Have you ever been poor? Do you understand what like to not have money? I don’t mean just not enough money to buy something you want, I mean you do not have enough money at all for something you need. Say it is the beginning of the month, and the total of all your bills are, for illustrative purposes, $2000 a month. That includes rent, electricity, groceries, transportation, clothing, etc. – all of the essentials. Yet, your total income is only $1500. What do you do?
Before you answer with “But I would never let myself get into a situation like that,” or “my wife/husband/partner takes up the slack,” or “that’s not realistic,” or “this is just an imaginary scenario,” – try to give it some actual thought, anyway. What would you do? Please stop reading long enough to think about that scenario and imagine yourself in it.
Okay, did you think of what you would do? – How you would handle it?
Here is a reality: Most low income people cut back on groceries, buy cheap, sew or patch clothing instead of buying new clothing, cut back on transportation, do not take vacations, combine several tasks into one trip, or take the bus. They do not get cable TV, expensive cell phone plans, computers and laptops, and do not buy little fun things on impulse. They find alternate ways to live with less, and/or they do without.
Let’s Put That Into Perspective
In fact, did you know that (as a percentage of their total income) people with low income spend more on everything than wealthier people do? Think about it. When a wealthier person, making $82,0001 per year, buys a cell phone at, say, $100, they spend .015% of their monthly income. A low income person, buying the same cell phone, spends 6% of their income on that same phone (for someone earning $18,000 per year). If percentages were dollars, wealthier people would spend 1.5 pennies for that cell phone. Low income people would spend $6 dollars for that same phone. (Did you know that millions of Americans actually live on less than $18,000 per year?)
And so it goes for everything else they buy: they spend more, as a percentage of their income, than wealthier people do. The more money you make, the less you pay (as a percentage of your income, and actually).
So why should wealthier people want to understand what it’s like to be poor? Well, bluntly, in straight language, the wealthy people are getting richer off the backs of those with less. In fact, most people don’t even know how bad the income disparity is.
Here is a video that I think everyone should watch. It shows, graphically, what the actual income disparity is in the U.S.
You’ll be shocked.
This is a growing national problem, and the theme of this blog. Income disparity causes class conflict, increases crime, fosters societal bias, promotes unrest – on top of pushing even more people into poverty and making life harder for those with less as well as those who are the most vulnerable (i.e., the elderly, disabled, single parents, children). It violates the very principles this nation was founded on – that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This reality is reflected in many areas: the “Occupy” movement (the 99% v. the 1%); the push for increases in minimum wage, the expanding push for rent control; the growing contempt for the wealthy; increases child mortality rates; increases in incarcerations; increasing cost and declining quality of medical care; forces Americans into debt; makes America sick; males Americans less safe; makes America less Democratic; undermines the American Dream; and undermines long-term economic growth.
1I use the amount $82,000 per year (or $6833 per month) because that’s what should be a “reasonable wage” for a family in order to rent a 3 bedroom home at an average $2200 per month rent/mortgage based on realistic housing costs in this area (Sonoma County, California, USA).