Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

Can you describe one factor that you have personally experienced that helps keep people in poverty?

Asked by wundayatta (58357 points ) November 12th, 2012

Please talk about your personal experience and then extrapolate to the larger issue about how this factor you experienced helps keep people in poverty. Finally, mention any ideas you have that might help folks address this problem.

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37 Answers

bolwerk's avatar

Difficulty finding employment. I spent some of the recession unemployed. Luckily I was able to freelance to support myself, but it was very stressful.

Of course, it goes without saying that this supposed recovery has been relatively jobless.

tinyfaery's avatar

Poor neighborhoods don’t have good schools, they are lucky if they have books. Even if you do graduate HS the price of tuition for College is ridiculous. Hard to end the cycle of poverty when you don’t have access to education.

SpatzieLover's avatar

If you don’t have a car, and the public transit system is a mess, you can’t get a job outside of the poverty stricken area you live in.

If you’re a single mom, you need 2–3 jobs just to pay the bills, and be able to afford some kind of childcare (usually the cheapest is with a stay at home welfare mom). There is no getting ahead. If a kid is sick, or disabled, there is no staying afloat.

Seek's avatar

A real “kick them when they’re down” thing is car insurance being tied into your driver’s license. I get that we should all have insurance, but it’s kind of absurd that you can have a driver’s license suspended if you’re a few days late on an insurance payment. Then if it’s suspended, it costs several internal organs to get it reinstated, provided you don’t get arrested on your way to the DMV to get it taken care of.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr‘s response reminded me of another disadvantage my mom & I had…We had a car, but since we lived in an apartment complex where you park in giant parking lots, our tank was siphoned often (this was prior to the days of car alarms…and yep, they’d pick the locking gas cap, too).

Mom couldn’t afford AAA, so anytime a battery fails, you’re SOL. That’d be a whole day of just trying to get the car back to working order.

livelaughlove21's avatar

Negative stigma toward those in poverty. They can’t get out if they aren’t given a chance to prove themselves.

YARNLADY's avatar

The people I have had contact with have no interest in trying to be frugal. When they have money, especially when their welfare checks or SNAP comes through, they spend it on expensive clothes and expensive, ready made food , and they always run out before the next check.

They do not eat healthy meals, and are always too sick to do any work or look for a job. They spend their time going to movies when they have money and reading or playing computer games the rest of the time. Yes, they somehow always have enough money to have computers, TV’s and cars – which always seem to be out of gas.

They also have no interest in trying to preserve what they already have. They often throw away perfectly good clothes because they are too sick or tired to do the laundry.

They do not fix anything that breaks, but rather throw it away. They never try to re-use items such as grocery bags for trash, or empty containers. Instead of washing dishes, they use throw away plates and eating utensils.

I have seen a group of children who were given a free trip to an amusement park, and free lunches take the free food and throw the sandwiches at each other, smash the condiment packs on the ground and use the drink boxes for water guns by squeezing the juice out through the straw. None of the parents in the group did anything to stop them.

Seek's avatar

@YARNLADY I don’t know… you’ve been in contact with me for almost five years. I just picked up a microwave off the side of the road last night. It had a broken tray, but fortunately I had saved the tray from the microwave that broke three years ago.

Coloma's avatar

I have not experienced all of these, but, IMO, these top the general list of why people get caught in a poverty cycle.

Minimum wage slavery.
Overall high cost of basic living needs.
Lack of suitable, entry level jobs with some measure of advancement, for intelligent but perhaps, less formally educated people
The proverbial “snowball” effect that an emergency situation or getting behind by even a few weeks on your expenses that can result in sinking your Titanic in no time. lol

Shippy's avatar

It could be an outlook on life, coming from a poor family, and understanding the ways of those thinkers, as keeping a person in that cycle of poverty. Also , lack of education and the perception that all jobs require degrees. Having too many children, which of course carries on the lineage of lacking.

A lot of affluent families stay that way due to inheritances also. That is my thoughts on the true “Cycle of Poverty”.

