Social Question

incendiary_dan's avatar

1 in 2 Americans is poor. Are you?

Asked by incendiary_dan (13268 points ) December 17th, 2011

Last year’s census data showed that roughly 50% of all Americans are in poverty or struggling financially. I can tell you that I am definitely below the poverty line. Are you (insomuch as Westerners can be considered poor)?

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106 Answers

marinelife's avatar

We are struggling financially.

SuperMouse's avatar

We are struggling financially. We are very lucky though because my husband is brilliant with money and because of this we do not feel poor. The boys are well fed and clothed and we have a nice roof over our head in a nice neighborhood. This is also at least partly by choice while I forgo a full-time job to finish my degree.

FYI, here is a link showing what is currently considered poverty level in the United States.

wundayatta's avatar

We are fortunately enough to not be poor.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@SuperMouse Thanks for that resource. Do you know of what is considered with the broader term “low-income”?

dabbler's avatar

We consider ourselves fortunate to have plenty. Not rich, but enough on all fronts.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Am I reading that chart correctly @SuperMouse?

I can see how a single person could get by on $10G per year… But the other figures really bother me. How in the world could two people get by on $14.7G per year? And holy moses how could eight people survive at $37G per year?

As a comparison:
Prisons cost taxpayers more than $32 billion a year. Every year that an inmate spends in prison costs $22,000. An individual sentenced to five years for a $300 theft costs the public more than $100,000. The cost of a life term averages $1.5 million… States are spending more money on prisons than education. Over the course of the last 20 years, the amount of money spent on prisons was increased by 570% while that spent on elementary and secondary education was increased by only 33%.
And that doesn’t include all the follow up probation costs. These figures are the lowest I’ve found. Some estimates of imprisonment costs are nearly double.

Something is wrong here. But it explains why some prisoners want to return.

comity's avatar

I’m not poor, but in my little town the average income is about 46,000. Where I used to live it was about $126,000 and you could say I was poorer than average.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

We are not at the poverty line.

Coloma's avatar

Mixed bag here.
I enjoyed a bountiful number of years, was rolling in the dough from about 2004–2009…but, the trickle down effect of the economy finally bit me in the ass and 2010–11 have seen my income go down and my savings being skimmed more than I had ever planned on.
We shall see what 2012 brings, but yes, I am inching my way towards lean times again.

Aaaah, the cycles of life. :-/

Aster's avatar

We’re fine. Not that much income but can handle our bills which means utilities which are cheap here and food. No credit card debt, house or car payments and we don’t travel.

Judi's avatar

We are really blessed. We probably have almost half the income we had 5 years ago, but we still can pay our bills and we don’t ever have to worry about the power bills. Having been one disaster away from poverty before, I can appreciate how truly blessed we are. My husband has no real idea what it means to be poor. He has always had a way to pay for an unexpected emergency, be it a line of credit, a cash reserve, or generous relative.
I think people who have never had to struggle just can’t comprehend the stress of living so close to the edge, one traffic ticket, or heaven forbid an accident from total financial ruin.

dabbler's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Getting off topic I know, but the cost and state of prisons and the rate of imprisonment in the US is staggering. It’s one of the worst examples of privatization as many prisons are out-sourced to contractors. Those same contractors lobby heavily for things like “three-strikes” laws that mandate severe terms, and for the wars on drugs that produce probably half of their business.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

That’s right @Judi. When folks get on the bad side of the system it is unbelievably impossible to get good again. I know some folks who’ve bounced a $10 check and lost their entire financial identity from the continuing bank charges that follow in the hundreds of dollars.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@dabbler I don’t understand why prisons aren’t completely solitary confinement with education being pumped in through video screens. Tests given every month for the opportunity to lower your sentence.

Judi's avatar

@dabbler , I can think of few things more immoral than a state which outsources the incarceration of human beings to a “for profit” entity.

nikipedia's avatar

I don’t know. I feel poor a lot, but if you put it in perspective, I live in a nice place and have some nice things and am about to own my car free and clear. I’m not in danger of going hungry or being homeless.

dabbler's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Not sure about the solitary confinement angle, because we want inmates to play well with others when they get out.
But certainly there is little currently done to prepare inmates for re-entry into society. And that should be changed. Much better investment of public money than bigger prisons, just takes a shift in priorities.

@Judi Indeed, privatized incarceration has its business priorities entirely in the wrong places. As far as institutionalized immorality goes, it just about tops the list.

Judi's avatar

I think the only reason the political right has been able to survive is that regardless of how hard it gets, people don’t want to admit that they are “poor.” They would rather blame things on that “other” person who is not willing to work, rather than admit that their minimum (or near minimum) wage job has kept them poor too. They WANT to identify with the more well off even if they’re not.
I was in my early 20’s when Regan was elected and that was the first time I was shocked to see so many vote against their own interests. It made me realize that elections as an adult were no different than in High School politics. Just a big popularity contest.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

We aren’t at any poverty line. What feels like struggle to us is mostly fear we live with not having security buffers we deem as “comfortable”. In reality I think we’re very fortunate because we have no car payments, no mortgage, no credit card debts and I keep a tight budget these days.

jonsblond's avatar

We are poor financially, just at the poverty line for a family of 4 (our oldest is in college so he’s not technically included, but we still feed him during breaks and help him occasionally).

