How I Realized Poverty is Self-Perpetuating

couponsThis past Sunday, I found the following in the coupon section of the paper: “Buy a $50 Visa Gift Card and receive $10 off your order of $50 or more!”  Well, hey, I can put together a list of things I need, or can use in future, that adds up to $50, and I can use that gift card to buy gas or other necessities; in the process I’ll save $10 on things I’d buy anyway!  Good deal!

Then it hit me.  I am fortunate enough to have sufficient disposable income to take advantage of the offer.  If, however, I was eking by from paycheck to paycheck, thus was unable to pay $100 all at once to garner the great savings (10% of the total), I couldn’t take advantage of it, and I’d have to pass on saving an extra and sorely needed $10.

In other words, too often you must have money to save it, or make more of it…too often, those who most need the savings or increased income literally can’t afford to take advantage of the typical means for getting it.

We in the middle class can relate to this on a different level: we can’t take advantage of the same investment vehicles available to the wealthy because they require a million dollar buy-in, for example.  We must pay an ever increasing chunk of our paycheck to insurance premiums with ever increasing out-of-pocket costs, increasing our cost of living with no concomitant increase in salary – another example.

But even more systems are set up in this same “no-win” way for the “working poor” – folks who work hard at the kind of low-wage jobs that keep us going (maids, clerks, lawn care, home health aides, social service workers, maintenance workers) yet still live in poverty.

Here just a few of the myriad things that work to keep the poor, poor:

  • can’t get a car loan, so, presto, no car to get to work, daycare, grocery store, etc.
  • no health insurance so must pay out of pocket for everything – costs that are far higher than those charged to insurance companies; add to that living in substandard housing which exacerbates asthma, allergies, some still with lead paint, causing more illness
  • neighborhoods with “D” or “F” rated public schools…so much for a decent education
  • lots of coupons are found in the daily paper…unless you can’t afford the subscription, then that option is out as well
  • vehicles for saving for the future (IRA’s, investments, even savings accounts) require a minimum deposit and balance to qualify

We hear, often, of folks beating poverty and making it big.  Unfortunately, that is a very small minority, and the ticket up and out is usually through professional sports or the film/music industry.

As an executive with large social service agencies, I know what those who care for your profoundly disabled son’s/parent’s care are paid, and it’s not a living wage.  We all know what the hotel maids and all service workers on whom we depend are paid, and we know it’s insufficient.  Even teachers and bank tellers are paid ridiculously low wages given the skill and education required.

So, please keep this in mind the next time you see headlines about workers at MacDonald’s and Walmart fighting for a decent wage.  They have lots of company in folks with jobs that are far more crucial.

Then keep in mind that the only way out of poverty – or the lower-middle class for that matter – is through wages paid.

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