My own cycle of poverty is just that, I had it good, I’m currently having it bad. So again it becomes an outlook on life.

trailsillustrated's avatar

Hate to say it but one of the factors is ignorance. I currently live in a very poor area and see it all the time. Education is key, something is failing here.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Yes, some people are very thrifty. You sound a lot like me. The people I am describing, that I know personally, are third generation welfare recipients. They are all women, and two of them were married to husbands who ended up in jail after they abandoned their families.

bkcunningham's avatar

The examples of “poverty” so far in this question are interesting to me, @wundayatta. Great question.

Judi's avatar

Hopelessness and self image. I was in poverty for the first 30 years of my life. I accepted my “lot”, my “place.” I really didn’t see the broader world and what I was capable of. There was a whole business vocabulary that I didn’t understand.
I am not sure what happened, but one day I looked around at people more successful than me, that were my age and realized, “I’m just a smart and just as capable as any of these women.” I finally found the courage to pursue a career opportunities that I believed were out of reach before.
I stopped feeling intimidated by successful people and excelled.
To be honest, I should add, that I also married a guy who didn’t know poverty. I didn’t have my credit report run for 10 years and all my bad credit finally dropped off my credit report. I don’t know if I would have been able to maintain my success without my husband.

Seek's avatar

@bkcunningham I agree, we’re fortunate to live in a society in which poverty includes things like owning a car. Unfortunately, it’s a very real place to be. Yeah, you might have a car, but when 60% of your household income goes to keeping the car running well enough to get to the minimum wage job that’s a 45 minute drive away, it sucks, because you have no other options. When your son begs for his own bed and you have to tell him you’re “on an adventure” for a few weeks in between losing one apartment and finding somewhere to move, it breaks your heart every day that you spend sleeping on a friend’s living-room floor. Yeah, you have air conditioning and can watch Dora the Explorer before bed, but you’re still homeless.

Judi's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr , I hear you. I remember getting yelled at by a nurse practitioner because I waited to long to take my daughter in for an ear infection. I had to wait until payday because no one would see me without cash unless I went to the ER and if I did that I would get billed hundreds of dollars. If you are poor and you get a traffic ticket it devistates your life. Here in California, you can go to traffic school and have the ticket removed from your record for insurance, but you have to pay the entire fine, plus a premium up front and then have to pay for traffic school. If you’re poor you can make payment arangements but then it will be a point against your insurance and make your premium go up.
The system is designed to keep people down.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Judi Sorry, I have to disagree with you about the system when you are talking about getting a ticket. I have only gotten one ticket (which I paid) in my 54 years of driving, about 25 years ago. Two of the welfare recipients in my family have gotten tickets in the last two years. It’s just part and parcel of their failure to observe the rules and their lack of concern for the expense of that failure.

One of them made arrangements with the court to do public service, paid the fee and then forgot to do the public service and is currently paying the entire original fine monthly, with interest!

SpatzieLover's avatar

@YARNLADY My mother was frequently pulled over late at night due to a hole in her muffler. First it’s a warning, then it’s a ticket. It’s a double edged sword when you don’t have the money for an auto repair, need the car to go to work so you can pay for the car repair, then get ticketed…all because you can’t afford the auto repair.

It is easy to get caught in a poverty spiral and can be difficult to break the vortex you’re stuck in.

rojo's avatar

As @trailsillustrated states education is key, but what I have observed is that education is not valued as much in poorer neighborhoods and anyone that shows an aptitude for it is quickly beaten down. It takes a very strong will and commitment from the individual AND the family to succeed under these condiditions.
I realize that in some cases even where there is a will circumstances can work against it happening. With low wages and a lack of employment opportunities sometimes a youth will have to give up on his or her education to help support the family.
So the questions I have but cannot answer are how do we get those in poverty to give value to education either their own or that of their children? What parent does not want their child to be more successful than they are? Surely they cannot believe that they have reached the pinnacle of success.

Seek's avatar

Man, monthly payments for a ticket? In Florida if you can’t pay on time then you get your license suspended and you pay double.

bolwerk's avatar

The transportation thing is a good point. When considering cost of living, we look at housing but often not transportation. The dimension to look at should be both together.