Although we are poor on paper, we aren’t poor in our hearts or let it affect our happiness.

judochop's avatar

I don’t mean to fly in and act all high and mighty but if you have 1. A computer 2. Internet. You are not and not even close to being able to relate to being poor. When you have to sell your laptop to eat or buy medicine then you might be poor.

GracieT's avatar

I am blessed. I gripe often about the US being the country I would chose to live in if I had a choice, but I have enough money to be comfortable. I have many friends and family that I admire whom have to survive on much less. I am blessed.

cazzie's avatar

I haven´t had any personal income over the poverty level for over 10 years.

Everything I have access to belongs to someone else. I am simply at the mercy of this other person and they aren´t all that nice to me.

Judi's avatar

@judochop , when your laptop is made so cheap that it won’t even pay your utility bill if you sell it, you’re still poor. It is not enough to rescue you from a disaster and it might even be foolish to sell it for medicine if it is your only means of pecking out a meager income.

Buttonstc's avatar

Yes. Poor but basically happy.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I am poor, but rich in so many other ways. I think that’s why we put up with it. We’re taught to look on the bright side, to feel grateful. Perhaps gratitude is misplaced at times and a good dose of reality should take its place.

judochop's avatar

@Judi those are just examples and yes, if you truly are poor you will sell your laptop for $20 just to get medicine or food. That is what being poor is…desperation. Being poor and being broke are totally two different things and I highly doubt that too many folks here no what it is like to be poor and actually have the contrast to compare not being poor to being poor. Often times, folks who are broke and make less money will say they are poor. This is not true. Being poor will make you desperate. When you don’t have internet to job search because you can’t pay for it and then you don’t have electricity because you can’t pay for it and then no phone because you can’t afford that either, you will next sell your car in attempts to pay rent and or keep your phone on in hopes that someone will call you about a job. I have gone from $115,000 a year income to nothing. I have sold everything I have to keep my head afloat and things turned on and that still did not keep things active. If it were not for family then I would have been on the street.
Due to this infraction and low point in my life I’ve took to volunteering at homeless shelters and food banks and clothing drives. So I am sorry but I deeply disagree with you about selling some thing that is not worth anything to gain one tiny thing, it happens all the time. And your inability to understand that only shows that you have never once been close to finding out what someone would pay for your “cheap laptop.”
I don’t mean to sound foolish or to point fingers but I am very passionate about this. I hear Americans all the time complain about the situation of things and point fingers at and try to relate. The fact of the matter is unless you’ve stood in the rain to get a box of mostly expired food and have walked fifty blocks to gather what glass you could find for recycling and you’ve sold your $10K art collection for $2K and your $400 laptop for $40 then you really don’t know what it is like to be desperate and poor.
Hearing people say they are poor breaks my heart. There is no reason why in America you should not have a job and clean, dry roof over your head.
So this means of pecking out a meager income is exactly what poor people do @Judi. They sell what they can, because they are poor and the only option is to peck at what they have in means to string along food, medicine and sometimes laundry or bus fare.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Not any more.

Seaofclouds's avatar

We are comfortable.

judochop's avatar

ugh, sorry for the spelling errors. Too late to go back and fix them.

GracieT's avatar

I meant gripe about the US not being the place I’d chose to live in if I had a choice! That’s what I get for using a smaller screen to write an answer on!

incendiary_dan's avatar

@judochop Although you paint a very vivid picture, you don’t have the authority to tell others what is poor and what isn’t. Lots of people are poor but stable. Just because someone isn’t surviving from paycheck to paycheck or desperate for a meal doesn’t mean they’re not poor. One does not have to be destitute to be poor.

judochop's avatar

@incendiary_dan you are right. How inconsiderate of me. I just assumed with the amount of knowledge and compassion Fluther has floating around it that one would no the difference between being poor and being broke. Surviving paycheck to paycheck is certainly not poor. That equation can’t equal poor, simply because you add ‘paycheck’ into the mix and ‘surviving’ into the mix.
There are programs in place with most states and a ton of non-profits that are in place to help folks out so they never reach the bottom of the poverty line.
Just as you see it as ignorant for me to lash at others who are not poor and to tell them that they don’t truly understand what it means to be poor I see it as equally ignorant to believe that the census paints a vivid picture of what really is going on in America.

Facade's avatar

Technically, yes. I barely have any money and am not working at the moment. If it wasn’t for my SO, I’d probably be living on welfare because I cannot stomach living with my parents.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@judochop You didn’t actually read my comment, huh?

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’m with @judochop on this. If you can afford cable and internet then you are not poor. I’ve gone from $50,000 a year to $8,000 with four kids to support.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Dutchess_III & @judochop So if someone can afford basic housing, utilities, and food, but can’t afford healthcare bills, are they still poor? What about someone like me who uses an ancient tiny netbook and picks up wifi from neighbors? I’ve had to work at times four part time jobs just to make rent, and I’m currently unemployed. The fact that I can get online means I’m not poor? I guess we have to be REALLY fucking poor to meet your standards.

