What does poverty look like to you?

Many Americans are still struggling to keep food on the table after the Great Recession. Right now, 1 in 7 Americans are “food insecure” and approximately 47.4 million are surviving on food stamps, referred to as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That means there’s a strong chance you may know someone living on SNAP or close to needing food assistance. Are your friends wearing dirty clothes, begging for scraps on the street? I am going to make the assumption they are not. There’s still a heavy stigma attached to the poor and what being in need is supposed to look like. We live in a society that shames poverty and implies that you brought it upon yourself. The Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, recently typified this notion, saying: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.” One of the world’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, put it more bluntly in a magazine column: “If you’re jealous of those with more money, don’t just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself — spend less time drinking or smoking and socializing, and more time working.”

But one does not simply come out of poverty so easily. According to the Economic Policy Institute, half the jobs in the nation pay under than $34,000 a year. There are many contributing factors that can cause people to be poor. Problems start early with bad nutrition, inequitable public schools, lack of mentors, etc. Regardless of any individual circumstance, no one should feel bad for reaching out for help when in need.

Recently, a few courageous lawmakers took the food stamp challenge, living off SNAP in an attempt to show that hunger is more than just a statistic. As U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who took the challenge, wrote: “All spontaneity is out the window. Feel like buying a cup of coffee? Forget it. Those pretzels in the vending machine look tempting? Keep walking. They’re not in the budget.”  Governor Ted Strickland said “For the week [I took the challenge], I walked as much as I possibly could to avoid paying for transportation, skipped meals to save money — and I ate much smaller and less healthful meals when I did eat.”  

I didn’t need to take the challenge, I lived it. And I learned a lot from it but mainly that I should never feel ashamed for reaching out for help. I also learned that I had my own stereotype of what being poor should look like. When I had to go to the SNAP office, I admit I was expecting to see the depths of poverty exemplified. Instead, I saw people from all walks of life: young and old, clean and dirty, black and white. I am Ivy League educated, worked for years, had decent savings, and wore nice clothes before times got hard and I lost my job. Besides being a black woman, on paper I didn’t look like my idea of a typical SNAP recipient. Anyone could easily slip into poverty. 

Why do we think so poorly of the poor? 

Let’s officially kill the stereotype of what a SNAP recipient should look like: the black welfare queens, the lifetime dependents, the drug users, etc. You should not feel alone in your own bias towards the poor. Congress still has the stereotyped image of the fraudulent food stamper engrained in their minds as well. Ignore the fact that 83% who receive SNAP benefits are children, elderly, and people with disabilities. Or that there has been a decline in the number of people enrolled in SNAP. Congress still cut back SNAP benefits last year. Some members even suggested drug testing for recipients. 

A major food gap between the rich and the poor exists in our country. Though SNAP helps reduce hunger, by no means does it eliminate it and it certainly doesn’t encourage the purchase of nutritious food. 

I would be naive to assume that no one tries to game the system. But that number is estimated to be negligable: 3.4%. Plus it is very difficult to detect fraud in SNAP benefits in the first place. The mistrust of the poor and assumption that most take advantage of the system is detrimental to progress in reforming the system that supports them. As Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of Nickeled and Dimed, wisely put it: “Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation. Poverty is a shortage of money.”  We live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world; it’s a shame that we still struggle with how we treat people in need.


Weigh in with your opinion here

Guaranteed basic income to every citizen, whether or not they are employed to ensure their survival and that they live in a dignified, humane way, preventing poverty, illness, homelessness, reducing crime, encouraging higher education and learning vocations as well as helping society become more prosperous as a whole. 

People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as ‘parasites’ fail to understand economics and parasitism. A successful parasite is one that is not recognized by its host, one that can make its host work for it without appearing as a burden. Such is the ruling class in a capitalist society.
—  Jason Read
Watch on of-blood-and-chocolate.tumblr.com

"When you look at what this government is proposing to do to the young people of Australia, what you have is a group of privileged, older, white men who have benefited from a free education, who have benefited from universal healthcare, who have been the beneficiaries of a generous social safety net saying ‘We had it good… but stuff you. You’re not. We are going to make sure that our prosperity will be had off your shoulders.’