Hell, though, I always regarded American car culture as poverty-inducing. I figure the reason large cities have shown such allure in the past decade is largely because they save money over living in suburbs. Even supposedly uber-expensive NYC isn’t that expensive once you factor in that transportation costs are probably reduced by a factor of at least five.

Not to mention it’s kind of authoritarian to have it so a government can regularly stop you and demand your papers for the privilege of moving from place to place. Add contempt from lawful authorities to the list for this question.

Coloma's avatar

My local papers help wanted classified section showcases a whopping 13 jobs today, spread out between 2 neighboring middle sized communities.
Pickins’ are slim.
Out of those 13 jobs, 4 were high end administrative type positions and the rest pizza parlors with a couple other food service type positions and a body shop mechanic. No middle ground, from specialized professional to dough boy. haha

This has been my area of stress the last few years, the middle jobs are middlin’. lol

Judi's avatar

@YARNLADY , You are dealing with people who just got tired of fighting and gave up. The fight was s just to much for them so they decided to work with what they had. That’s why my one word answer to the OP’s question is hopelessness.

augustlan's avatar

I’ve been poor, upper middle class, and poor again. What always amazes me is how much more it costs to be poor, overall. Poverty almost forces you to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

When I’m doing well, I can buy bigger packages for better value or stock up on sale items in the grocery store; when I’m poor I must buy only whatever amount I need right now, at whatever price it is right now. You can’t afford to pay $3.00 more in order to ‘save’ $5.00 if you don’t have the 3 bucks, you know?

If you don’t have the money to pay all your bills on time, you incur late fees. Juggling the bills adds a lot of expense, but what choice do you have? You simply do not have enough money at any one time to cover everything. If you’re unlucky enough to end up with your electricity or water turned off due to non-payment, you will not only pay late fees but also a fee to reconnect the service.

When I’m doing well, I have a cushion in my checking account and am never overdrawn; when I’m poor, I sometimes end up overdrawn and must pay a $40.00 bank fee, even if I was only a dollar short. When that happens, there’s an excellent chance that it will keep happening, because I’m now even further in the hole and each new transaction that hits the bank while I’m overdrawn will cost me an additional $40.00. Hard as hell to dig yourself out of this cycle.

When you have a decent car, your only expenses are insurance, gas and regular maintenance. When you have a crappy car, the best you could afford, it will break down regularly, costing you money in two ways: fixing it, and missing work while it’s being fixed. That’s in addition to the insurance and gas (regular maintenance often goes undone, because you can’t afford the $25 oil change.) Hello, being overdrawn again.

If you’re sick, you put off going to the doctor as long as possible. You can’t afford the co-pay (IF you have insurance), the prescription, and the time off work. Of course, this is often disastrous, since you may well end up far sicker in the long run, which will cost even more money.

If you don’t have a car at all, you take public transportation (if you have access to it). If you need to do a big grocery shopping trip, or must go somewhere not served by public transportation, maybe you have good friends with the means and desire to drive you around. If not, you have to take a taxi… one of the most expensive ways to get around!

Being poor often means your credit record is shot. If, God forbid, a major money-sucking event happens and you need to borrow money to survive it, you’ll have to sell your soul to the devil (ie: payday lenders), and pay outrageous interest fees.

In the days before cell phones, if you didn’t have a home phone you had to walk to a payphone and pay for each call. Far less cost-effective than paying for a home phone, but again, you can’t afford to spend money now to save money in the long run.

The poor are literally nickel and dimed, sometimes to death.

majorrich's avatar

I’ve been on disability for nearly ten years and my pension is based on the top 3 of my salary, which is now ten years ago. I have two advanced degrees and am allowed to work part time by the state (I was a state employee so am not on federal disability) Unfortunately, as a paraplegic I am limited on jobs I can do and most, if not all of the jobs in my area that were created by the stimului were bucket and shovel jobs. Other jobs available to me I am either overqualified for, or in my previous field of work which would lose me my pension. Plus, I have to pay COBRA to keep my family in medical coverage, and need to have the doctors send in quarterly reports on my progress and have annual examinations to ensure I am still paralyzed. These are demeaning and on my dime. The last of my nest egg has been gone for several years now so I am literally one check away from disaster at any given time. I will not be eligible for federal retirement for twelve more years. As @augustlan says, I am being nickel and dimed deeper into an inecapable hole.

