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Too Poor to Make the News
June 17, 2009 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Too Poor to Make the News "The super-rich give up their personal jets; the upper middle class cut back on private Pilates classes; the merely middle class forgo vacations and evenings at Applebee’s. In some accounts, the recession is even described as the “great leveler,” smudging the dizzying levels of inequality that characterized the last couple of decades and squeezing everyone into a single great class, the Nouveau Poor, in which we will all drive tiny fuel-efficient cars and grow tomatoes on our porches.

But the outlook is not so cozy when we look at the effects of the recession on a group generally omitted from all the vivid narratives of downward mobility — the already poor. From their point of view “the economy,” as a shared condition, is a fiction."
posted by nooneyouknow (74 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
When ya ain't got nuthin', ya got nuthin' to lose. So sayeth Bob.
posted by punkfloyd at 12:57 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Working with poor people, I would say the “We were poor, and we’re still poor” outlook has certainly been my experience.
posted by lunit at 12:57 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the only thing she fails to capture is how state and municipal budgets have been utterly decimated and how public services that are heavily utilized by the poor are suffering as a result. So, I'm feeling her argument overall, but I think you could convincingly argue that things have actually gotten substantially worse for the poor.
posted by The Straightener at 1:01 PM on June 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Overcrowding — rural, suburban and urban — renders the mounting numbers of the poor invisible, especially when the perpetrators have no telltale cars to park on the street. But if this is sometimes a crime against zoning laws, it’s not exactly a victimless one. At best, it leads to interrupted sleep and long waits for the bathroom; at worst, to explosions of violence.

This reminds me of the time my family was watching ABC on a Sunday night (1 hour of Life Goes On, followed by America's Funniest Home Videos-The Saget Years). Right in the middle of a show the power goes out, and right after that brief 1.3 second pause in which all "sentient" beings try to gather their thoughts and fully comprehend the fact electricity is no longer available, my father breaks the silence:

"Allright, kiddos. Go to bed before I get the urge to strangle you."

Our family often recalls the story with a healthy round of laughter. It's not a funny story when you think about the NYC power outage of '77.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 1:06 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember reading an excerpt from Nickel and Dimed in Harper's. It was pretty frightening.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:12 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


A single great class, the Nouveau Poor, in which we will all drive tiny fuel-efficient cars and grow tomatoes on our porches.

I bet you could break all people into two neat groups: those who read that reel in horror, and those who think "Hm... that'd be pretty cool."
posted by rokusan at 1:13 PM on June 17, 2009 [12 favorites]


From TFA:

"Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing."

Late last fall, I went to a public forum on the economy. There were four excellent panelists, one of whom was the CEO of a $19-million-a-year nonprofit that provided services to the homeless. Or, rather, she had been when she was scheduled to speak.

In between the scheduling and the speaking, the nonprofit had folded because it couldn't get the credit it needed to keep paying for its building. All the support that they provided for the poorest of the poor dried up overnight.
posted by gurple at 1:13 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Funny how it's the NYTimes covering doggy yoga, rich kids working part-time to go to camps that will cost $10,000 for two weeks, and shilling $1500 "must have" sweater vests. Maybe she should have just written a letter to the editor.
posted by anniecat at 1:18 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I bet you could break all people into two neat groups: those who read that reel in horror, and those who think "Hm... that'd be pretty cool."

I'm definitely in the latter group. I'd kill to live in a neighborhood where I had a porch, and neighbors who were polite enough to respect my plants. The tiny efficient car would also be nice, but I'd probably still want to stick with ZipCar.
posted by explosion at 1:27 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing."


I've been to India and seen the slums. I would sure as hell take sharing a trailer and having to queue for the bathroom over living in a tin shack with no sanitation or water, that could get demolished at the whim of the local government, who pretend you don't even exist.

Other than that exaggeration, this is a pretty good article that deserved to be longer, and says things that should be said more often.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:29 PM on June 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


One of my friends summed it up best: "When removing a single bus line devastates an entire community's ability to get groceries, get to the doctor, or even get to work."
posted by yeloson at 1:35 PM on June 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


All my money goes towards paying down my credit card bill, my mortgage, and my condo fees.
After all that, it's HELLO DOLLAR MENU! I'm poor, yet I'm Loving it. I knew that my job wouldn't make me rich so I invested in my condo and made it my Castle in the Air. I have basic
cable tv for about 30 bucks a month and an XBOX 360 so my entertainment is covered. I've even gone dumpster diving. It's not so bad if you see when and what the staff throws out at
Trader Joe's. They throw out tons of stuff. One time they threw out half of their store because of a power failure over the weekend. The main thing is that I know my financial limitations and I know how to live.
posted by doctorschlock at 1:35 PM on June 17, 2009


...I invested in my condo and made it my Castle in the Air. I have basic
cable tv for about 30 bucks a month and an XBOX 360 so my entertainment is covered.


I'm poor...

No.
No, you're not.
posted by rocket88 at 1:51 PM on June 17, 2009 [40 favorites]


Does reading this story make you more inclined to donate to the less fortunate?
posted by gushn at 1:54 PM on June 17, 2009


I remember reading living an excerpt from Nickel and Dimed in Harper's. It was is pretty frightening.