And that’s what i’m most aggrieved about. How is it that a young person, who finds themself unemployed, is ineligible to get support for six months? What on Earth are they supposed to do? How do they feed themselves? How do they pay their rent? How do they pay for transport? How do they clothe themselves? I simply don’t get it. I understand there is a narrow, brutal, ideological world view out there, but it is a world view that effects the lives of young people right across the country. Over 700 000 people will be affected by the changes to Newstart.”

There are currently only 38 537 jobs on the Australian Jobsearch website. Just to give a little context.

I love conservative rhetoric.

"if you can’t afford kids stop having them, but abortions are bad, and health insurance shouldn’t cover birth control or plan b, and welfare is awful, and raising the minimum wage so you can afford to live without requiring welfare and food stamps is socialism!"

When Washington residents voted in 1998 to raise the state’s minimum wage and link it to the cost of living, opponents warned the measure would be a job-killer. The prediction hasn’t been borne out.

WHAT??? You mean putting more money into the hands of the middle class may actually increase disposable income which may actually increase consumption of goods which may increase demand which may increase employment?????


Low-income people are often criticised for making ‘poor decisions’ in the eyes of observers who think they have a better understanding of how poor people should live their lives, prioritise their spending, and live within their own communities. Yet, these criticisms are often made with a lack of understanding about how income levels influence decisionmaking, and how certain habits can become ingrained even after years; if you have lived with insecurity at some point, you are likely to continue to retain habits that reflect the experience of financial insecurity, even if those habits are actually detrimental to saving money, developing more independence, and living securely.

The thing about being poor is that it requires a radically different approach to life, and one that often doesn’t involve a long-term view, because you can’t afford to take such a view. When poor people are criticised for ‘bad decisions,’ it’s often for things like not buying in bulk (the econopack problem rides again), not renting more affordable housing (yes, because people choose to live in expensive rentals), not buying things that are more expensive in the short term but pay off in the long term (‘why keep buying crappy $20 shoes when you could buy a $100 pair of long-lasting shoes?’). So many of these judgments involve how poor people use their money, and they betray a fundamental lack of understanding about some basic facts of being poor.

When you are poor, you do not have savings, money in reserve, or a safety cushion in your bank account. It’s not that you’re being cheap and refusing to buy those $100 shoes, it’s that you have $35 in your bank account until next pay day, and your child needs shoes today. You don’t have access to credit, and if you did and chose to put those better shoes on a credit card, you wouldn’t be able to pay them off anyway, because most of your next paycheque is already allocated to expenses like rent and utilities that must be paid immediately (and in some cases are overdue).

When you are poor, there is no safety net, and this is something many middle class people do not understand. They confuse broke and poor, and don’t understand the genuine difference between their way of life and that of others. Those who retain cushions of hundreds or thousands of dollars start getting nervous about ‘not having enough money’ when they still have more in their accounts than poor people make in a month—and while one might argue that savings and maintaining such cushions is an example of good financial planning and a good idea, it’s only accessible to people who make enough money to do it.

And who have trained themselves to have the habit of doing it. One of the facts of poverty is that you become accustomed to spending money when you have it, and it becomes hard to check your spending habits in the unlikely event you do start making more money; consequently, it becomes very hard to save money, or to use your funds on practical things. Thus, a poor person might buy something like a television instead of bulk foods for the pantry, attracting disdain from critics, simply because she wants a television, and she has the money. Next month, when her income fluctuates and an emergency eats up her extra cash, she’s right back where she started, but at least she still has that television (for now, until she’s forced to sell it to pay the water bill three months in the future).

Decision making is complicated when you’re poor, and you have a very different rubric for decisions that other members of society do. Being poor isn’t mysterious and noble, but it’s not the fault of people who are poor, either; and it’s not necessarily something that people can magic their way out of just by making ‘the right choices’ as deemed by other members of society.