YARNLADY's avatar

I could write a whole book on how I managed when I was poor, and yes, there was a time, a long, long time ago.

I believe the real reason behind it all is the job market. When I was little, young and uneducated people had a lot of choices for work, but now there are very few jobs for people in those categories. No more pin setters in the bowling alley, no more hand sweepers in the public parking lots, no more mowing the neighbors lawn – it’s all done by machines or professionals.

lightsourcetrickster's avatar

I’d like to just say Mr David Cameron. But If I said that, it wouldn’t be a very good answer.
Mr Cameron (that is to say, the idiot in charge of the UK – or at least one of the idiots), has practically single-handedly ensured the poverty of many an already poor household. Particularly those who are unemployed. Especially those who have ill mental health.
The government decided to tell a lot of people that they were actually fit to go to work, when clearly they were not, this is ranging from people who are terminally ill with cancer (this is how much of an evil sick bastard Mr Cameron is) and (and I didn’t vote that guy in either) also people with severe mental health issues. Or at least severe enough to be diagnosed with those issues. The government has made cut back after cut back, and the first people to get it are those who are still looking for work. However, what Mr Cameron has failed to realize is that in cutting back the welfare for unemployed people – which may seem fair to some but not to others – is that he is further making it more difficult for a lot of people to actually ‘get’ work in the first place. For instance, I’m unemployed. He’s cut back the housing allowance so a good sizeable chunk of my rent is paid by my Job Seeker’s Allowance, which is supposed to be being used to not only look after myself in terms of basic hygiene, bill paying and oh yes, eating (which I don’t do every day cause I can’t afford to). That Job Seeker’s Allowance money is basically something that someone is supposed to use in order to follow an agreement which you have to sign in order to be able to get the money in the first place. IF you don’t stick to that agreement you could lose your benefit. That agreement says what you’ve agreed to do to look for work. Well I’m expected to travel up to 90 minutes by car or bus or train (and I don’t drive)....so I also have to pay for public transport. Whilst I could claim back that cost beyond a local distance (say a five mile radius) anything less than that, I’ve lost. And I have to apply for work locally because if I travel to work more than 90 minutes, every day, I’d lose a total wad of money on public transport more than I would by catching a bus to a workplace 5 miles or less away.
I could rant and rave about it all day but it’ll wind me up.
There are people on the street because of this coalition government.
Basically…government. Useless tossers the lot of them. I shall probably be homeless too before long – but I don’t want to really think about that.

laureth's avatar

There’s an old saying. “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

I often get into debates with right-wingers who want to minimize or eliminate public assistance. One of my regular debate partners was feeling particularly generous one day, and said he supported some kind of allowance so that even the destitute wouldn’t starve, but in order to make it a less palatable option for people who could work, he wanted to limit assistance to the bare minimal amount of calories that a person needs to subsist, and that was all he saw fit that we should collectively pay for. I think of this as “giving man a fish.”

I grew up on public assistance. Times were rough. We didn’t have money for fancy stuff, or even for nutritious food all the time. We would eat potatoes for dinner. Sometimes ramen. It’s no way to live. But we had enough calories to subsist, even if they were starchy foods (because starchy foods are cheap and filling). But what we didn’t have enough money for, was “learning how to fish.”

My first year in college, I was eligible for a couple small loans because I was poor. The second year, because we were no longer on assistance (Mom no longer qualified when I turned adult, and she wasn’t paying for any of my college anyway), I had to get a job. I did – I liked being able to earn money. But even making a starting wage at an entry level job meant I no longer got need-based money for college. Once you start accumulating even a little money in order to better your life, the rug is pulled out from under. If you can afford college, “they” say, you certainly don’t need us to pay for your potatoes and ramen anymore. As a result, I had to drastically cut my college courses that I was able to take, if I also wanted to eat and pay rent with my meager salary. At one class a semester, I’m still in college at 40 without a degree, and still working an entry-;level job.

