June 27, 2017

27 06 2017

I see so many posts and articles about the middle class, how certain policies will affect the middle class, warning that the middle class is disappearing, wringing their hands in anguish over the suffering of the middle class. Occasionally, someone mentions the poor.

If the middle class is struggling, the poor are being crucified. Their plight is far more tragic and terrifying. Yet the middle class gets far more press.

Is it because of the stigma attached to being poor? This ignorant notion that poverty comes as a result of character flaws and is purely voluntary? That the poor don’t deserve our compassion? That “hard-working Americans” are always middle class?

Is it that most of the people doing the posting and writing the articles, and those doing the reading and responding, are middle class? It’s all about them and the world they relate to, and the poor are these amorphous masses that they don’t really understand.

We are so immersed in the myths created by a prosperous America that we can’t get it through our heads that Reality just isn’t like that anymore (if it ever was). This is the Land of Opportunity. Work hard, go to college, and you’ll get ahead if you put your mind to it. Anyone can succeed if they just try. Which of course implies that those who don’t succeed must not have tried hard enough. Those who don’t have enough money must not be working hard enough, and have no one to blame but themselves.

The affluent look down their noses at the poor. Sometimes there is baffled compassion: “Why don’t they just [fill in the blank]?” Some times there is undisguised contempt: “They’d be fine if they’d only [fill in the blank].” The blank usually consists of options available to the middle class, which the middle class takes for granted. Options the poor simply do not have.

Why don’t they save up their money for (car, home, school, etc.)? When every penny goes towards paying your bills and that still isn’t enough, when you have to choose between paying the rent and eating, the idea of having spare change to save up is ludicrous. Even with grants and financial aid, going to school requires some outlay of money, and usually transportation. Also, when you are poor, you don’t qualify easily for credit and loans. Doors open to the affluent are closed to the poor.

Why do they live in such squalor? There isn’t much choice. If something breaks, there is no money to fix it. If something wears out, there is no money to replace it. So you cobble together and patch up and make do with whatever spare parts you can get for free, usually something scavenged out of what others have thrown away. The result isn’t going to be lovely.

Why don’t they get a better job? Because the job market stinks. For any given job that offers a livable wage there will be a huge number of applicants. Only one is going to get it. The rest are thrown back into the pond. Part-time work is often all that can be found. Businesses often hire very few full-timers in order to avoid having to give them benefits, filling the void with a pool of workers who get just shy of full time. Business owners think that’s good business. Workers call that poverty.

Those benefits, particularly the medical ones, are desperately needed. If one can’t get them through an employer, and one can’t afford insurance (if you’re choosing between rent and groceries the odds are excellent that you can’t afford health insurance) then one must rely on Medicaid or some other form of assistance. And guess what’s being cut.

So you are sick and stressed and hopeless. No matter how hard you try, your options are limited and your prospects dim. You are not a superhero, not gifted with exceptional brains or stamina or determination. You just want an even break and you aren’t going to get one. You get angry, maybe violent, maybe abusive to yourself and others. You are a rat in a cage being subjected to random electric shocks. And you are told it’s all your fault.

Let’s go back to the blessed middle class. Many are one paycheck away from disaster. They purchase their lifestyle with dangerous debt. The loss of a job could be the loss of the house, the credit cards, the beginning of the catastrophic plunge. At least when you are among the blessed, you do have options. You can afford lawyers and accountants to help you manage things. You have contacts that can advise you and help you. You have friends and family who can get you through the crisis. You can avoid becoming one of them.

The poor. The struggling. The ones who can’t afford nice cars and attractive houses. Who can’t afford to send their kids to good schools. Who go to the grocery store and can’t just buy whatever appeals to them, shop organic or indulge some special diet. Who have to resort to food pantries and soup kitchens and other forms of charity. Who eat fast food instead of fine food, who shop at Goodwill and church rummage sales. Who live in ramshackle houses or cheap apartments, can’t afford to get their teeth fixed or their hair done. You know, the ones you look down on and shake your head over. The ones you feel so superior to.

Picture this. You’ve been hit by a car. You are laying in the street, broken and bleeding. A crowd stands around you looking down at you in disgust. They say, “God, you’re a mess! Why don’t you clean yourself up?” They say, “Don’t just lie there. At least make an effort to get yourself off the pavement.” They say, “What, you expect us to help you? What about personal responsibility?” They say, “It’s your own fault for walking out in front of that car.”

That is poverty.

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5 responses

27 06 2017
Mary Jolles

I agree completely. It is actually the middle class, I think, who feel a sense of “entitlement.” The truly poor just feel tired, angry and resentful at the injustice of it all, which politicians translate as uppity feelings of entitlement. The middle class, of which I don’t think I’m a member anymore, due to my socioeconomic status, is frightened by what is happening because they could lose that status by becoming poor.

My Kiwanis “thought for the day” this morning was something like, “Pay attention to your character, because your character is who you really are. Ignore your reputation, because your reputation is only what other people think you are.” The middle class pays too much attention to reputation and worries itself sick when it loses the accoutrements of status. It doesn’t know how to define itself.

28 06 2017
Mary Jolles

Addendum: I think the middle class fear of poverty is in part due to the assumption by many that the poor are poor because they are lazy. The thought is finally dawning on people that you can become poor even though you have worked hard. This is a new thought to many. It also means they have to reconstruct their theories about why the poor are poor to begin with.

13 07 2017
heretherebespiders

It starts as a teenager when you are poor.
You need a car to get a job, but you need a job to get a car. Forget it if you don’t live with family, because then you need a job to get a cheap place to rent, and a car to get a job, and an address to get credit to get a car… no wonder so many kids turn to selling drugs as a way to earn money. No credit check needed.
I never heard of classes when I was growing up (70’s/80’s). The fact that class in America is a commonly accepted idea now also disturbs me.

13 07 2017
justinegraykin

And we think we’re so clever and classless and free.

13 07 2017
heretherebespiders

Yeah, none of the above it seems.

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