Decision making while poor can involve being forced to choose between two important expenses with the knowledge that you can only cover one. Food or electricity? Rent or garbage bill? Water or phone? Copay for the doctor’s office or transit pass so you can get to work? Car insurance or parking tickets? While many people are familiar with constant demands on their finances, people in the middle classes can generally handle these needs routinely as they come up; pay it off, move forward, maybe shift the budget around a little to accommodate unexpected expenses. When you are poor, even five dollars more or less can make a huge difference in your life.

The role that poverty plays as a looming shadow in the lives of many people is often discounted. To be poor is to make decisions solely on the basis of money, sometimes in the active knowledge that they are bad decisions but that they are also the only choice; this raises questions about the nature of whether they are truly decisions, or could be more accurately termed forced sacrificial moves. And to have been poor is to fear poverty again, to attempt to pull yourself out of harmful set habits that you recognise, but don’t necessarily know how to address, because you’ve never known anything but finance-induced decision making.

Is the money there? Spend it, quickly, before it slips away. Address immediate needs as they arise, because everything is a right-now crisis, and try not to think about the future. If the car breaks down, hope that it’s an easy fix, because the thought of buying a new one is insurmountable right now. If you can’t fix it, buy another old clunker even though you know it’ll break down too, because it’s all you can afford. Or search for a new job that will let you take transit, and hope that you don’t end up short on bus fare at the end of the month in that awkward period when all the money’s gone out and nothing has come in yet.

—  S.E Smith

Although a notorious recipient of “corporate welfare,” Walmart has now admitted that their massive profits also depend on the funding of food stamps and other public assistance programs.

In their annual report, filed with the Security and Exchange Commission last week, the retail giant lists factors that could potentially harm future profitability. Listed among items such as “economic conditions” and “consumer confidence,” the company writes that changes in taxpayer-funded public assistance programs are also a major threat to their bottom line.

The company writes:

Our business operations are subject to numerous risks, factors and uncertainties, domestically and internationally, which are outside our control … These factors include … changes in the amount of payments made under the Supplement[al] Nutrition Assistance Plan and other public assistance plans, changes in the eligibility requirements of public assistance plans …

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, is notorious for paying poverty wages and coaching employees to take advantage of social programs. In many states, Walmart employees are the largest group of Medicaid recipients.

However, this report is the first public acknowledgement of the chain’s reliance on the funding of these programs to sustain a profit.

American Capitalism™

On minimum wage, and the welfare system. Don't hate on people who use state welfare, but then try to say that minimum wage is living wage.

I’m so sick of everyone saying “You can’t have minimum wage raised, all you do is flip burgers.You can’t have minimum wage raised, there are people out there that work harder than you. You can’t have minimum wage raised, just go get a better job. You can’t have minimum wage raised, just go to college and you’ll make more money. Hurr durr durr.” 
Well, let’s think about this. Really, think about it.

Minimum wage was created to make it so that in a two parent household, where the male/powerhouse money maker could SUPPORT THEIR FAMILY ON A SINGLE INCOME. It was literally created so people could comfortably live on a single income without falling through the cracks and without having to literally survive paycheck to paycheck/on state benefits. It was created when $7.50 an hour was plenty to live on. It was a time and space where things literally costed less. Milk was not damn near four dollars, gas was not almost four dollars a gallon. Food, housing, cars, bills, fuck EVEN BIRTH was cheaper when minimum wage was created. It was literally made so “Dad can go make money to support the mother and the quaint 2.5 children who stay at home. Mom is a homemaker, dad is the money maker.” Right now, it is damn near impossible to survive on less than 10 dollars, as well as NOT use state benefits/welfare (because we all hear the battle of “get off welfare, you’re using our tax money, work harder”). Literally. Almost. IMPOSSIBLE.

Let’s put this in to perspective:

1 gallon of milk - $2.79
1 loaf of bread - $1.99
1 package of sliced cheese - $3.00
1 package of meat - average, $2.50-$3.50
= about $11

For $11 you can have about 8-10 sandwiches depending on the bread you buy. If you ONLY eat that, that would mean three sandwiches a day, per person and (about) one glass of milk a day too. If you live in a house that has three people, that means 9 sandwiches a day (also, you should factor in that if you have kids, they can probably eat about 1.5 sandwiches maybe two, and same goes for teenagers). That means it is $11 to eat THE BARE MINIMUM a day for a family of three, with probably a glass or two of milk for each person. Chances are, one parent/older person in the household will be eating maybe once or twice a day, a single sandwich, to make sure the kids get food first.