Extrapolation: To get out of poverty, people need more than just a bare-minimum amount of daily calories to keep them out of starvation. They need some kind of road out, whether it is a path to a college degree, vocational training, a set of carpentry tools, a sewing machine, just SOME sort of skillset with which they can earn a living. Giving them fish alone is not enough, you need to teach them how to fish. And if, by some great mercy, they save enough money to buy a couple fish hooks, it is absolutely useless to bar them access to the fishing pond or the funds to buy a whole fishing pole, because they managed to do something more than starve today.

Judi's avatar

I think we should all print out this thread and send it to our congressmen.

wundayatta's avatar

I was lucky. My parents staked me to a college education. But that was it. So when I graduated in the heart of the Carter-Reagan recession, there were no jobs.

But I couldn’t go home, so I moved to NYC. The only reason I survived, I think, was that I found roommates. That way I could live even though I had a pretty low wage job. We were sharing the expense of living space. It was a one bedroom apartment and three of us were living there. There was a glorified closet with just enough room for a mattress. There was an actual bedroom, I believe and then a dining room and a living room. My mattress was in the living room.

Then a friend arrived with no place to stay, and she started moving her stuff in, and the landlady put her foot down and said that it was too much and we had to move out.

We found a larger place with room for all of us. And that’s how I survived. Sharing.

I did political work, for very little money. I made less than anyone I knew.

This was nothing unusual in those times. Everyone lived in a group house, it seemed. Well, many people did, anyway. Even today, I know people who do the same thing. There is a group house across the street. People have been living together for decades now, and there are two nuclear families there, with four kids and four adults. There used to be another adult, but she passed away a few years ago from cancer.

But this seems to be an ideological thing about living lightly on the planet. They are all highly educated, too. So it makes me wonder if cooperation is something that only the well-off can afford? If you’re poor, can you not even organize? Can you not share your troubles and make things easier? Is it because people don’t know how to?

What is possible? What would work? How can people help themselves or help each other to raise themselves out of poverty?

JLeslie's avatar

People who spend every penny they earn. Or, worse they think debt is normal and spend more than they earn. I have friends right now who have to sell their home worth over a million dollars because they spend so much money. Why the hell a person in their 50’s would a build a house for over one million dollars and have a big mortgage when they know their job might disappear I will never undertand. They grew up poor, and I guess they have a poor mentality. Spending money when they get it. Not all poor people have a poor mentality, some just need to catch a break, or have an opportunity, and they get out of poverty. But, some get out of poverty because they wind up earning incredibly high incomes, but they put themselves back in the poor house so to speak when the income stops.

I also lived with a roomate when I first graduated college, many of my friends did. I keep hearing people say young people can’t even afford to live anymore they have to move back home. I do think it is even harder now, but we could not live on our own either back when I graduated in 1990.

I do have incredible empathy and understanding for those who earn very very little. Many times I have said on fluther I think wages should be higher and the working poor is rather upsetting to me. Not being able to make ends meet when someone works 40 hours a week and does watch their money and cares about paying their bills is heartbreaking. Miss one day of work, or laid off for a short time, and everything can spin out of control. Missed payments, late fees, once behind the 8 ball it is difficult to dig yourself out. Having savings to carry ourseves through unexpected bad times is crucial to not winding up paying out more in the end and having less.

I actually had a few months when I was first on my own as an adult that I ran out of money. My dad offered me $1,000 and I accepted it. It kept me from not getting behind on bills. I had gone through taking a promotion, but the promotion meant making almost half the money I had been earning. I eventually quit, and then the next job didn’t work out. I learned all sorts of lessons with the turmoil I went through during that time. Lessons about work, employers, and that one of the worst stresses is money stress. I knew if I could avoid it I never wanted to worry about money again.

lightsourcetrickster's avatar

Economic distribution I think is the term for it. I’m not sure if the same thing applies to you folks over the States – so I can’t really speak for you on that one, but it’s a noticeable issue in the UK.