Maybe you think those people camping out around the country are just lazy hippies?

SuperMouse's avatar

I think that @judochop and @incendiary_dan are really talking about two different things.

@judochop is talking about a soul crushing, seemingly inescapable level of poverty when the daily quest just to survive brings people to their knees. The reality of my life is that I thank my lucky stars for not being able to understand that reality. However @judochop I think the fact that you were able to rise above your circumstances and turn things around shows that even you have only a passing familiarity with that level of poverty. The truth is their are entirely too many people in our country for whom this is a way of life from generation to generation. Another reality to be faced here is that the safety nets you allude to are not really all that safe and getting that help is much, much easier said than done. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past few years living safely below the poverty level, in spite of that fact I was never able to qualify for food assistance, housing assistance, or health insurance.

I think @incendiary_dan is referring to the huge number people that, although they are employed, they are underemployed, are just barely making their bills, have no kind of safety net, and are really just one emergency or one paycheck away from a one way ticket to the poverty @judochop talks about.

I also feel compelled to point out that even poor people might have access to computers and the internet for free at their local library. I say that because it is important not to think that just because someone is on Fluther, they must be well off enough to own a computer and have an internet connection.

filmfann's avatar

I own 2 houses, which means 2 house payments, 2 power bills, 2 property taxes and 2 insurances.
We are living paycheck to paycheck to pay for it, which I regard as struggling, but I would never suggest that we are poor.

Coloma's avatar

@judochop

I’ve been on both sides of just about every fence there is, and some twice. lol
Without going into the “I walked barefoot to school in 9 feet of snow, wrapped in newspapers with only a baked potato to warm my hands” routine….suffice it to say, that while ” poor” is a matter of degree, it is also not a contest.

I may never have walked 40 blocks in the snow for a mouldy piece of cheese, but I have experienced some pretty dire straights of which I have humble memories of.

Lets not turn ” poor” into a competitive debate about whose version of “poor” is more viable.

Hardship sucks, regardless of degree.

muppetish's avatar

With $26,170 as the poverty line for a family of five, we are just below the poverty line. We would be just above the poverty line if my older brother’s income is also included (however, I’m not sure how much of the taxes and mortgage and everything he pays each month.) It’s easy to not feel how tight finances are, though, since we live in a nice two-story home, have three cars, food regularly on the table (not great food, but it’s something to eat), and two of us are enrolled in university (though that’s on the government’s dime and not ours.)

The only person in the household not working is my younger brother. He plans on looking for a part-time job this year to pay for his textbooks and bus fare. Times are tough, but we’re making our way through it.

dabbler's avatar

The value of an economic “poverty line” to indicate poverty is really clear in this discussion. It’s only a part of the picture, statistics are like that.
Folks below that line may feel they are okay if they are stable as @incendiary_dan mentions, and I’d agree that if someone has all their basic needs met they aren’t desperate.
But why is ‘desperate’ a threshold requirement for poverty. You shouldn’t have to be dismantling your life to feed yourself, it’s unsustainable. And any situation between desperate and sufficiency has aspects of poverty.

The more powerful (than desperate) concept is secure/“stable”, having enough, having all your basic needs met reliably – the food, the roof, adequate clothing, clean water. In some contexts those are affordable even with limited money resources. In some contexts poverty-line money is far from enough to accommodate basic needs.

This is a workable definition of middle-class, having at least all basic needs met.
And I would include access to medical care, by whatever private/privatized/public/single-payer combination of means that will work for everyone.

And if you don’t have basic needs met, that a workable definition of impoverishment.

DominicX's avatar

I’m still a dependent, so I’m not sure if that really counts. My parents are definitely not poor, however.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Just a hint as to what this poor person does to cut some of the fat off financially: I buy bulk rice and beans. That seems like spending a lot, until you realize that it makes meals for less than ten cents in some cases. I supplement my diet with wild vegetables and game when I can, though I admit that’s mostly just what I like to do. I just sharpened a disposable razor. My partner and I make our own deodorant, shampoo replacement, surface cleaner, and many other household disposables. I don’t own a jacket that I paid more than $8 for, they’re either surplus or thrift store finds. Like I said, I don’t have my own internet connection, and am only online because of a neighbor with wifi and no password. Almost all of my furniture is hand-me-downs, what isn’t was from thrift stores or on clearance. My TV, which isn’t hooked up to any antenna or cable, was struck by lightning. It’s also a hand-me-down.

There are different levels of poor, and some of us learn to be smart about it.

And thank you to @Coloma for point out that talking about poverty isn’t a matter of “poorer-than-thou”.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

We’re not poor, but we’re not wealthy either. We are fortunate enough to live comfortably. Considering how so many other Americans are struggling, we appreciate this and try not be wasteful, spend only on what we need, and be thrifty.

JLeslie's avatar

We are not poor.

They use $45k as the cut off? That does not seem that poor to me.

Blackberry's avatar

I’m not poor, but I also don’t have kids or anything. I just have to look out for me, so although more money would be great, I’m not complaining.

