I haven’t really been poor; oh, I’ve done rather badly at times, and have struggled greatly, and have gone without. I haven’t really been desperately poor if what John Scalzi and others have contributed to a scary list of what Being Poor can really mean in the Land Of The Free.
As a kid, I thought we were the poor family on the block because we didn’t have the newest and the brightest of toys immediately when the kids demanded them. If we were having problems with bills and money, our parents hid them extremely well from us. We never had to melt snow over a wood fire in the back yard because we were that desperately poor that there was a choice between feeding the kids or paying the gas bill.
I know now, as an adult, that the reason we were different from my cousins on my dad’s side was that he left his small town behind and moved to the city to get an education. That education allowed him to get a good job and build a good life. We were lucky, but like so many people living week to week on the kindness of an employer, we weren’t really all that far away from a trailer park.
Plenty of items from this 2005 list stood out, and I’ve included only some of them below. It’s not just about affordable medical care to the bottom rung, it’s about so much more.
Being poor is obviously your fault, even though the biggest, fattest reason you had to file bankruptcy in the first place was because your husband frivolously got cancer while laid off.
Being poor is hearing your daughter tell you twenty years later that she finally realized that ‘Mommy already ate, sweetie’ was a lie.
Being poor means that you can’t even scrape together enough change to ride the bus to the neonatal clinic, and it’s the middle of summer and too far to walk.
Being poor means after much tears and thought, when you finally decide to have the abortion, you have to borrow the money to get it done.
Being poor means that if you’d kept the baby, some rich people would accuse you of abusing the welfare system.
Being poor means that by getting the abortion, some rich people accuse you of murder.
Being poor is not having any margin for error. The problem is that life only rarely lets people get through it without error.
Being poor is having to commute two hours each way by public transit to a job that is 4 hours a day and pays minimum wage.
Being poor is having the grocery store checker give you dirty looks and make comments to the next customer about “my tax dollars being wasted” when you use food stamps to buy a day-old cake on sale and a package of birthday candles for your child.
Being poor is being overwhelmingly grateful that the next person in line says to the checker, “I can’t think of a better use for my tax dollars than to pay for a poor child to have a birthday, you heartless prick.”