Poverty Is the Toughest Job You’ll Ever Have

If you're poor, I hope you like eating this stuff—or, more likely, the store brand version of this—because you don't have many other options.

If you’re poor, I hope you like eating this stuff—or, more likely, the store brand version of this—because you don’t have many other options.

Most of us have a vision of how we intend to get away from it all one day. We’ll leave our smartphones behind, abandon all the clutter and nonsense of daily life, and go live in a tiny house somewhere with very few possessions: just some books, and pictures, and the things that really matter. We won’t worry about paying bills. Everything will be simple and we’ll finally have time to think.

I suspect that this idea of voluntary simplicity colors the way most people think about being poor. Many of our problems are money-related after all—mortgages and student loans—and middle class America fetishizes simplicity to a ridiculous extent (think Real Simple magazine). Surely, we assume somewhere down in the ficklest parts of our brains, people who have less money also have fewer problems?

For Lifehacker, Eric Ravenscraft has written a post titled “Being Poor Is Too Expensive.”

When you’re poor, you can’t buy your food in bulk, buy high quality stuff that will last, or own your own tech instead of renting. It costs money up front to save money over the long run. Worse yet, being poor often comes with hidden, intangible costs that make digging yourself out of poverty even harder.

Those costs include food (when you’ve got a couple jobs, who has time to cook?) and transportation (cheap cars break down more often than expensive ones) and clothes (manual labor is tough on shoes) and much more. It’s not simple at all–it’s a complicated pattern of shuffling your meager funds around from one emergency to the next. This is incredibly stressful. Most people in the middle class could underpay a bill or two if things got tight without much more than a sternly worded letter in response, but for a person in poverty, that missed bill could kick off a domino effect that concludes with them living on the street.

It’s important to remember that poor people do not live simpler lives. They work their way through intensely complicated situations every day. For the 14.5 percent of Americans who live below the poverty line, we can do better than this. Raising the minimum wage is a good start, but there’s a lot of work yet to be done.

Paul Constant

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