No offense, dude. Just corrected for (my) reality.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:56 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I frequent a particular gas station because it is one of the few remaining in the area which does not require pre-payment* for your gasoline. The owner and I had a brief discussion on the topic. Driveaways have been on the rise. It was originally once every week or so that someone would zip off without paying, but now, he says, this has become a daily occurrence. He seemed as calm about the cause as he was the effect. "The economy," he said, "it is so bad. I think many cannot pay for their gas." I nodded.

This was the situation in many stations. Their driveaways went up when gas hit four bucks a gallon, and would have dropped back down were it not for the economy taking a dive. Later, he told me that the shoplifting had gone up a bit, too.

I hear my coworkers complaining of the wage freeze here. "Boo freakin' hoo," I think, "Nobody here has to steal crappy granola bars from a terrible gas station so their kid doesn't cry with hunger."

Granted, I grew up in less than optimal financial conditions, but damn, I do try to recognize that other people have it worse than me. Why we have "news" about people no longer being able to shop at Whole Foods is beyond me, and, well, more than a little insulting to people who are actually freakin' poor. What is wrong with our news media that they cannot acknowledge real hardship? Are we that obsessed with the celebrity and the "successful" types that the poor here, who are getting shoved out of their shotgun houses en masse, don't even rate?

* I dislike prepaying for gas. While I can usually keep my estimates of what it will l take to get me to a full tank within about fifty cents, I like a completely full tank. What I do not like is paying money, filling up, and then having to get change. I also do not want a card; I have enough cards. I do not need yet another rectangular plastic reminder that your company's attempts to forge a "relationship" with me is purely to corner my business, grab my demographics, and sell me out to the highest bidder. I already know this. I will lose this battle someday, I am sure, and be quietly regarded at a station as "that guy who always pays with cash and has to come in twice." I, in turn, am resigned to this.
posted by adipocere at 2:04 PM on June 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


Thank you for this link. It really pinpointed why I've been so annoyed everytime I hear media mouthpieces talk about "the economy" and how "hard" it is for everybody. It makes me sick. I work with the poor every day. Yes, more people are slipping into that class. The working poor are becoming the non-working poor. And government services are drying up.

I really wonder how a lot of people sleep at night.
posted by threeturtles at 2:11 PM on June 17, 2009


I bet if the Times consistently and frequently wrote recession porn articles about people in urban Baltimore who can't afford doohickey x or service y then the comments would just bemoan yet another 'poverty tourism' article by the elitist New York Times. After all, most of its readers are the types that shop at Whole Foods and buy $1.5k sweater vests, why would they care about reading articles about the underclass other than to fill the vacuum created by their idolization of consumerism-run-amok?

The real reason there are so many "too poor to make the news" is probably a little bit more complex. The biggest two things that come to mind are marketing/demographics and journalistic laziness. Many people like to read about others like themselves and most people who read newspapers are middle class+ and its a lot easier to knock down the doors in Westchester than the South Bronx for your next trend article.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:14 PM on June 17, 2009


When ya ain't got nuthin', ya got nuthin' to lose. So sayeth Bob.

Hollis Brown, he lived
On the outside of town.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:24 PM on June 17, 2009


I also do not want a card; I have enough cards.

I'm confused. Does one of these cards not work for paying for gas?
posted by ODiV at 2:47 PM on June 17, 2009


Oh, duh. You don't want to go into the shop twice. Nevermind.
posted by ODiV at 2:50 PM on June 17, 2009


You guys aren't seeing the big picture. Driving increasing numbers of US citizens into something approaching 3rd-world poverty is the fast-track to bringing the manufacturing jobs back! Once they're poor enough, they'll take whatever you want to pay them!
Profit!
Jobs!
posted by Thorzdad at 3:01 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile...the world's biggest ($500 million) yacht!

Sigh.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 3:03 PM on June 17, 2009


I'm poor, yet I'm Loving it.

Dude, you own a CONDO!
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:09 PM on June 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Does reading this story make you more inclined to donate to the less fortunate?

No, but I did stop beating my wife.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:10 PM on June 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


I need to get on the Nouveau Poverty lecture circuit—Here's how to search for Section 8 houses that don't smell like urine! Here's how to maximize your grab at the food bank! Beans and rice and beans and rice and beans and rice!
posted by klangklangston at 3:11 PM on June 17, 2009


Louis Armstrong used to sign his letters “Red beans and ricely yours”
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:18 PM on June 17, 2009


If the argument is that the poor are unnefected by the economic downturn, then that is certainly not the case. They are the ones who are much more likely to lose their already-crappy job, and welfare and social services are getting cut due to state budget issues.
posted by delmoi at 3:22 PM on June 17, 2009


Far back in the mists of ancient time, in the great and glorious days of the former American Empire, life was wild, rich and largely (seemingly) tax free.

Mighty landships called SUVs plied their way between exotic stores, seeking adventure and reward points amongst the furthest reaches of suburban space. In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and furry yiffy creatures from Second Life and Furcadia were real furry yiffy creatures from Second Life and Furcadia. And all dared to brave unknown wars on terr, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before — and thus was the Empire forged.

Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor — at least no one worth speaking of.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:43 PM on June 17, 2009 [13 favorites]


The complexity of the poverty issue is vast. In my experience, I have found families moving back with elderly parents. This is not uncommon, but couple it with the fact that they are moving back to an old steel town in Western Pennsylvania with no job base...well...you have set a series of events into motion. The stress that families are under when the cannot feed their children, care for them with medicine, send them to good schools is unfathomable to most people. It is a pressure cooker. These are our neighbors and we are watching them unravel.

