Tuesday, August 30, 2016
The Other Side of the Story
I work with lower income people in my job, every week day and sometimes on the weekends. They aren't the so-poor-they've-given-up poor. Rather, they are the still-struggling-to-keep-their-heads-above-water poor. Most of them work. Most of them have kids.
I get so sick of reading negative memes about them on Facebook from people who don't know jack about what they are talking about.
No, they aren't scamming the system. No, they don't buy steak and lobster with their EBT card. No, they don't live in fancy houses or drive expensive cars. Yes, most of them have cell phones. These are their only phones. A lot of times their phones get shut off. They call me from a friend's phone to let me know theirs won't be working until they can afford to get it reactivated.
Some of them look really nice, not like they are poor at all. They know how to style their hair and wear flattering make up and choose attractive clothes (that they often buy at garage sales or Good Will). Would you feel better if they were so beaten down they no longer worried about such things? If their hair was straggly and their clothes were raggy? Would that allow you to feel superior?
My job is to find them attorneys who'll take their cases pro bono (for free). Their stories of how they arrived at the places they are are in are sad. No, it wasn't stupidity (though it may have been ignorance) and it wasn't drugs and it wasn't laziness. It was sometimes poor judgment. They trusted people they shouldn't have trusted. And it was sometimes short-sightedness. Poor people from poor families have a difficult time planning for the future. To the young ones, going to college and joining the middle class seems as impossible as flying to the moon. They have no experience with goals or delayed gratification to achieve those goals.
Sometimes, the misfortune of life simply caught up with them. Their husbands left, their good jobs left, someone in the family got seriously sick. They slid down gradually and now they fight not to slide any farther.
They get screwed by almost everyone around them. They get cheated by "buy here, pay here" places that sell them pieces of crap that fall apart shortly after the so-called "warranty" expires....but they still get sued for the balance of the debt.
Slum lords take advantage of them with rental agreements that are written totally for the benefit of the landlord. They get evicted, then they get sued for way more than they ever owed.
Banks treat them like second-class citizens by charging ATM fees or check cashing fees. If they can get a loan, the interest rate is higher than yours or mine. If they get a credit card with a $250-$500 line of credit, they end up paying back more than they borrowed by the time you add in interest and late payment fees. Yes, poor people are often late on their payments. Sometimes, it is hard to choose between the getting the car fixed or making the car payment. And, of course, those payday check places are nothing but legalized thievery. They don't have a prayer against the professional institutions that write the rules.
Sometimes, they smoke and sometimes they have pets. Oh. My. God. Don't they realize they are poor and they aren't allowed any of the pleasures that make life worth getting up for every morning?
The holier-than-thou sanctimony of some of their critics makes me freaking sick. Let's eliminate certain foods that are too good for them from the food-stamp-approved purchases. Let's not let them go to restaurants. Let's drug test them all. In other words, let's make being poor as humiliating as we possibly can. Maybe that will make them get off their lazy butts and go to work.
The government is taking our tax money to support them and how indignant that makes many of us even though most Americans are only a paycheck or two away from poverty ourselves. Better hope you stay lucky. You won't like the way you are treated if you're not.