JLeslie's avatar

Sort of the flip side to the discussion between @judochop and others, my father, now retired, said to me a few years ago, “I feel wealthier than I ever have in my life.” His salary was less than half it was when he worked, but he knew his pension was secure, his house is paid off, he has significant saving he never touches, and almost free healthcare. He feels finacially secure, and that makes him feel wealthy, even though by most definitions he would not be comsidered wealthy.

Poor seems to have the same complexity in terms of defining.

comity's avatar

JLeslie I can relate to your father!

jerv's avatar

At around $40k, my wife and I are barely on the cusp of comfortable; we actually would be well off if we didn’t live in a big city.

@JLeslie With two kids, it is. For a childless couple, it isn’t bad money… unless you live in Boston or NYC where rents run wild.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I am retired & I struggle financially (like when the electric bill spikes in the heat of the summer). However, I am not blaming anyone for my situation except myself….. I am well aware of the multitude of poor decisions that I made over my lifetime. It does concern me that the Republican congressional members seem to be intent of cutting soc.sec. benefits & medicare benefits. If they succeed, I will then be caught in a genuine ‘rock & a hard place’.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@incendiary_dan I had a computer, but it wasn’t hooked up to the internet. You’re not paying for internet, so the fact that you have a net book and can get online is beside the point. You would fit my definition of poor.

When I was struggling, the house I lived in had 3 stories. Each story was an apartment. One of the renters in one of the other apartments had cable, which meant we had free cable. I let it ride for about 6 months, but then the trash on TV got to be too much so, for my children’s sake, I murdered our cable line!

What the government considers the “poverty” line is ridiculously high, IMO. The most I made, toward the end of that time, was $22,000, and that made us incredibly comfortable because we were set for living on half of that. But that was well below what the government considered the “poverty” level for a household of 3 to 5 people. By any definition, the poorest American is rich by third world standards of poverty.

Paradox25's avatar

I lost a good paying job 2 years ago but I’ve been struggling ever since. I had to take some low paying jobs outside of my career field (that I went to school for) just to survive. I even had to work for a temp service. Things have gradually started to look up as far as pay goes but I’m still working at a job outside of my career field. There are many people who graduated from college, even with Bachelors, and I’m working with them of all places in a warehouse. It’s not just me.

tinyfaery's avatar

We make enough to pay our bills and have a little left over money at the end of the month. But, now both of us our working full-time so hopefully we can pay off some debts and start saving.

I don’t think we’re poor, but we are definitely not flush with money.

YARNLADY's avatar

The salary my husband earns puts us in the top 15% of earnings, but we support several unemployed and underemployed members of our extended family as well as our own household, about 10 people, total.

judochop's avatar

There are degrees of hardships. Just sayin, there are.

jerv's avatar

@judochop Very true. Sadly, many do not realize that.

Some people consider sending their kids to a state school instead of Ivy League, or driving a two-year-old Toyota instead of a new Lexus to be hardship, while I consider having to burn vacation days because I cannot afford the gas to get to work to be far from the worst I have ever had things. Ever live in a panel truck during a New England winter? Ever had to choose between feeding yourself or your newborn child because you cannot do both? I consider the fact that my wife and I complain about the cost of two data plans on our cellphones to be a sign that we are considerably better off than we were ten years ago, and far better off than our parents were when we were toddlers.

@Dutchess_III Far from true, at least in some areas. Then again, wasn’t it you that I argued home prices with after you claimed that $29,000 was enough to buy a starter home while I pointed out that the places I lived that may not be enough for a down payment?
Trust me, $22k/yr may be fine for a couple in the low-rent sections of America, but won’t even cover rent (let alone utilities, food, or anything else) in others. The most I ever made was this year ($23K so far) and the only reason my wife and I have made it is because she works too.

comity's avatar

@YARNLADY You’re a good woman! Your family is very fortunate to have a family member that has their back.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv I kind of feel like the 50% needs to be broken down. For instance, is a 22 year old living with a roommate making $25k considered poor? Is that household being counted as $25k or the $50k they make together, since they do not file taxes together? When I was just graduated college making in the mid-high $20’s, I did not consider myself poor. I lived a in a beautiful townhouse in FL with a community pool, had a car, and no debt. I didn’t have a bunch of money to throw around, but I was ok.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie That is why “poverty” is hard to define accurately. There are too many variables. For instance, many college kids are individually poor, but get a few of them to split rent on a place and they can do far better than any one of them could do alone. The number of kids also makes a huge difference.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv Well, the stats given are for household income, but that usually means a married couple when it is more than one, the IRS can calculate those stats easily. By address I guess they can calculate unrelated people also, but I doubt it is done.

ETpro's avatar

@incendiary_dan Great question. This is the legacy of 30 years of trickle-up economics. Right now, yes. I’m poor. Im late paying this month’s rent, because the money simply isn’t ther. I don’t own a home because the money isn’t there. But I’m clawing my way back up out of the hole the Greedy Oligarch Party dropped me into to serve their wealthy masters. I will not go down without a fight.