I was in Fresno recently, driving down the expressway with colleagues, and noticed a tent city adjacent to the road. It was explained to me (in no way am I verifying this as a fact) that the tent city started for sexual offenders who were released from prison but had nowhere to go. Well, families have started to move into the tent city because they have nowhere to go. Imagine that scenario. Just nuts.

Anyway, the "hardcore" poor are in an even worse scenario now. It is familiar territory to them but the pitfalls are more treacherous and the outcomes of tripping are dire.

I will hop off the soapbox now.
posted by zerobyproxy at 4:00 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know a bunch of people in Florida who rely on minimum wage day jobs, and those have now dried up. One friend is living (illegally) in a sweltering $40./mo. storage locker and feels lucky if he can get one day of work a week. The local library used to be a good place to hang out on 95 degree days, but now they kick out homeless people.
posted by mareli at 4:06 PM on June 17, 2009


> Why we have "news" about people no longer being able to shop at Whole Foods is beyond me

If you really want to feel nauseous about that sort of thing, check out the cover story of the new issue of Toronto Life: "BROKE: They fired the nanny, sold the cottage and yanked the kids out of private school. How will they keep it all quiet?" Un/fortunately, it's not available online.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:12 PM on June 17, 2009


Hasn't the real estate market tanked? I look at the listings and still see all kinds of cookie-cutter crap listed at $250K+.
posted by crapmatic at 4:18 PM on June 17, 2009


I saw a small tent city in las vegas last month, it was kinda shocking. just a sign of things to come, I fear.
posted by supermedusa at 4:18 PM on June 17, 2009


A lot in the article rang true for me. In fact, there have been some things about the recession that have made things a little better for the "always poor" like myself and my family members. I've been looking for affordable housing for years, and the rents are finally starting to go down in the poorer neighborhoods after the housing boom drove them way up a few years back. The cost of some foods has started to go down. There are more sales than there used to be. Comcast now offers payment plans, perhaps because a lot more people are getting shut off than used to be and they don't want to permanently lose so many customers. I look forward to more concessions.

But some things are much worse. There's a lot more competition for services and I'm afraid the government is going to crack down a lot harder on the poor to try and save money. It's already happening in states like California and I know it'll happen here soon. I expect to lose more medical benefits (already lost dental), food stamps to go down, and I was told there will be no COLA increases on Social Security for the next year or two.

doctorschlock said, All my money goes towards paying down my credit card bill, my mortgage, and my condo fees.
After all that, it's HELLO DOLLAR MENU! I'm poor, yet I'm Loving it. I knew that my job wouldn't make me rich so I invested in my condo and made it my Castle in the Air. I have basic cable tv for about 30 bucks a month and an XBOX 360 so my entertainment is covered. I've even gone dumpster diving. It's not so bad if you see when and what the staff throws out at Trader Joe's. They throw out tons of stuff. One time they threw out half of their store because of a power failure over the weekend.
The main thing is that I know my financial limitations and I know how to live.

I think I'm finally starting to understand comments like this. I see them all over the net, like at the Consumerist where every time there's an article on food stamps there's someone claiming that they've been poor or they're a poor grad student right now and the key is to just "know your limitations" and "don't spend more than you earn" and "pay down your debt and save" and voila! Problem solved and you don't need food stamps! I used to be rather confused because I didn't think there was any way that person was poor, but they don't usually let you know that the debt they're paying is on a condo and the deals they're looking out for are at places like Trader Joe's. I don't usually like to deny someone else's experience so I wouldn't normally voice my suspicion that this person is not poor at all. I already see that's been said, so I'll just say this:

I'm not sure if you read the article at all because it's hard for me to believe you'd make this comment if you had.
posted by Danila at 4:44 PM on June 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


the already poor, the estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population who struggle to get by in the best of times. This demographic, the working poor, have already been living in an economic depression of their own.

30% of the population or 100 million people, that's a nice number. The american dream, pursuit of happiness ?

You can have the pursuit, but probabilities are stacked against you. That's a very nice ideal indeed, a useful one too, but if that portion of the population have lot of problems living wage to wage, can't afford the very same advanced healthcare that is produced in the very same country,which is home to many world class university yet 1/3 of the population can't afford a decent education let alone a lifelong workplace education, all of this in the best of times...could it be that the american dream is just an oversized hollywood movie, in which the potential of 1/3 of the population is just being left to rot, possibily because it serves the need of a model that needs low wage distributed risk takers?
posted by elpapacito at 5:00 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


But surely, the poor that have already pulled all their teeth, they must be unaffected by this recession?
The poor that sometimes could afford going to the dentist, They must be really fucked now. Is that right?
posted by uandt at 5:02 PM on June 17, 2009


Quite simply, the poor are meant to die. The powers that be find them to be an expensive nuisance.

You guys aren't seeing the big picture. Driving increasing numbers of US citizens into something approaching 3rd-world poverty is the fast-track to bringing the manufacturing jobs back! Once they're poor enough, they'll take whatever you want to pay them! Profit! Jobs!

