Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'm Not Poor, Just Broke

As some of you know, I am all about stretching a dollar until you can see through it due to my utter lack of them from time to time. In other words, I routinely make do with minimal bank. But am I poor? It depends on how you define poor.

By my definition, I'm not poor, as my definition does not necessarily rely on money. In fact, poor is more of an attitude and lifestyle rather than the amount of cash in your pocket. From the butt of a redneck joke to as inner as the city gets, there is a class of people who were born poor, who live poor, and will eventually die poor. And sadly, they may never understand why they are poor.

What makes this diverse group of people poor? There are many things, and there is no one mold they all fall into, but there is a pattern that I've seen over the years that fits:

The Lottery - While many people across many classes play the myriad games of the lottery, the poor invest in it for their future. The concept here is that they look to some miraculous event, whether by God, or by the state, or by half a dozen numbers on a piece of paper, to rescue them from their poverty. It's the dependence on outside forces, not personal resolve and work that dooms them to wait in misery.

Wal-Mart - No, shopping at Wal-Mart is not a sign you're poor, despite the lack of fashion sense you acquire if all your clothes come from there. One of the big screams I hear is people blaming Wal-Mart for every consumer evil, including: Taking away jobs, selling Chinese junk, killing small business, etc. In other words, blame, blame, blame. In the world of the poor, there is always someone to blame, whether it be a retail giant, a free trade agreement, or The Man. The poor do not take responsibility for their own failings, instead seeking scapegoats for their failures.

Perp shots on COPS - I've watched my share of COPS over the years. And I've noticed that most of the people that show up are not high on the social order. And while crime and criminals are not exclusive to any class, the poor seem to be mired in some of the most destructive, and self-destructive, behavior known to man. And one thing I've noticed is that they, both perpetrator and victim, often look lost, as though there is no hope from where they are in life. I often get the sense that they could look at their life and have no clue how to change things for the better. It's the most saddening and maddening thing of all.

So, since I'm a solutions wizard, here we go:

Education - It all begins here. Our government school system, unfortunately, is a flop. What needs to happen here is an effort from the idiots in charge of education, to the communities with disaster schools, and most important of all, to parents and family. Even if you're not smart, even if school sucks, the basic knowledge and skills instilled in these years is crucial to breaking the poverty cycle. I'll leave the details for another post.

Pride - Far too many poor have never really accomplished anything. For others, the pinnacle of their existence was their senior year playing football. From their formative years, to their time in work, to the last years of their life, working and producing and making a difference. Whether this is academic achievement, producing goods or services, or even volunteering at the hospital after retirement, pride in achieving something lifts people up.

Help - For too many across class lines, addictions and associations damage the body and damage the soul. As they have fewer resources to draw on, the poor are most vulnerable to these, whether it be a needle in the vein or a swinging spouse (been there). This is where our responsibility as a society comes in, whether it's through charities, or the legal system, or even a government safety net, our responsibility as a compassionate and good people is to help them when they truly need it.

I know this is a pretty broad and simplistic view of the problems and solutions. But while there are specific issues and specific solutions, we must remember there are common things that all people, of all faiths, of all races, of all classes, have in common. The best thing for everyone is to realize that which makes us great and try to seize it.


Toad734 said...

The poor aren't poor because of the lottery. I can't imagine any study would show that people got poorer the day their state started the lottery. That being said, when you only have $5 why spend half of your net worth on lottery tickets. It’s stupid, yes, but also shows how desperate they are.

