The Cost of Being Poor

It’s no secret that there are a lot of poor and hungry people, here in the U.S. and around the world. The impact of the recession and the political climate in the U.S. have made day to day existence tough for a lot of people. Even with the jobs market improving and the economy slowly recovering from the collapse left as Bush 43’s greatest legacy, it can be hard for someone, or a family, to pull themselves up out of poverty. Part of the reason is that it literally costs more to be poor.

I live in a smallish town that does have a bus system so that those without cars have a way to get around, and they spend a lot of time waiting for the buses. But at least here, they can get to a Walmart without too much trouble. In urban low-income neighborhoods, folks either travel quite a distance – an hour or more via multiple buses/trains – to get to discount stores or, more likely, they buy from the corner market which charges a lot more for everything from a loaf of bread to a gallon of milk.

The poor pay higher interest rates for loans. They pay larger deposits for utilities and security deposits on apartments. There is some justification for that. If you are a lender or a landlord, dealing with a client or tenant base with a high rate of default and nonpayment, you have to protect yourself from lost revenues. That’s understandable.

But, from the standpoint of someone faced with a choice of making a car payment on a car that is eating up gas and insurance money, or paying rent or buying food or paying for heat, which would you choose to let go? When there’s not enough money for all of those things, hard choices have to be made.

I hear the argument that there’s no good reason for poor people to be stinky and fat. It doesn’t cost much, people say, to buy a bar of soap and they shouldn’t be eating junk food all the time. But you know what? It does cost a lot of money for a water deposit in many cities, and the electricity to heat the water, and if you can’t afford a washer and dryer, that means trips to the laundromat, which gobbles up quarters by the sleeve. As for food, the junk is way less expensive than the healthy stuff.

Don’t even get me started on the paycheck-loan and car title-loan places. Those lenders are predatory and should be shut down, in my opinion. Years ago, one of my employees got caught in paycheck-loan cycle he couldn’t get himself out of – that’s how those places work. Every time you borrow and pre-pay the interest, your next paycheck is smaller and then you have to borrow again to get by until the next payday. I paid off his loan. It wasn’t a gift. He paid me back, $10 or $15 a paycheck, interest-free, until we were square. But a lot of folks caught in that cycle don’t have anyone to help them out.

All of these issues contribute to increased health risks, particularly for children and seniors. The medical costs of just one hospitalization can cripple a family.

The growing problem of poverty and hunger feels absolutely overwhelming when you start looking at it. Trying to fix it feels impossible. But we can make dents.

I am pledging 50% of all of my book royalties for the month of November to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, my local food bank. If you are in a position to donate or volunteer at your local food bank or Meals on Wheels or soup kitchen, please do so.

If you’d like to read more about these issues, the Washington Post did an excellent story on the High Cost of Poverty HERE.

HERE are some statistics on hunger among our seniors, along with some ways you can help.

And HERE is an interesting article on hunger in America.

Thank you for reading.

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8 thoughts on “The Cost of Being Poor

  1. Thank you, Barrett, but, other than brief bits of time when I was in college and money was really tight, I’ve never been truly hungry. I am humbled by the people who have to live with that reality every day.

  2. Disturbing the number of food banks in use in the UK and they are growing… What does that say about our society. Thank you for the nudge to do something!

  3. Thanks for your pledge of a donation, Caren, and the thoughtful blog post. It’s an important reminder for all of us. I think that all the little “dents” can make a difference.

  4. Caren, your thoughts and feeling on this subject are eloquent and deep, as always. You have a beautiful social conscience and the ability to inspire others, like me, when you put it into words. Thank you for your blog and for sharing your book profits with those in need.

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