Judi's avatar

@judochop , I have had to choose between rent and taking a child to the doctor for an ear infection, and have had my power cut off, water turned off, and accepted food from charities. I once sold all my children’s toys to a resell place in order to feed them. Granted, this was a whole lifetime ago, before home computers and laptops, but I am passionate about not judging people who make hard choices. To keep the computer in hopes of being able to sell the DVD’s and or garage sell finds in order to hopefully buy medicine today AND tomorrow is a choice some might make.
People make judgments all the time of people who use food stamps. My sister was a single mom making minimum wage as a receptionist. She would go home after work and put on dumpy clothes before going to the grocery store because people gave her dirty looks for dressing appropriate for work and using food stamps.
I can appreciate that you have had your experience with fighting poverty, but also appreciate that even though the road may lead to the same place, each person’s journey is different, and if everything else is taken from them, at least they have the choice to set their own priorities based on their own best judgement.

ETpro's avatar

@Judi America wasn’t this way before Reagan “fixed” it. More and more of the jobs available are minimum wage or part time. Meanwhile, corporate CEOs have seen their salaries shoot up by over 300%. Nothing is trickling back down yet. But we’ve only waited 30 years.

Judi's avatar

@ETpro ; I know. I couldn’t believe all the people who bought Regan’s crap back then and they’re still calling him a hero. I blame Regan and Gingrich for starting this crappy selfish snowball down this hill that finally exploded on us 3 years ago.

ETpro's avatar

@Judi I blame the billionaires that paid Reagan and Gingrich and the lot to do it. The Koch Brothers, the Waltons, the Kays, the Murdochs, and CEOs of multinational mega-corporations that profit from off-shoring jobs are the men behind the curtain.

fizzbanger's avatar

It depends on the situation, your perspective, etc.

We get by just fine – even manage to save a little, as long as we both continue to work and live within our means. If we had kids, we’d be financially screwed.

“By any definition, the poorest American is rich by third world standards of poverty”.

This is really true. My building’s stairs have a resident fat homeless man. He trolls for cigarettes more than food.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yes. It’s all relative. @jerv Yes, that was me you were arguing with, that it is possible to buy a starter home for $29,000. Here, it is. If you’re willing to settle. I think, for many people, the very idea that they have to “settle” makes them feel poor.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Capitalism itself is a ponzi scheme that concentrates wealth to the top, no matter what brand. The twentieth century has been an anomaly in terms of the size of the middle class, which in itself is basically a subset of the working class that’s given some special privileges for the purpose of saying “Look, you can be like the rich too!”. In reality, we’re tricked into thinking indentured servitude is freedom and productive work.

/socio-political rant

comity's avatar

There’s something about putting the blame “out there” rather then “in here” that disturbs me. I’m considered a lefty, a liberal, but to me it’s getting a little “much” lately. IMHO, the thought process of “you’re doing it to me and there’s nothing I can do about it’, takes away the ability to improve financially and otherwise.

JLeslie's avatar

@incendiary_dan I have to disagree with you there. Capitalism is not a ponzi scheme in my opinion. There just has tobe some integrity and balance I think. Business just have grown too large, but we don’t want zero capitalism, zero business. What do you want todogo to a full barter system, or everyone homesteading, or the government owning everything? I think it should never be all or none. We should have all of these things working together, and a little push and pull and tweak over time for what is the right balance seems the normal course of things to me. People, I am not accusing you, who think one system is the end all be all, or complain that something is not working perfectly so we should competely ditch the idea add to the broad pendulum swings in our society, rathen minore changes that will be less painful and could create better harmony in the country. In my opinion.

HungryGuy's avatar

@incendiary_dan & @JLeslie – IMO, the problem isn’t with capitalism, per se. It’s the fact that corporations exist. Corporations are entities that exist only in the wording of the law with no single human culpable for their misdeeds. They can control billions of dollars in assets from investors, and have way too much power and influence over political leaders. They can put thousands of people out of work all at once on a whim. They can buy up many of their competitors to eliminate most of the competition. Their armies of lawyers can crush the “little guy” through court fees and tie up competitive innovation for years (The DMCA is a prime example of this). Those are the biggest problems, right there!

Do away with corporations entirely, and require all businesses to be owned by specific individuals, and a lot of the current faults with capitalism will vanish.

BTW, I gave you both GAs.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@JLeslie: What do you want to go to a full barter system, or everyone homesteading, or the government owning everything?

Better.

It’s sheer mythology based on lack of historical perspective and media narrative that capitalism is or has ever been a system beneficial to the working people. Corporations, which certainly are a problem as @HungryGuy said, are the natural result of capitalism. It’s the expected end result of any system involving money, since money is an abstraction of wealth meant originally and always to keep those claiming power by force to continue to give some legitimacy to their control. It doesn’t matter if businesses are controlled by specific individuals; those moneyed people have always done the same shitty things in terms of buying out competitors and sidestepping liability. All the creation of the legal fiction we call ‘corporations’ did was provide those people an easier way to avoid liability. Getting rid of corporations is a necessary step, but beyond that the very basis of capitalism itself, that some people deserve to have more money and be able to use it to control production (and unsaid but inferred, control policy and daily life by extension), needs to be dismantled.