The Reddit firehose has had several headlines indicating that there is a movement toward bringing manufacturing back from China. It is very much in the best interests of the rich and powerful to have a desperate underclass willing to forgo health and safety standards, to work longer hours, and who are so desperate that you can, in fact, pay them cheaper than the Chinese.

But it's all moot in the end: we are so far and thoroughly fucked on this planet that within the next decade everything we are familiar with is going to be turned on its head. There is not a doubt in my mind that we are headed for the decimation of many of our food staple crops (look up wheat stem rust. We. Are. Fucked.), massive and unpredictable weather weirding, nuclear terrorism, and the end of oil.

Get the hell out of your big cities, folk. You're gonna want a few acres, good water, and a drive to self-sufficiency.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:25 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, and doctorschlock, you do not need to press return at the end of each line. Please just keep on typing, hitting return only when you want to start a new paragraph. Otherwise your messages are completely munged on others' screens.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:26 PM on June 17, 2009


All my money goes towards paying down my credit card bill, my mortgage, and my condo fees. After all that, it's HELLO DOLLAR MENU! I'm poor,

*needle scratch

broke =/= poor
posted by eustatic at 5:50 PM on June 17, 2009


I lived on $600 a month in Chicago in the early 90s, working two crap part-time jobs while I went to school, and didn't have much in the way of amenities beyond food (cooked my own) clothes (thrift shops) rent (low-income housing) heat (included) water (included) and electricity (had to keep it to a minimum), but I wasn't poor, not at all -- because I had those amenities, enough left over for bus/train fare to work and back, and health coverage courtesy of one of my jobs (grocery store unions, gotta love 'em.)

Get rid of a couple of those basic amenities, and then we're talking about possibly having an inkling about what poor is. Lose the rent and the health coverage, and you can't really have any of the rest except food and clothes, and good luck holding a job to pay for those if you can't take a shower and stay healthy.

That's what makes the idea of basic health care coverage and housing subsidies so important for the truly poor; without 'em, you can't really have anything else, and with 'em, you have a toehold on getting the rest (ie rent usually includes heat, readily-available water is cheap for bathing and drinking, rent usually includes a stove so you can cook your own rice, and you can get a good night's sleep, so you can present yourself well at a job interview because you're well-rested and have bathed and have eaten. And of course, you aren't hacking up a lung, because you've been to the doctor.)
posted by davejay at 5:52 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Quite simply, the poor are meant to die. The powers that be find them to be an expensive nuisance.

Not that simple. The existence of a desperate underclass can do wonders to keep wages low and police forces well-stocked.
posted by regicide is good for you at 6:41 PM on June 17, 2009


But it's all moot in the end: we are so far and thoroughly fucked on this planet that within the next decade everything we are familiar with is going to be turned on its head. There is not a doubt in my mind that we are headed for the decimation of many of our food staple crops (look up wheat stem rust. We. Are. Fucked.), massive and unpredictable weather weirding, nuclear terrorism, and the end of oil.

Sounds like a litany of good excuses for a movement of re-localizing and diversifying. Sounds like a lot of reasonable people are going to get harder to ignore.

Maybe we're fucked; maybe we're coming up on an era where creativity, flexibility, and small-scale communal self-sufficiency are going to go from quaint ideas to imperatives. Probably it's both. We can't see the future, and, to paraphrase Orson Scott Card, nature has yet to evolve a species that doesn't want to survive. We've come pretty damn close, but I still think there's almost as much reason to believe that while there are some seriously hard times coming, there's also a window that's going to get flung open wide for passionate, imaginative people with a low tolerance for bullshit.

The end of the current economy (which is what climate change and peak oil are pretty much threatening) would mean the end to a lot of important things on which we've come to rely; it would also mean an end to FOX news, parking lots, Abercrombie and Fitch. I really think it's a glass half-empty/glass half-full thing. Things are going to get worse in the short term, we can't avoid that; so the question is what do we focus on? Do we just throw our hands up, say "We're fucked," and leave it at that - or do we say, "We are all going to be called upon to be pretty seriously awesome" and start getting down to it?
posted by regicide is good for you at 6:53 PM on June 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Get the hell out of your big cities, folk. You're gonna want a few acres, good water, and a drive to self-sufficiency.

That's going to work so well for 6-7 billion people.... (not saying there's no truth to it, but clearly it will only work for a few)
posted by wildcrdj at 6:58 PM on June 17, 2009


Obviously, it will only work for a few. The decision you need to make is whether you are going to be one of those few. What we have now is absolutely unsustainable. Billions of people are going to die of starvation and epidemics and there is nothing we can do to stop that.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:05 PM on June 17, 2009


Quite simply, the poor are meant to die. The powers that be find them to be an expensive nuisance.

Not that simple. The existence of a desperate underclass can do wonders to keep wages low and police forces well-stocked.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:41 PM on June 17 [+] [!]


I don't often say this, but damn, that was eponysterical.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:13 PM on June 17, 2009


…stop that. What we can do is begin preparing ourselves for a radical change in our lifestyles. Start planning to become as self-sufficient as possible. Start seeking out and working with local initiatives. Purchase books from the likes of Lee Valley Tools about the "old ways" of farming, repair, construction, etc. Start thinking about how you'll replace/minimize your use of fossil fuels — they're in nearly everything you use. Start purchasing things that will have a lifetime of use, instead of disposable cheap crap. Etcetera.

