The poor, by definition, are those who either do not have enough or who live in a state (often constant) of material emergency – always steps away from being wiped out. The poor exist in different contexts and with different stipulations in different towns, states and communities – and one with no cash can in many ways be more well-off than one with a couple thousand tucked away – depending on circumstances and contexts like family and health and need to relocate, proximity and access to education, decent medicine, food, etc.
However it is broken down, though, the state of being mere steps away from imminent disaster can never be described as “comfortable.” There are different ways of dealing with that insecurity – but the point is, poverty is insecurity. It is the opposite of comfort.
Unless you want to speak from a place of experience of being poor (or being near the poor) as Fox News contributor Charles Payne does here in order to highlight how the poor just need a quick kick in the nuts to get their shit together:
There’s this idea that between the food stamps and the welfare and the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit and the local programs, you know, it gets a little comfortable to be in poverty.
Payne isn’t alone in this regrettable observation. This idea that the poor are here for a free ride and, really, being poor isn’t that hard after all trickles down in scattered showers and barrels against us like vengeful hurricanes through color commentary, enactments, legislation and the general demeanor of the ruling class toward the underclass.
In Tennessee, for instance, a bill has been making the rounds that “calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.” Poor children are penalized – further – for not living up to the standards of upper middle class white legislators – most of whom are male, most of whom can afford to go to a school council meetings because of flexibility with their jobs not often given to hourly workers.
Oftentimes, poor parents can’t make those meetings. They work long hours. They commute long hours. They can’t find a sitter for the other kids – or they have to visit other kids’ functions. They prioritize, but they have other priorities to meet at the time. Often emergency priorities. Because, again, being poor means that one is constantly licking the flames of an emergency state, constantly in crisis.
Or maybe the parents and the students feel like the schooling system isn’t listening to them. Or maybe they’re just exhausted. Will starving them when they are already undernourished help them in any manner? No. Of course not. Putting the vulnerable at more risk only means that they have more to worry about – and worry and resignation is much of what both defines and defeats the poor as it is.
For when you are poor for a long time, you begin to worry – not just about whether you will eat or pay the rent (two things I constantly worry about), but whether you will ever stop worrying.
When you are poor, you are likely to:
- Wonder when you’ll eat good food regularly again – or you settle into the idea that that will not be an option
- Have poor education. Partly because most available education is paid for by local property taxes and the ones who can most afford higher taxes are the ones with the least amount of worry and who can also afford private education
- Seriously cry over spilled milk
- Spend every waking hour – and those are many – worrying if you’ll have enough money to last the week, let alone pay off debts.
- Find it increasingly difficult to live in a safe neighborhood.
- Be more often victimized and assaulted
- Be close to those who are victimized and assaulted – and perhaps those who victimize and assault
- Be uninformed of the options available to get into college
- Be in an abusive relationship
- Receive harrassment rather than assistance from police
- Need police and public services
- Be denied access to public services as funds are
- Are more likely to find yourself in social circles with few people who can assist you in a tight financial strain
- Are more likely to be the victim of predatory lending with exponentially higher interest rates for necessary loaning than the middle and upper classes
- Pay more in regressive taxes and may pay more percentage-wise than the very rich who can most afford it
- Can not have your money work for you; since two pennies scratching each other don’t actually do anything
- Don’t have the privilege of getting your teeth checked regularly
- Tend to consider the emergency room as your clinic
- Get used to being associated with criminality and malicious intent
- Are considered either a criminal or a criminal-in-training
- Are as likely if not more likely to suffer from chronic health problems as middle class/wealthy, but far, far less likely to receive adequate medical treatment for it – let alone consistent treatment. Let alone able to see for a second or third opinion
- Are blamed at every turn for fiscal problems of city, county, state, and nation
All of these are circumstances of being poor. Most of these I have experienced first-hand or my neighbors have. I have been accosted. I worry hourly about how to stretch money, pay bills, make more money, and feed my daughter. In addition, the poor are under relentless scrutiny and endless judgment by the upper classes as well as their own class – mostly for that which is not within their power or immediate grasp.
The poor are scrutinized for:
- Clothes (ever wonder why poor in certain communities buy so much cheap clothing?)
- Weight (“If they’re so poor, why are they so fat?” is a common question that middle class white Americans ask about the food insecure – ignoring the fact that grease is cheaper as well as addictive)
- Household items
- Not having stocks or savings (In a Facebook thread I was recently involved in, one White male asked, “If you’re 35, single and without stocks or bonds, where did you go wrong?”)
- Language usage (Middle class, Midwestern speech patterns are considered the default pronunciation and grammar settings in the US. Everyone else is judged for how closely they resemble this “good language.”
- Hints of dirtiness
And the poor are judged for:
- Apparent work ethic
- How we treat our children
- Trying to fit in.
- For not trying to fit in.
- Education level
- Job status
- Performance in public places
- Whether or not we meet requirements of “genuine” poverty
These poor people have too many fridges!
In fact, long before the Heritage Foundation used universal ownership of refrigerators as evidence that USian poverty is truly a myth, some of my conservative friends would compare the abundance of today’s poorest to the lack of kings during the middle ages (they had castles, but no central heat. It was really cold in those drafty places. Too bad they couldn’t warm up with fireplaces or nothing…). The implication being that the poor in the US these days have it soooooo fekking easy.
But we don’t. There is no comfort in being judged for what we lack. There is no physical or psychological or social comfort in any of this. Whatever comfort is to be found is found by the necessity of erasing the high-bludgeoning tensions through various (and often unhealthy) means, whether they be drug or alcohol abuse or partying or gaming or sports.
They use these methods of escape, when they do, because, once again, there is no comfort in poverty.