t ask for anything. Not for me, not for my kids.
When I met my first husband, I thought he was so sophisticated. He lived in a retro apartment in downtown Atlanta. I was dazzled by the thought of independence. I ignored all the red flags. When I left home and moved in with him and got married (because evangelicism), I realized the fantasy he was living. He had grown up quite poor but his family lived in denial, maxing out credit cards. His father didn’t work at all, but claimed he was “retired.” I wasn’t allowed to ask questions. I grew up quickly from my disillusionment.
My parents disowned me over that marriage and I found myself without a car and without health insurance, so I learned to take buses to and from my college classes. I got a job as a secretary and my husband and I juggled sharing his old pickup truck. I had never had to pay bills before and it became overwhelming. We fought over expenses, of course. He seemed like he didn’t understand how bank cards worked, that the money in the joint account was deducted immediately and wasn’t there for other expenses we had. I needed his receipts (this was way before internet banking or apps) to reconcile the checking account and he needed to adjust his lifestyle to be more frugal. It was a constant battle. Then I learned my new husband was dealing drugs. I was so naïve.
When I began student teaching, I couldn’t work anymore and we moved into a new apartment closer to my school. Then after a big fight and short separation, we moved into a rental house nearer to his family. I still couldn’t all our pay bills on time, having to pick and choose which one to pay a little late or even the next month. He worked a shift job at $11/hour. There just was never enough money. There was a time I filled out paperwork for Medicaid, but I was too ashamed to fulfill the application process.
After I graduated, I began teaching full-time. I got a summer job to pay for my maternity leave. We had a baby. We both got new vehicles. Then we bought a house near his family, even though my commute was about an hour. I thought all these things were typical, normal, expected, progress. Then he hit me the second time and I left with the baby. My parents paid for the divorce and cosigned for me to get an apartment near them. More strings.
Living on my own as a single mom was hard, but I eventually became more stable emotionally. My credit was destroyed during the divorce. The house foreclosed. Even though the divorce decree stated we had to both pay the credit card, house, and the new truck he kept, he never paid for anything. And even though the divorce decree stated he owed us $92/week in child support, he quit his job, worked randomly for cash, filed bankruptcy, and moved out of state to avoid paying anything or having wages garnished. His parents also filed for bankruptcy. I had to negotiate with the bank over the truck loan and it finally just was absorbed by the lender. My credit was ruined. Credit scores are a joke. I traded my car in for another that my dad had to cosign for to get my husband’s name unattached to mine. I knew my money priorities were rent, utilities, and my new car payment. It was so hard.
I lost five jobs in two years. It was hard finding where I fit in. I worked as an adjunct English professor and part time at a day spa. I didn’t have health insurance and I had to pay cash for a doctor’s visit and for antibiotics when I came down with strep. I tried going to church and praying for direction. Most church members prayed for me to be reconciled to my husband, but they didn’t understand my circumstances. Or they didn’t care. It was a very confusing time for me.
I didn’t think I was ever poor because I had a roof over my head and food. I paid my bills on time, mostly. Even though I struggled, it just didn’t cross my mind since I could see a little progress. But I was always just a tiny step away from homelessness and financial ruin. The circumstances that surrounded me and could’ve happened are terrifying.
Paying for childcare was a nightmare. I wanted my daughter to have the stability and consistency and I believed then that daycare and preschool was best for her. It ate away most of my income. I dreamed of a time when she could go to public school and the financial burden might be eased. With her October birthday, it seemed such a long way off. There was a lottery in our county for public 4K, but that was still a couple years in the future. We had to eat dinner with my parents every night in order for me to be able to pay my other bills. At least I didn’t have to worry about food.
It’s been a long road and I’ve learned a lot along the way – about myself and how I want to teach my kids about finances and social responsibility.
It’s taken us over seventeen years, but we’ve finally purchased a home and feel pretty comfortable financially, just in time for my husband’s retirement from the Air Force. We have investments and savings and plans for the future. I can’t say the same about many of our peers. I know the statistics for retirement funds and the prediction that many won’t ever see any social security payments.
I still struggle and it’s sometimes in weird little ways. Some things still seem like an extravagance to me. I open a bag of sugar over the canister to catch every little grain. I can’t imagine not using every little scrap of paper on the roll. I don’t like wasting food.
Many of the jobs we had as teens aren’t available anymore because adults are hustling with side jobs for yard maintenance, delivery services, errand helpers, babysitters, pet sitters, anything to make a dollar. No one I know is willing to pay a teen if they can get an adult to do the same job, as if adults are more qualified or mature. Kids are losing skills, milestones, and transitions into adulthood.
We joke about people who are obviously wasteful or careless and say they’re certainly in a different tax bracket. Many of our neighbors have weekly cleaners and yard maintenance crews, but I could never bring myself to pay for those services. It’s astonishing to me that people will pay money for services to clean their garbage cans or pick up dog waste in their yards. With wealth, comes a lack of time, and an attitude of entitlement.
I have have been conflicted for years with what The Church and Christians say and think and pray about people living in poverty. They view charity as good deeds, like some point system they earn with God. During a Sunday school class one time, there was argument about giving money to panhandlers or beggars. “What if they just use the money for drugs or alcohol?” they kept asking and it just didn’t set well with me. I didn’t have the words then that I do now. I wasn’t strong enough to speak out then.