Economic distribution (if that is exactly what it is…I mean I’m educated but I’m not that educated) is a major problem. If everyone had the same level of expenses in every part of the country then perhaps there would be no need to struggle.
Starting from the small side of things first.
In Huddersfield (which is in northern England), a chocolate bar could cost as little as maybe 30 pence (about 48 cents). In Southampton (which is MUCH further south) it could cost as much as 60 or 70 pence for the same kind of chocolate bar.
Another example only on a grander scale. In Huddersfield, a person can rent an entire two bedroom house for as little (and it is little in comparison to what I’m paying) as £260 (approx $412.75) a month (and just so people know, I do know someone who rents just such a property for just that sum of money). Where I live, it’s £565 (approx $896.32) per month for a one bedroom flat. Those in charge of such costs and major decisions can say “Oh it’s because you’re close to the beach/town/major amenities/entertainment establishments.” I say horsecrap. It’s because capitalist pigs want more money because the place appears to be better than anywhere else. And then those capitalist pigs buy property and then get their tenants to pay their mortgages for them.
Currently my parents have a mortgage that is cheaper on repayments than my rent is a whopping total of £150 per month!! Go figure!
Apparently renting is a lifestyle choice according to some media related source – I forget which. I can assure you, I don’t like renting, but it’s the only thing I can do in my current circumstances!

rojo's avatar

@lightsourcetrickster Where I live, the rents are higher than in many towns our size. But, we also pay higher taxes than they do too and repairs/maintenance also costs more. I am not sure whether our insurance rates are different. But, what I am trying to say is that not all money from rent goes into the pocket of the landlord.
As for the mortgage, my first house 3 bedroom house was cheaper than the last car I bought but I can tell you at the time we purchased it we were working hard to make the payments. Nowadays, my home insurance costs me more than that original house payment and escrow did and my car payment is about double what the mortgage was.
Things change.

Judi's avatar

@YARNLADY, I should also point out that it has been my experience, having lived in both worlds, that the police are more Likley to pull someone over in an older “clunker” car than in a newer more expensive car. I was amazed at how the police just left me alone when I drove a new car compared to the clunkers I drove when I was poor.

laureth's avatar

@wundayatta – As a poor person from age 18-present, I’ve never lived alone. Either I shared an apartment, or rented a room in a boarding house situation, or lived with my guy. That’s how I was able to afford rent.

Judi's avatar

I should add that one thing that helped lift me out of poverty was getting a job as an apartment manager. I didn’t have to worry about rent or utilities, and didn’t rely much on a car. It eliminated 3 of the major stresses of poverty. I still had to worry about food and healthcare but my salary covered food. (this was 25+ years ago.)

linguaphile's avatar

To add to all this, if someone in poverty gets into a legal scrape, no matter how large or small, they’re in for an express ride to hell. The system rewards people with money to buy any lawyer- good or bad- and anyone who needs public defense gets a “tsk-tsk.”

The people at the welfare office are usually quite rude, but correctional officers are unbelievable. No matter your crime, they treat you like you’re the worst possible form of humanity on earth, but if you come from money or connections, they suddenly become much more cooperative. I haven’t gotten into any legal scrapes myself, but have heard enough from others.

God forbid you need extra assistance, like an interpreter or large-print materials. In Colorado, a deaf guy was put in jail. They didn’t provide him with any access to communication, didn’t explain anything to him and put him alone in a cell. He had no idea what was going on around him, how long he would be in and didn’t know why he was there. He couldn’t talk to anyone around him or strike up a conversation with his neighbors. In essence, he was in isolation the whole time he was there. His family’s pleas for assistance went ignored and he killed himself. If his family had money, unquestionably, he’d still be alive.

While I’m on that soapbox… what gets my craw is when a kid disappears or is killed. If the kid comes from money, the family usually gets extensive media coverage. If the kid comes from poverty, usually blip. When JonBenet Ramsey disappeared, a similar situation happened in Alabama to a little Latina girl from a trailer park but not many people know about the Latina girl.

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