You know Wal-Mart is where I am going to disagree with you. Blame is appropriate if it's substantiated. Time and time again Wal-Mart shows up in small town America and the ma and pa stores of Main Street close down. If you know electronics for instance and you want to open a store selling electronics such as TVs and stereos you no longer have that option if there is a Wal-Mart in your town. Sure, bigger cities like Chicago and NYC will have specialty shops which sell higher end speakers and receivers and even TVs that Wal-Mart could never put in their store due to demand and price. That type of store isn't an option in a place like Glasgow, KY or some small town which doesn't have the population base or the capital to support such an establishment. That and the TV factory which was located down the street was forced to close because it could no longer keep up with Wal-Marts demand that all their vendors lower their prices annually. Those workers, the business owner are out of a job and the paper company, the pallet company, the trucking company, the packaging material supplier, the recycler, that used to service that business has now lost that business too. That all takes money out of everyone’s pocket. You can't look at places like Flint, MI, Gary, Or Akron or a 1000 towns in the rust belt and say that a primary manufacturer in a small town going out of business doesn't contribute to poverty.

So yes, Wal-Mart is responsible a lot of poverty and they also profit from in the form of low wages and a new customer base that can no longer afford the high end stereo equipment or anything else for that matter.

Ya, the people on Cops aren't at the top of the food chain and you can say that they are poor because they are stupid or you could say they are stupid because they are poor, because the schools in their neighborhood suck, because the jobs in their neighborhood suck or don't exist and they have to reason to better themselves. How can you have pride in that situation? If your job prospects are limited to Wal-Mart, how can you be proud?

Of course education is the key but jobs come next. But we also need to look and drugs, both the wide spread immersion of drugs in our society but also our criminalization of them. If you get convicted of a petty drug crime when you are 18, which poor people are more likely to be convicted than rich people, it may not be until you are 25 before you are able to apply for federal loans for college or get a job which screens for felons, which is most minimum wage jobs.

Patrick M said...

First, you missed the point on the lottery. The idea, to reiterate, is to expect some outside force, to "rescue" them from poverty, rather than realizing that hope without action is meaningless.

As for Wal-Mart, there are plenty of specialty shops still out there, even in small towns here. I'm 15-20 minutes from three (yes, three) Wal-Marts. And while I have seen some businesses fail (and I worked for one of them), the reason they failed was because they failed to adapt, not because Wal-Mart came in and crushed them.

There are many reasons that American factories are closing and moving overseas, but Wal-Mart is not THE reason. I think I'll have to cover that in another FairTax post.

As for the drug issue, we are in agreement on that one. The current modes of thought on drugs has NOT worked, and until we change the focus from punishing criminals to treating addicts, it will never be solved.

I suspect you agree in general with my solutions to this problem. Our big disagreement, most likely, is how we implement those solutions.

Toad734 said...

They failed to adapt to selling hammers for $1, or DVD players for $25, not because they were an obsolete business. Its not like they were still selling hair tonic or boller hats.

Im not sure we would disagree on the drug issue or how to handle it. Unless of course you try to make the case that a Heroin addict has the free will to just quit and somehow has the skills to get a job.

Patrick M said...

I wish hammers were only a buck....

Again, it's how you define obsolete. When you can't compete on price alone, you have to sell something else, whether that be a different product or a service to go with your more expensive product that the Wal-Marts can't offer.

You will never hear me say that an addict can just decide to quit and magically rejoin productive society. Although I have never personally developed an addiction, I've seen enough to know that anybody can be chained to addiction and that in most cases, they will need help and support of some kind to escape it. That's the biggest failing of our war on drugs, that we simply punish and don't try to rehab, as choice is no longer an issue by the time the cops roll up. While the addict is responsible for their initial choices, and must ultimately choose to make the break with drugs to do so, it is an imperative that we create ways to enable them to do so rather than just hope jail will sober them.

Toad734 said...

What does Wal-Mart not sell?

Now you are thinking. Thats exactly how you turn from the dark side starts, its happening to my mom as we speak.

Patrick M said...

Off the top of my head, here's things Wal-Mart doesn't sell that I've had to go somewhere else for:

unraped music (vs edited shit)
used cd's and ps2 games
individual screws/bolts/wall fixtures
cheap meat
clothing for good looking people
cherry picker rental
Hunting supplies (off season)
Service! (what Wal-Mart does not have)

And that's not counting the things that don't justify the time investment to go into a Wal-Mart in the first place, or my tendency to buy more shit.