I taught a Sunday School class to other single moms with Crown Ministries on financial lessons. Oh, the irony. My partner teacher had some very different financial outlooks. She received social security payments for three disabled children. Her new husband received social security payments for his two kids because their mom had died. If she worked, her kids wouldn’t receive their disability payments. They supported seven kids on his income as a cable installer. She was very into the prosperity gospel and that concerned and confused me. When their cell phones got turned off for nonpayment, they just went to a different company and got new ones. This was a different financial perspective for me. I don’t think that’s what Jesus is about.
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 1 John 3:17
Don’t just give or buy a homeless person food. Just give them the money if you have it. You think you mean well but what you’re doing is taking away their autonomy and the ability to make choices for themselves. Don’t be performatist in your giving and brag about your charity. And don’t even get me started on the predatory practices of Dave Ramsey and his ilk.
The poor you will always have with you.
“What if they buy drugs and alcohol?” You buy drugs and alcohol with your money; what’s the difference? source
What they do isn’t your concern. Giving (freely and honoring their dignity) is your concern.
Society criminalizes the poor.
When I met my current husband, I was impressed by the stability being a military wife could offer. I also wanted my daughter rescued from her deadbeat dad. Moving out of state solved many of my personal and financial problems. My husband adopted my daughter and the child support and visitation rights were out of the picture. My credit improved with each cosigned purchase. We’ve dug ourselves in and out of debt several times with circumstances that seemed unavoidable – car repairs, vet services for our cats, trips home for dying parents. We’ve never made a late payment. The government has faced furlough several times, but we have always pulled through.
We are now as financially stable as I ever hoped to be.
I think our understanding of poverty is odd in Western society. I grew up having my needs met. I got things for Christmas and my birthday. I received good medical and dental care. There was constant upward mobility for my parents. I can see how far I have come with my own family in the last twenty years. I take for granted things now that I used to dream of having. That’s not poverty.
It took years for me to realize I have financial trauma and other trauma that affects how I make decisions.
I don’t think most people really grasp how low the federal minimum wage ($7.25) is. If you get charged $20 for a late fee, that’s almost three times the minimum wage. If you get an overdraft fee of $30, that’s over four hours (half a standard workday) of minimum wage labor.Aidan Smith
Another interesting financial perspective was introduced to me at a Sunday school class when a young enlisted military family mentioned their WIC and Medicaid provisions were part of their income. I had never considered this idea before.
I think it’s quite upsetting that military service members don’t earn a living wage. Many families struggle and everyone deserves better pay for their jobs.
Poverty isn’t just being homeless. Poverty isn’t just being on welfare. Poverty can be a mindset.
If you pay your employees so little that they require food stamps and Medicaid, you’re not a job creator, you’re mooching off the public dime. (and yes, the majority of people on public assistance are employed).Dan Price
I hate how poverty is seen as personal failure rather than a societal one.
A parking space in downtown cities makes $27/hour. I, a real person with thoughts and feelings, capable of suffering, make less than a damn parking space.posted multiple times on Twitter
My daughter left our home a year ago. She quit college. She got a full-time job as a caregiver to disabled adults. She seems happy with her independence. I’m proud of her. I’m also frightened that she is one little emergency or circumstance away from poverty, homelessness, financial disaster. She doesn’t make enough to save anything. If she gets sick and can’t work, she doesn’t get paid. I’ve helped her several times with car repairs and buying her groceries, gas, and medicine. I paid cash for her therapy the last couple months. I put her up in an extended stay when her roommates got COVID. She lost her dependent status and insurance when she turned 21. We are trying to help her figure out open enrollment insurance options. I worry all the time.
I realize this is a controversial take but maybe being one blown tire, one broken bone, or one paycheck away from homelessness & financial ruin at all times isn’t actually “freedom” the way we were raised to believe it is.Libby Bakalar
Those in power aren’t really concerned about children or their schooling. It’s become obvious that school is just childcare so parents can be available to work.
When COVID-19 hit, so many couldn’t work or lost jobs and it was a desperate time for many who relied on steady income and never imagined struggling. Many faced eviction. Our country and world is in crisis.
Too many just want to “go back to normal” because they have never been affected negatively by social circumstances. They just want their restaurant food or fancy coffee concoction for their morning commute and their kids back in school so they don’t have to worry about childcare. I try to understand this. But I also feel that our society should shift priorities. There are answers if we just try a little harder. We can look to other successful countries for how they manage social needs.
We’re educating generations of children to lack empathy.
What kind of world are we creating, maintaining, leaving for future generations? Where is there hope if we’re just retaining the status quo and not striving for improvements?
when we say poverty is violent we don’t mean because we can’t afford luxury things, we mean watching our loved ones suffer from treatable diseases, not being able to properly care for ourselves without risking bankruptcy, having to work in the midst of life altering trauma.L on Twitter
I see the boats, RVs, and SUVs in my neighbors’ driveways. I certainly don’t know their financial situations, but I wonder if they are just a couple paychecks away from disaster.
You are closer to being homeless than being a billionaire.
It’s surely the sign of a sick society when basic needs are seen as extravagance. We treat our youngest and oldest and the disabled as disposable.
People are getting complacent instead of angry. Gas prices are soaring. Rent is ridiculous and rising. Food costs are high and I’m seeing many independent restaurants closing.
I’m angry. Are you?
What seems like an extravagance to you?
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