@JLeslie: People, I am not accusing you, who think one system is the end all be all, or complain that something is not working perfectly so we should competely ditch the idea add to the broad pendulum swings in our society, rathen minore changes that will be less painful and could create better harmony in the country

That sounds like a fantastic way to preserve the privilege of first worlders and upper classes rather than approach systemic problems and exploitation face first. I put that linkin my last comment specifically because it makes a rather strong but completely accurate point about capitalism; it’s functionally like a slavery or caste system. In my opinion, preserving parts of it is basically preserving that servitude. Gradualism doesn’t work in systems based on control and coercion.

Now, if you guys keep causing me to type this much, I’m gonna have to give you thanks in the book I’ll turn this all into. :P

Dutchess_III's avatar

@comity Something to consider is that when you were a younger, working adult the economy was fantastic. My parents bought a home in 1965 for $35,000. 13 years later they sold it for $150,000. My aunt and uncle bought 5 wooded acres in Seattle. Including the house, they paid about $35,000. Today it’s probably worth a couple million. My first husband and I bought our home in 1983 for $45,000. 13 years later I could only get $47,000. The realtor took all the “profit”. I bought my second home in 1998 for $80,000. We tried to sell it last year, couldn’t get but $80,000. Your social security was never at risk. Gas was $.25 a gallon. Now it’s $3, and the wages haven’t increased apace. It’s a whole new ballgame.
We just can’t seem to get ahead, no matter what we do, although we’re working just as hard as our parents. My family lived handsomely on one income. That just isn’t really possible any more.

comity's avatar

@Dutchess_III That’s true, but when I was left with 3 children, before I could figure out what to do I went with heart in hands to get assistance from the Dept of Welfare. My kids had to eat! I was so mortified that I had to ask for help, but I was only on it for a few of months until I was able to figure out a solution to my problem. Do you think that possibly people are trying less to figure out a solution because they feel helpless and “oh, what’s the use”? You’re talking about your social security being at risk, but that hasn’t happened as yet. Is there too much gloom all over the room? If there is, doesn’t that affect our ability to move forward? Just asking.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Hey…I was in the same situation. 4 kids, no child support. It was a loooong fight, but fight I did. I kept getting knocked down but I kept getting back up.

I, personally, don’t know anyone who has just “given up,” but it does get disheartening looking into the future. It seems like my generation got to the door just as it slammed shut. There was a time when you could work for the same company for 30, 40 years. Nowadays they’re constantly restructuring, moving, laying off….

I just get frustrated with some friends of my Mother’s (in their late 70’s) who act like all poor people are poor because they’re all stupid and lazy. He’s always talking about how he pulled himself up by his own boot straps. Well, he also had a lot of opportunities that many people don’t have, and that aren’t even available any more, but he doesn’t recognize that.

Hope springs eternal.

dabbler's avatar

Monopoly, and fascist government, is the end-game of unregulated capitalism.

Productivity in the US, dollars of revenue or dollars of profit per employee, has risen steadily for several decades.
Employee compensation has been flat for the past three decades.
The difference has ALL gone to CEOs and the folks right next to them.
It hasn’t gone to shareholders even. It’s gone to the executives running the companies.

If anyone thinks corporations, and in particular our US brand of corporate structure, is not to blame for wealth disparity in this country, they are uninformed or delusional.
If anyone thinks there aren’t better ways for an economy to work without blowing up all the corporations they are uninformed.

The German economy has one of the largest trade surpluses in the world. The German balance sheet has a surplus of trillions of EU. German workers are highly unionized and are paid more than most in Europe. German corporations almost never lay off staff.
How do they do that?
Among the things mandated in Germany after world war II were the laws governing corporate structure. One of the most fundamental differences to US corporate law is that at least ½ of each corporation’s board of directors are employee representatives. Execs are also not allowed to sit on each others’ boards to the ridiculous extent they are in the US.
Employee reps keep an eye on the long view, they want everyone employed for the long haul. They make different decisions about shipping jobs overseas (they don’t) and they make different decisions in hard times (everyone gets a pay cut from workers to the CEO, and everyone keeps their job).

Anyone who tells you corporations in the US need less regulation to be successful is uninformed or delusional. We must get our corporations properly regulated or they will continue to leech the life out of the economy to the benefit of very very few people.

comity's avatar

@Dutchess_III I guess I might not recognize it either, as I’m in the same age group and where I live the economy doesn’t change much. Never went up like it did in other areas, and not that low now I just wonder whether the constant talk of doom and gloom in the media has a negative affect on the future. We didn’t have that instant feed back of negativity because we didn’t have the technology years ago to reach people often and instantly.