I doubt very much that humans are going to go extinct any time soon, but I am very sure that our modern society is about to be dropped on its ass. I don't think anyone is going to successfully predict how it all turns out, but there are certain obvious things one can do in preparation for it.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:13 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile...the world's biggest ($500 million) yacht!

Never thought I'd be on a boat.
posted by oaf at 7:18 PM on June 17, 2009


If you really want to feel nauseous about that sort of thing, check out the cover story of the new issue of Toronto Life

Those poor, poor people in Rosedale, Yorkville, and Forest Hill—having to take the TTC to save on parking, carrying nondescript bags to hide their designer contents, and going only to Vail instead of to Vail and Mexico.

If the downturn lasts until the winter (which it probably will), I bet they'll have to wait for the city to clear their driveways and streets after a big snowstorm instead of hiring people to do it first.
posted by oaf at 7:46 PM on June 17, 2009


Why we have "news" about people no longer being able to shop at Whole Foods is beyond me
This!

One of the reasons I've all but completely stopped watching Charlie Rose is because of exactly this sort of warped view of things. During the economic collapse last fall, he and his guests were regularly very dismissive about the problems working-class Americans were experiencing as things fell apart. You heard a lot of platitudes about how people will have to feel some pain. But, the moment Wall Street started laying-off people...well, the pity-party went into high-gear. Night after night of hand-wringing and "those poor poor people." It was more than sickening.

NPR is fairly guilty of this, too. They've done more than their share of stories about laid-off investment bankers having to cancel the annual family trip to Spain.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:50 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Kinda striking to see a perspective on the economy via the number of people driving off w/o paying for gas, the number of people stealing from the store at the gas station and read in that post, What I do not like is paying money, filling up, and then having to get change.

Damn. Life really is hard.

I know!! The gas station could help the economy a little by hiring someone (who can't run) to take money from the customers to the cashier, bring back their post-pumping change.
posted by ambient2 at 8:05 PM on June 17, 2009


I bet you could break all people into two neat groups: those who read that reel in horror, and those who think "Hm... that'd be pretty cool."

I'm definitely in the latter group. I'd kill to live in a neighborhood where I had a porch, and neighbors who were polite enough to respect my plants. The tiny efficient car would also be nice, but I'd probably still want to stick with ZipCar.


I think the point is that no one would really reel in horror, because people are romanticizing what it means to be poor. Growing your own tomatoes and using fuel efficient vehicles, or buying from the "dollar menu", isn't really poverty, even if you're used to much more. There are people out there who actually are poor, but we ignore them and talk about how times are tough because we have to cook at home more often. Those people don't think "that'd be pretty cool" about the constant grind to make the rent, the exhaustion of long hours to afford bare minimums, the decision between cleaning supplies or OTC meds. When people are actually struggling it can be much more depressing than window box gardening.
posted by mdn at 9:02 PM on June 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


I grew up "poor," although we lived in the country. We always had food somewhere around, we just had to hunt it down and kill it. I can remember my grandmother telling me once that "we didn't even know there was a Great Depression going on.... we were too busy tryin' to survive."
posted by bradth27 at 9:22 PM on June 17, 2009


I listened to a bunch of idiots on conservative talk radio today talking about how we're NOT in a depression, NOT even hardly in a recession and BLAH BLAH BLAH OBAMA'S NEW BANKING IDEAS WILL DESTROY OUR ABILITY TO MAKE MONEY FAST IN THE STOCK MARKET and I just wanted to drive into a concrete barrier. I mean, I hope I'm not in some small minority who doesn't actually doesn't have any real money to invest in the stock market and is more concerned about how my job feels more and more threatened every day.
I work in collections and I know what the country is really going through. People are losing their homes and cars in droves and people who have always, always paid on time are honestly losing everything. People who care desperately about their credit scores. They are sad and confused and, well, depressed. I am too, so I can relate, which makes my job that much shittier.
posted by Bageena at 11:13 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Crapmatic:
Hasn't the real estate market tanked? I look at the listings and still see all kinds of cookie-cutter crap listed at $250K+.


Subprime 2.0:


"The government is knowingly flooding the market with homes at inflated prices, setting young families up for default and massively increasing taxpayers’ exposure to more toxic debt … and for what?"
posted by mammary16 at 2:44 AM on June 18, 2009


"Comfortable people have long imagined that American poverty is far more luxurious than the third world variety, but the difference is rapidly narrowing."

I'd like to add my own "bullshit" to that as well. I've seen "poverty" in both places, up close and personal. I'll start with the latter.

Right now I live in a pretty spacious apartment, in a decent neighborhood, in Nairobi. Like all of the other complexes, we have a high wall with electric fencing on top of it, and 24-hour security at the front gate, the only way in and out of the complex. If you have money, that's how you live in Nairobi - behind safe walls. If you don't have money, you live outside those walls. The degrees can vary, but for the majority, they don't - you live in a small shack, with a tin roof, you have no running water or electricity. Your shack is butted up against neighbors on either side, and the shacks stretch on for as far as you can see.

Its called Kibera. Its the largest slum on the African continent, estimated at over a million people. And its about 4 miles from my apartment, as the crow flies. Depending on where I need to go, and what roads I decide to take, I can pretty much avoid ever having to go within sight of it, if I like. I can pretty much live my life without ever having to think about it, but its still there.