That means that someone who makes the average minimum wage has to work about one hour and forty minutes to buy something that will last about two days in a household that has three people in it. They are only eating that. Only. Sandwiches. But wait! I’m sure you’re going to sit there and say “Oh that’s not too bad. Nah! That’s easy, they can buy more than that if they work a full day!!” Well, why don’t we look in to the actual math behind supporting a very, very average three person household.

Well, the math seems to add up that if someone works six days out of the week, eight hours of the day, and don’t get their paycheck until the end of two weeks that means about $720, MINUS state/federal taxes, now this is a ballpark figure but they’ll probably withhold about $100-$150. 
So now, we’re down to $570 every two weeks. Alright, stick with me here, this math might actually shock you guys. 
Say you drive to your six day a week, eight hour a day job, and it’s about 4 miles there. So, that’s 8 miles a day. 8 times 6 is 48 times two weeks that’s 96 miles, per two weeks (between pay periods). If you drive a cheap car (chances are, if you live on minimum wage, you’re driving a clunker) that get’s at the most probably about 12mi/per gal. 12 mi/per gal divided by 96 miles is 8. 8 gallons of gas costs (today) $3.84 x 8 = $30.72. That means out of your $570 paycheck, you ALWAYS take out $30.72. Well, let’s not forget, that is going literally to work and back. Not the grocery store, not your kids school, not the Dr’s office; To work - and back. So, let’s throw in a few extra gallons of gas to make sure if an emergency happens, or you go shopping that you actually can make it there. So, bump is up to about $46. That’s $570 - $46 = $524

Okay. $524 every two weeks. In one month, you’ll be making $1,048. Not bad. Alright.

So let’s look at bills now. 
(remember, we’re basing this off of a three person household of two adults and one child) 
(Source: http://livingwage.mit.edu/places/0402557380
http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/city_result.jsp?country=United+States&city=Prescott%2C+AZ )

Rent - $890
Food - $553
Electricity/water/heating - $166.35
= $ -561

That’s right. If you live in an average house, with your husband and you work at minimum wage, six days a week, four weeks a month you will end up in the negative. After gas for your vehicle to get to work, and an average household bills (mind you there’s no internet, or phone bills; something most people these days consider a necessity) you do not have any money left over, in fact, you don’t have money. Period. 
So hey, let’s say both you and your husband work; Both drive cars, both have the same expenses. So, $1,048 * 2 = $2,096 of a monthly income.

Rent - $890
Food - $553
Electricity/water/heating - $166.35
= $486

Alright, not bad. Once more, we’re no longer in the negatives in the bank account (also, let’s remember: minimum wage was made so that a household could have ONE income to happily survive)

Food! Ahh, the wonderful thing that we all love munching.
Food for an average 3 person household = ……. *drumroll* …….


Literally, that’s what the average cost of daily (relatively?) healthy food. 
So, no more money. Now, most people can manage to really, really cut down the cost of food. So let’s say, about $250 for food. That leaves you with $250 left over at the end of the month. What happens if you need insurance? After all, that job you both have isn’t considered full time so you don’t get benefits. It’s probably a good idea to have insurance for your child at the very least, after all kids are accident prone and have to get vaccines, dr checkups, dental visits, etc. So, for insurance for one kid (mind you, I’m making sure no one is using state benefits here, because well, lets face it, we hear a lot of people gripe about the use of welfare) is about $100 or so a month. That’s down to $150 a month. Let’s also look at phones. Most people have to have some sort of communication to call work/school/dr’s etc. Phones cost about $125 per month for two phones. That’s $25 a month left over….. Now, we pray to god an accident doesn’t happen, the car doesn’t break down, the kids don’t get sick and no one has to take a day off work….

Now answer me this, do you still really think minimum wage should stay at $7.50??

I hope not, because I can tell you firsthand minimum wage is NOT a LIVING wage. But hey, bitch about people who use the welfare system and then insist that minimum wage is living wage……