Pretty interested article in the Boston Review on the sociology of poverty. I saw Charles Murray on Real Time with Bill Maher and I think he's an idiot but Fischer's article is pretty insightful:
The American impulse is to target the culture—teach abstinence, discipline kids, lecture parents, preach punctuality, provide moral training—so that the chronically poor will be ready when opportunity knocks. The alternative, more European, is to target the opportunity structure—provide jobs and practical training, guarantee health benefits and housing—so that tomorrow is more predictable and middle-class scripts are more practical.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
I'll be turning 47 in a few weeks. A big number. But arthritis aside there's one thing that pisses me off more than anything else. See, I'm poor. And some people, especially my own family, are oblivious to this. You might even say they're conveniently oblivious.
This was fine 20 years ago. At 27, I was trying to go to college. (Not surprisingly, this was something I couldn't afford). But now that I'm staring 50 in the teeth, it's a bigger deal. I have no retirement, pension or 401k.
A friend (from a moderate upper-middle class family) came and visited me after I had foot surgery in February. Upon surveying my noisy, cramped apartment she said: "This is just like an apartment my parents had in college." And that would be fine, if I was still in my twenties, but I'm not.
Another friend was shocked when I asked her for a loan (which I paid back) in spring 2010 because I couldn't pay my rent. "Couldn't you take it out of savings?" she asked. "What savings?" I answered. I had a modest savings account when I'd been laid off from my last contract job in late 2008. I'd squirreled away about five grand but that was long gone by 2010 after two years of the Great Recession, unemployment/under-employment and a lingering Workman's Comp suit-slash-back injury.
That friend had a house, mostly paid for. She and her husband both worked for a software giant. They had a motorcycle, paid for. Two late-model cars, one a Porsche, paid for. They had home entertainment systems, new personal computers that were replaced seasonally and numerous other gadgets including a top-of-the-line digital camera that cost more than all the digital cameras I've owned put together. My friend and her hubby had comprehensive medical insurance. If they got the sniffles, they dropped everything and went to the nearest holistic doctor. They both had multiple gym memberships that included free massages and physical therapy. They both had retired parents who had pensions and owned their own homes.
Back in Reno circa 2000, I had an acquaintance say to me: "You're so lucky you rent. You're not tied down, you're footloose and fancy free." Yeah, footloose enough that I might loose my apartment at a moment's notice thanks to Nevada's draconian rental laws (and I did a couple times). Oh, lucky me.
I know part of my poorness is because I'm not married. I've been engaged and had live-in boyfriends in the past but these days finding my "one true love" and cramming our stuff into one rental sounds about as much fun as my next root canal. I'm not looking for anyone to "complete me". That's such a fucked up, co-dependent way of looking at relationships I could devote an entire separate post to it. Suffice it to say, I have dalliances, not live-in relationships because live-in relationships are expensive. When and if that loving feeling ends, somebody's gotta move out. Rental trucks have to be hired and breakups are expen$ive.
I'm starting a new job next week. It will be the first time I've worked as a technical writer since 2008. And, though I'm thrilled to be going back to work, I'm not eager to rejoin the Cubicle Prairie. I'm not in love with the colors gray or beige and not looking forward to staring at those colors for 40+ hours a week, while waiting for my lumbar sprain and sciatica to make a painful return.
As Tyler Durden said in Fight Club, "This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time."
While contracting at Boeing in 2008, I shared a cubicle with a guy who had a heart attack. In the cubicle. At work. He's okay now but it was scary and jarring and made me take a long look at what I was doing with my life and how I wanted to live the rest of it.
As for housing, I’ve never had the privilege of owning one. I toyed with the idea in 1994 (a year of profoundly bad decisions). I had an idiot relative insist I could buy a tiny plot of land outside Reno, make a go of it in some weird mobile-home-converted-into-a-fire trap. Of course, I didn’t have the advantage of having a spouse who would support me via three minimum-wage jobs while I dipped my toe in the real estate market and pondered my wonderfulness. But I was going to a state university and student loan debt blasted whatever vague semblance of credit I might have had right out of the water.
It’s amazing that after YEARS of being poor I still have to explain that I’m poor to my relatives. They’ve been down playing my poverty to assuage their guilt for so long I am forever hearing phrases like “your apartment must be cozy.” Cut the Century 21 bullshit. A $500,000 cabin with a wood stove overlooking a lake is cozy. I live in a dumpy, low-income apartment with paper-thin walls. Just like I did when my mother was raising me. If that was “cozy” why did my Mom have so much trouble paying the winter heating bill?
When I say I'm poor, I'm not suggesting I'm Third World poor. I'm not typing this from a cardboard shack perched atop a landfill in Guatemala, the Philippines or some other living hell. I don't forage for food in dumpsters like the street urchins of the Ukraine.Yet. But sitting here in my tiny apartment, I'm close enough to the street to hear the homeless people pushing their shopping carts up the sidewalk. Unlike a whole lot of upper-middle class folks I know, I visited food banks before late 2008.
So stop whining about how much in taxes you had to pay on your stock dividends this year, rich bitch in my yoga class. And quit complaining about how your $8,000 retreat to Maui was cut short because your parents reined in your trust fund, other rich bitch. And I don't give a crap if your Lexus got towed while parked in Belltown because I haven't owned a car in eight years. This was a choice but, like 90-percent of all my decisions, it came down to money. And that's something I've never had enough of to really pass for middle class.