Its estimated that 60% of Kenyans live in slums. Kenya's a huge country - almost as big as Texas - some 38 million people are estimated to live here. That means almost 23 million in slums - in this country alone. Those 23 million have come to the slums, in the urban centers, because they offer a higher quality of life than they had in the non-urban areas. Let me re-emphasize that: the slums are an upgrade for the people living in them. Life expectancy rises as high as 46-50 when you live in Kibera.

Here's some Wikipedia to round out the picture:

There are three significant complicating factors to construction or upgrade within Kibera. The first is the rate of petty and serious crime. Building materials cannot be left unattended at any time because there is very high chance of them being stolen. It is not uncommon for owners of storm-damaged dwellings to have to camp on top of the remnants of their homes until repairs can be made in order to protect the raw materials from would-be thieves.

The second is the lack of building foundations. The ground in much of Kibera is literally composed of refuse and rubbish. Dwellings are often constructed atop this unstable ground, and therefore many structures collapse whenever the slum experiences flooding, which it does regularly. This means that even well-constructed buildings are often damaged by the collapse of nearby poorly-constructed ones.

The third complicating factor is the unyielding topography and cramped sprawl of the area. Few houses have vehicle access and many are at the bottom of steep inclines (which heightens the flooding risk). This means that any construction efforts are made more difficult and costly by the fact that all materials must be brought in by hand.

Kibera is located southwest of Nairobi city centre and is equal to about 75% of the area of Manhattan's Central Park (approximately 2.5 square kilometres, 256 hectares, or 630 acres).

Kibera is heavily polluted by soot, dust, and other wastes. Open sewage routes, in addition to the common use of Flying toilets, also contribute to contamination of the slum with human and animal faeces. The combination of poor nutrition and lack of sanitation accounts for many illnesses. Not only are death by disease and conflict common inside this slum, but it is estimated that 1/5 of the 2.2 million Kenyans living with HIV live in Kibera.


So we can call that "poverty," I suppose. As long as we remember that there's some 13 million that are actually living in poorer conditions than those in the slums (generously estimating about 2 million having jobs and living above the slum level, which I doubt). Again, in just one country over here.

Now let's take poverty in the US. Which I've seen, in the far reaches of the hills of West Virginia. People living in shacks, with tin roofs, and dirt floors. Not butted up against each other, perhaps, but very similar conditions. Sometimes no electricity, sometimes crudely stolen electricity, but access to clean water, and well constructed latrines. When they get sick, they can get basic 1st-world medical care. They receive government support for staple foods.

As far as I know, that's as poor as it gets in the US. That's not a "step up" level from something else. I suppose you have your average homeless person on the streets in most cities, at a similar standard of living, but they do generally have churches, shelters, community programs, and the like, at their access. There are ghetto areas in the cities as well, but nothing truly approaching the quality of life in a third world slum. To compare the two is ignorant at best.

Perhaps what's most offensive about the idea is that the economic crisis is somehow closing some gap between American poverty and third world. No it isn't. The gap is constant. The crisis effects everyone, not just Americans. If there's one thing America exports best, its economic pressure - so when they feel the crunch, losing their jobs and houses and cars - you better *believe* the rest of the world is going to feel it - the third world most of all.

Charitable donations and government grants drop precipitously, and development and relief activity in the third world grinds slowly down. Food relief begins to disappear. The poorest people, the ones not even able to live in a slum, are the hardest hit. And by hardest hit, I don't mean that they lose a home and have to live in a trailer, or lose a car and have to walk to work. I mean they don't get food, or clean water, or medicine, and then they die.

Conveniently, they'll be doing it en mass in a place where jobless Americans don't have to watch it happening.

The economic downturn is going to affect a lot of people very negatively, but none will be harder hit than the world's very poorest. There's simply no way around that - they are already living on the edge, and as we all get collectively pushed a bit closer to it, they're the ones that go over.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:30 AM on June 18, 2009 [18 favorites]


I'm from Detroit, but live in Baltimore, where people have been running around in a panic because of the economy. I frequently get asked what folks in Detroit think of it. I tell them Detroiters would kill to have it as good as Baltimoreans have it. Under 10% unemployment? Bring it on!

The middle class is having to cut back a bit, the poor are still fucked and the rich are getting richer. Same day, different dog.
posted by QIbHom at 6:49 AM on June 18, 2009


NPR is fairly guilty of this, too. They've done more than their share of stories about laid-off investment bankers having to cancel the annual family trip to Spain.

Actually, Leonard Lopate turned that very thing on its head -- he's been having a section on his show about "unusual economic indicators", where people can write/call/email in ltitle details about what they've seen as an economic change (i.e., this shop has closed, the corner store has started taking barter, etc.)