JLeslie's avatar

@incendiary_dan I don’t see how a 100% gift society could work in a technologically advanced culture. Maybe I don’t have a full understanding. However, gifting, or what I call pay it forward, is very much a part of what I like to live by, I believe in the concept very much. Your wikipedia link talks about gifting in amy religions, and as you know I am Jewish, and it is an obligation to gift/be charitable, a mitzvah. In my opinion again, a good practice, but there is also a joke about the guy who gives money to a poor man every week, and then one week he does not receive the money. The man tells the poor man, “sorry I had a bad week,” and the poor man replies, “and I should suffer because you had a bad week?” In large communities and societies it seems we can not rely on everyone to be giving, carry their fair share, etc. I think there has to be some incentive, material, or financial, for certain people to be productive, while others are very self motivated.

There are communities around the country that work on a point system, every service equals the same point for an hours work. Doctor visit, sailing lesson, plummer, etc. People can basically trade their service for another service, similar to barter, but recorded in points. The communities that have it also have normal American money earning lives also, but have this as an alternative option as well where they live. Sounds good to me. But, it would not work on a grand scale I don’t think.

So, again I am back to a society that has a variety of things going on all at once. Some government, some gifting, some capitalism.

I agree corporations probably are a problem, I have to think about it in depth more.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh, the instant negativity definitely has an effect @comity. The way I see it, the stock market is run almost purely on emotion.

wundayatta's avatar

I believe the best explanation for human behavior is the “what’s in it for me” explanation. Even charity is about what’s in it for me. I.e., we have welfare and other social programs because they are insurance against a time when we may not be doing so well.

“What’s in it for me” is also a theory about how to motivate others. If you want someone to give you a job, or to create jobs, then you have to make sure there is something in it for them. Republicans think that if we give the capitalists more money via payroll tax cuts or soemthing, they will make more jobs, because the cost of jobs will be cheaper.

Unfortunately, the cost of jobs is getting more expensive at an ever faster rate because of our productivity improvements. A capitalist will do much better to invest in capital equipment, because that makes his investment in an employee go much farther. With the right equipment, he can get three times the work from one employee than he used to do before. So all that money the Republicans give him will go towards capital investment and a hire that will let him do the work that three hires would have done before.

Of course, his hire must be much more highly trained to handle the roboticized work. And these days, they say, they can’t get enough skilled workers. Now you would think they would spend money to train these workers, but I don’t hear anyone talking about that. Instead, the unemployed are supposed to buy their own training—assuming they can figure out what the right training is. I guess some do.

The free market is supposed to allow people to move freely and make the best choices for themselves and they are supposed to put themselves in the best position to get a good job. It’s not working.No one trusts the fairness of the way it works now. The rich think the poor steal from them, and the poor think the rich steal from them. And it isn’t rich and poor, but conservative and liberal and the two do not map onto each other as we might expect.

It is way more complicated than that, too. Frankly, I really think it a psycho/emotional perception of the world and of others and their motivations, and it is not something that can be fixed until there is more trust in the world.

As @dabbler suggests, in Europe, they have systemic rules that bind society more closely together. In the US, for philosophical reasons, we have historically thought that it wasn’t necessary for people to have a greater sense of shared self-interest. In fact, we have valued the opposite ideal—go it aloneness. It is a myth that people go-it-alone, but the myth is very powerful.

So we are an experiment. How will we come out of this compared to Europe? Europe is more socialized, but they are in deep trouble, too. What does the poverty in Europe look like compared to the poverty here? Maybe people are poorer but they don’t feel as bad about it because they believe they safety net will catch them.

And will the safety net catch Americans? For all it seems like people complain about the laziness of people on welfare, it seems to me that the prevailing ethos is one of shame. No one wants to admit to using the social service system, and people use it only the minimum they can. Despite that, every piece of fraud someone hears about, and every person who seems to make a living out of being on welfare (are there really any?) casts a pall over everyone else. The only person on welfare, it seems, is a welfare cheat, in much of the public’s perception.

To me, it all seems like psychological gridlock. I don’t see things breaking one way or another. We’ll just struggle along until things get better, unless they don’t.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’m curious as to how the people in Europe view the poor among them. In America they’re looked down on with disgust.

Judi's avatar

@Dutchess_III , not very Christian of us is it?

wundayatta's avatar

Yes. Poverty in America is so often associated with moral failure—with laziness.

It would be interesting to know how Europeans, on average, perceive the poor.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yeah…and the more “Christian” (and righteous) a person claims to be the more disgusted they are.

Judi's avatar

Breaks my heart.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh…I want to address the “struggling financially” issue, which is NOT the same as poverty. You can make 100K a year and still be “struggling financially” because your debt = or exceeds your income.

I have to be careful not to let this happen to us. Since I got my job, we’ve piled on $1000 a month in extra debt mainly due to stuff my husband finds that he wants…a camper, a Durango, the land, stuff that we could really live with out. Now I’m putting my foot down on any further debt. It’s gonna cause arguments, I know it is. : (

Judi's avatar

@Dutchess_III , tell him that we thank him for his contrabution to the economy. ~

Dutchess_III's avatar

He’ll yell at me for spending money on contributions to the economy! It’s bad enough, in his opinion, that I spend perfectly good playing money on BILLS!

JLeslie's avatar

Someone should start a question asking Europeans. I think many might think similarly to Americans. Would be interesting. I am sure it varies by country, and probably how much poverty is in the particular country.