One time they looked at "unusual bright spots" -- he asked a couple of his listeners to call in and interviewed them on-air based on them reporting they'd seen a silver lining to the economic downturn. A friend of mine was one of those people -- he and his girlfriend live here in Brooklyn, but they own a place in the Catskills right by Bellayre Mountain that they rent out as a guest/vacation house. They were surprised, and puzzled, to see that this past winter, they were booked totally solid -- until they figured out that "oh, wait, this must be all the people who are cancelling ski trips to Aspen." So the point was, yeah, some people had to cancel the family trip to Aspen, but hey, here's some people who benefit from that!...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on June 18, 2009


The most disheartening thing about the current economic crisis isn't that people will suffer. People have always suffered. I lose hope when I confront the reality that our society appears to be incapable or unwilling to change, motivated by fear we will tweak the formula but the status quo will be preserved. I do not want to accept that humanity will always suffer. I would like to believe that the internet (and the cultural epoch that it will define) will be used by humanity to mitigate our power and resource issues. The communications revolution was supposed to free us from the hierarchy of information control. Yet today's corporate media still controls public perception to the extent that when faced with a bankrupt nation we have mortgaged our future to prevent the richest and most culpable parties from losing their power.
posted by polyhedron at 8:44 AM on June 18, 2009


Thanks for all the support folks. I may not be rich and I may not be poor. Just broke I guess.

"Oh, and doctorschlock, you do not need to press return at the end of each line. Please just keep on typing, hitting return only when you want to start a new paragraph. Otherwise your messages are completely munged on others' screens.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:26 PM on June 17 [+] [!] "

I'll try not to hit the enter button so much too. Thanks for that tip. I purchased my condo through a foreclosure. It was dirt cheap. I scrimped and saved my money while living in group homes. I had never heard of condo fees. I now work 3 jobs so that I can keep my castle in the air. I grew up in the projects of DC. I know what poor is. I admit that I may not be poor now but compared to the rest of you's I do. I may not even be a savy techie or an english major either.
-----------"...I invested in my condo and made it my Castle in the Air. I have basic
cable tv for about 30 bucks a month and an XBOX 360 so my entertainment is covered.

I'm poor...

No.
No, you're not.
posted by rocket88 at 1:51 PM on June 17 [35 favorites +] [!] "

WTF! Just because I own a condo makes me rich. WTF!

I'm not sure if you read the article at all because it's hard for me to believe you'd make this comment if you had.
posted by Danila at 4:44 PM on June 17 [6 favorites +] [!]
---------
I read the article and you don't know me. You think you do. But you don't. I've had to work since I was 13 years old. I supported myself that way. The rest of you people probably
sucked on your mother's tits till she shoved you off to college. I didn't have it so good. So there.
posted by doctorschlock at 9:58 AM on June 18, 2009


I don't like the first/third world poverty comparison because it obfuscates the primary issue which is that the United States is the weathiest nation in the world and if it made eridicating its own poverty problem an ongoing top priority we could do it but we don't.

Also, I could take you to some places in Philly that would compare with what you've seen in the third world. I'm not talking about huge parts of the city, but the poorest of the poor, a couple blocks in West Kensington and Fairhill, a block or two of West and South West Philly, are that bad. I'm talking about people with no water pissing in buckets in essentially abandoned and collapsing houses infested with roaches and rodents. I've been in those places, it's out there.
posted by The Straightener at 10:03 AM on June 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've had to work since I was 13 years old. I supported myself that way.

So what. I've had to work since I was 12, hasn't been more than a 2 week period in my life where I didn't have a job, since that age. Doesn't mean I was poor.

You haven't "had to work" since you were 13. You've been able to get gainful employment since you were that age. People here may not know you, but they know you're on the internet, with a computer, and on Metafilter. You might be poor in your own mind buddy, but from my perspective - that's the only place you're really poor.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:23 AM on June 18, 2009


dr.schlock, did you read this? You are hilariously far, far away from being poor. We all are.

the estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population who struggle to get by in the best of times

If that number is true, then with the addition of recent job losses the USA now stands at about a 50% poverty/unemployed level. That is frightening.

Radical change must certainly lie ahead.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:36 PM on June 18, 2009


WTF! Just because I own a condo makes me rich. WTF!

Not poor =/= rich.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:43 PM on June 18, 2009


YaY! I'm rich bitch! I guess you guys have a point. I'm a rich bugger. I just wanted your sympathy and love. Is it too late for that? I guess we're all in the same boat. This ain't my computer, but I sure use it a lot. Go figure, me trying to pass for poor. I'm shitting gold.
Solid gold. You want some. I just wanted you all to love me for myself. Not my money.
I had to work at early age because my folks couldn't afford to give me an allowance. I won't go into detail about my upbringing, but it was a tough 50 years. I was so used to being poor,I wore it like a badge. A badge of honor. But you guys are correct. I'm no longer poor. Thanks for this cyber intervention. I'm rich bitch!
posted by doctorschlock at 1:17 PM on June 18, 2009


"Also, I could take you to some places in Philly that would compare with what you've seen in the third world."

They have genocide going on in Philly? Selling their kids as sex slaves are they to feed the other kids they have? I've been to both places. There's kids out here on the west side going through that same level of hell. Don't even know how to take care of their teeth. Basic hygiene. etc.
But, there's nothing to compare to the 3rd world. I've seen young people who don't know how to speak beyond a few broken words. Although in terms of industrialized countries, yeah, poverty in the U.S. is worse and more widespread. And I'd put some native American reservations on par with allkindsoftime's descriptions of Kibera (especially the Navajo and the Aleuts).
But there's no real argument to be had. I mean - there's no metric to gauge personal suffering.
What would suck worse, sitting there in your pressboard shack with 12 other starving family members knowing there's no food coming for a week from anywhere or sitting in your abandoned apartment building knowing there's no food, but just down the street people are scarfing up steaks and fine wine, oh, and you get to watch it on t.v.?
(Although Colón, Panama has the best of both those worlds)
Really, I don't know. I'd pick up a weapon either way. Although that perspective comes from a lifetime of ingrained habit. Don't know if I'd even consider that as a possibility if I had to conserve energy all the time because I've only got 1,000 calories to work with.
Most of my life I've never seen anything beyond my measure. There's never been a problem I couldn't solve, a situation I couldn't out think, an opponent I couldn't out fight. Then I went to Sun City...

There's a pretty good scene in one of Alex Ross' comics on Superman. He gets this plan to feed the world. He does pretty well at first. Then incrementally achieves less and less as he faces dictators who want to hijack the huge bargeful of grain he's carrying by threatening to kill thousands of civilians, folks who ask him if he'll be back tomorrow (he won't), people who won't even come out of their homes because of fear and the rats wind up eating the shipment, to finally straightforward missile strikes with poison gas to destroy the shipments. And he sits there in the poison dust of the grain his best efforts and well intentions coming to nothing. And he fails.
I can relate.

And yeah, plenty I'm saying there about American exceptionalism and military intervention and personal humility and a lot of other things. But in the end change can't come from strength or even will, not just because no one has enough (and hey, I had plenty and my plan went to shit) but because it has to come from compassion and from everyone sharing.
That, I'm still working on. Different kind of strong and a lot tougher work.

"Obviously, it will only work for a few. The decision you need to make is whether you are going to be one of those few."

Yeah, but pretty much exclusionary thinking is what got us here. Pretty sure I'll make it, given a bit of luck. I know doctors, warfighters, plenty of engineers and people who can do all sorts of things. I live next to some of the largest bodies of freshwater on Earth. I'm already pretty well armed and so is most of my family.
But I'd rather take everyone I can with me. And I think we have to. We have to be willing to share. Far as I can tell, that's the only thing that will save us given the enormity of the task. This stuff isn't being looked at because we don't want to look. And it is scary. And it does make you feel helpless and impotent and hopeless. But the world doesn't turn at your hand. It has to be more in the attitude than in the arm.
It has to be in the small everyday gestures from everyone. So we have to look.
You don't need a newspaper for that. Odds are you know where the poor folks are. And there's plenty of agencies that can use a hand. You don't have to be a hero, just someone giving someone a ride, handing someone a tray of food, just that little bit.
You don't have to change the world, just share what you can. That's it. Even if it's just a little attention.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:25 PM on June 18, 2009


...Erm, why'd everyone all of a sudden try to gang up on doctorschlock here?...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:27 PM on June 18, 2009


Not ganging up, just trying to clarify to him that people are not divided into two exhaustive, mutually exclusive subsets: rich or poor. He seems to think you need to be one or the other.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:32 PM on June 18, 2009


I think doctorschlock got lost. 4chan's thataway, buddy...
posted by nushustu at 2:08 PM on June 18, 2009


Because he seems to think that if you are not poor then you must be rich.
posted by Iax at 2:54 PM on June 18, 2009


That's as may be, but the vitriol puzzles me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:11 PM on June 18, 2009


They have genocide going on in Philly? Selling their kids as sex slaves are they to feed the other kids they have? I've been to both places. (snip)

This is exactly what I'm talking about, turning the poverty discussion into some bizarre pissing match about who's seen what where is totally counterproductive and unintentionally makes light of America's poverty problems.
posted by The Straightener at 10:46 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Straightener, well except you snipped where I said "But there's no real argument to be had. I mean - there's no metric to gauge personal suffering."
I think there's a degree of discernment to be had there between industrialized and non-industrialized nations. And I don't think that's counterproductive, I think it's valid to highlight that the problems are very different ones. One country's type of poverty is different from another. And has different roots.
Panama is an excellent example. In fact most of south America. There's a wide degree of disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and that leads to great inefficiencies in the economy.
Africa has a whole different set of problems. Beyond war and ethnic conflict (as I alluded to), there's a complete lack of infrastructure so disparity isn't much of an issue - nobody's got nothin.
In southeast Asia, it's another thing, with remnants of colonialism still in existence and exploitative practices by folks from wealthier countries (like the sex tourism I alluded to).
In the U.S. - whole different set up.
I think it's important to understand that. And my point being one can't gauge the suffering, that is, one can't engage in a pissing match because they're not different by degrees, they're different in kind.
That said - the U.S. and other industrialized nations stand a better chance of bootstrapping out of poverty simply because there aren't impediments like war or predation by other countries.
Although that could be said to be changing in the U.S. because of our situation with China and the corporate gaming of labor across international borders.

Did you genuinely want to discuss poverty or just play rhetorical games?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:48 PM on June 19, 2009


That's as may be, but the vitriol puzzles me.

You know, I didn't perceive vitriol, but I think doctorschlock felt stung, nonetheless. He indicated that his self-image is one of a person born poor who has lifted himself up by his savvy and smarts and managing his resources well. I believe him. I was just trying promote the idea that there is a large difference between someone who owns a condominium and earns enough to pay for cable etc., for instance, and what we are discussing as a poor person in this thread. But I, for one, certainly bear him no ill will and, in fact, admire his resourcefulness.

doctorschlock, I hope that I didn't misrepresent your comments too badly.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:05 PM on June 19, 2009


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