@Dutchess_III Yeah, struggling financially is tricky. I don’t think anyone is going to have much sympathy for someone making $100k who is in deep debt (barring any extremely unfortunate circumstance of course). Maybe your husband needs a little therapy to figure out why he does it? I’m onky half serious, but it must create stress in your marriage. Although, the majority of America lives like that. Buying more than they really can afford. It is kind of normal I guess.

Blackberry's avatar

That is a good question, how welfare is bad, but corporate welfare is fine. How some people are distracted by the President using some tax money to fly a plane, like that is the major problem. Some of us are like toddlers swinging at an adult, while the adult just places their hand on our head, then turns us the other way lol.

Judi's avatar

@JLeslie , I wonder if other countries, with a history of a cast system (Even if it has changed in the last few generations) might think differently. America, being , “the land of opportunity” has a pride issue when it comes to financial success. We get this attitude that in America, you can be as successful as you choose.” Other countries, that have not had that pioneer spirit might not have the same, “It’s your own damned fault you’re poor” attitude.

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi Interesting point. I have no idea, I couldn’t really guess how they might look at it. In the old cast systems I would think people at the bottom did not have opportunities, while now, especially in western Europe, everyone has access to education, and social services generally keep the poor at a certain level. It is not like parts of India or even parts of Latin American or African countries where hundreds of thousands of people might be literally living on the street or in huts barely able to get clean water. I think most westernized countries people have very little tolerance for poverty. For witnessing it.

fizzbanger's avatar

Yeah, um, this article about “poverty” in the United States is really about bending statistics.

This article written by Rector (the guy mentioned in the poster’s article) makes me feel bad about people in other countries living in actual poverty.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@fizzbanger absolutely. I would say I was in poverty for those several years, but I also know that my situation was NOTHING compared to what people have to endure in 3rd world countries. Compared to them, I was living like a queen. Think what $700 a MONTH (average wages for me) could do for those people….

GracieT's avatar

One thing about this whole mess that bothers me (I know, one thing out of many!) is how so many people (Republicans mostly) hold up Regan as “the last great president,” almost as if he were God. People, the man WAS NOT God. We can’t look to his example as how to fix what is wrong in our country, our world. The world is very different now, and even if he was a great president then, (was he?) he wouldn’t necessarily be now.

jerv's avatar

@GracieT Many think that if we elect someone like Reagan, time will rewind.

GracieT's avatar

@jerv, VERY good point. I never thought about it that way, but one thing that all of the people I’ve heard talking about Regan share is their age. All of them are over 50. Maybe a large part of what causes problems is that people under a certain age who were not alive during Regan’s terms don’t know what it was like, and have no nostalgia for that time period.

Judi's avatar

I was alive and it was the oddest thing. I remember my dad saying in the 60’s, “I don’t know what this world is coming to. Next thing you know they will elect Ronald Regan President.”
I’m sure he rolled over in his grave the day it happened.

JLeslie's avatar

@GracieT There are plenty of people over 50 who were not and are not mesmorized by Reagan. If you live in a very red community and state, then it probably feels that way, because the younger generation is a little more liberal than their parents. But, people over 50 who were and are liberal remember and care about the facts under Reagan.

GracieT's avatar

@JLeslie, I live in Ohio. I’m sorry, we voted for Obama in the last election and so I could admit where I was from. Then they (I voted/worked for Strickland) voted for Kasich. I think they’ve lived to regret it. I just hope that this stupid heartbeat bill doesn’t pass. If so, I may never admit where I’m from anymore after I run away screaming! Or maybe I just have to move to another state/country!

JLeslie's avatar

@GracieT Ohio is generally seen as a swing state. Most people don’t think of Ohioans (?) specifically one way or another.

In fact the Catholic midwest was many times talked about in the media as being the swing vote, the independent vote so to speak. I agree withe that.

GracieT's avatar

@JLeslie, I bet you say that to all the Ohioans! :0). Thank you for reminding me. I’m just ashamed of my state going for Bush two times and for Kasich. I forgot about the wonderful Cleveland Representive whose name I cannot spell, and that we did elect Strickland. Maybe we’re sorry about Kasich.

JLeslie's avatar

@GracieT Look, as an American I am embarrased we elected Bush twice! Some would argue the first time he wasn’t elected, but we flippin’ kept him in office for a second term?! WTF?! I still am shocked. I was in a depression for a few weeks after Bush was reelected, I just could…not…understand…it. So, don’t feel any burden as someone from Ohio. Plus, the electoral map is incredibly deceptive. So much of Illinois is Republican, yet the percepetion of IL around the country is probably related to liberal Chicago. Hell, southern IL is the bible belt.

The people of the midwest are wonderful, pretty much everyone in the country agrees with that when I talk to people about the regions around the country. You should feel good about your state. Although, when I lived in MD the worst snow storms came from the Ohio Valley, so we hated Ohio for that.

GracieT's avatar

@JLeslie,
:0) – Thanks.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, you know why the wind blows so hard in Kansas?...Because Ohio sucks! Wait…that’s supposed to be Oklahoma…

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