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What Do You Think? Do Poor People Have It Too Good?

by Shawanda Greene

I want to hear what you think about this.

The other day, a reader emailed me an exchange he had with a Facebook friend.

The Census Bureau recently reported that in 2010 over 46 million – nearly 1 in 6 Americans, lived in poverty.

While the media dramatized these findings, my reader shared his reaction to the report on Facebook. Essentially inviting others to weigh in.

Apparently, Facebook is a platform where you can discuss the complex social issues facing America. Here I thought it existed solely for people who derive a sick satisfaction from butchering the English language and misspelling commonly used words.

Below is the conversation I received. I’ve changed the names of the two characters involved to protect their anonymity.

I have my own opinions about the matter, but I won’t say too much.

Read through it.

Let me know how you feel about the treatment of America’s poor.

Methuselah Honeysuckle:

When I ride through any impoverished area, I see late model cars. I see overweight people. I see new shoes. Liquor stores. High priced cigarettes. I see houses with $150 cable packages.

I am a Section 8 landlord.

I’m telling you. The poor have more protections than my free market tenants.

My properties get inspected yearly. I bet the federal government doesn’t pay for your home to be inspected once a year.

Who do you think pays for all this?

I’ll never forget walking into one of my Section 8 rental properties and seeing grown men, in the middle of the day, watching the NFL Network. At the time, you had to have the digital tier to get the channel. My tenant had satellite TV installed.

The Heritage Foundation’s report found very few poor people live in substandard housing.

Where does this notion that they are homeless come from?

I have tenants that have had a baby and get rewarded with a larger home. Why? Because the government says so. The average American doesn’t get a bigger house for having a child. They are competing against you and me for housing. But they [Section 8 tenants] have the credit of the US government behind them. That drives prices up for everyone.

To think, with all we do for the poor, on the first day of school in Detroit, roughly 50% of the recipients of all this largesse couldn’t even be bothered to send their kids to school. Essentially guaranteeing another generation.

These are the hidden costs of our underclass. They are living far too good. Sooner or later, this has to come to an end.

Who’s going to be left to pay for all this?

Longbranch Pennywhistle: The kids are embarrassed to accept free lunch because people in this country still blame all poor people for being poor without considering that sometimes, they ARE doing everything they can and for one reason or a few, are in need of assistance.
Everyone is making money off them but those same people condemn them.

How many times have you stopped judging those men watching football to offer them a job?

I’m sure that if you have rental properties, you have maintenance needs, have you ever asked one of them if they have skills they’re trying to put to use?

I’m not trying to come down on you, Methuselah, but until you’ve BEEN where these people are, I find it distasteful that you would lump them all in the “trifling, useless, taking advantage of the system” category.

Yes, those people DO exist.

I actually know one, but for a while, after 9/11, I WAS one.

I had a $2,000 mortgage and a $600 car payment, and after two years I’d gone through my savings, my unemployment, found myself having to take three week consulting assignments working for half of what I was worth.

And when I found myself needing a little assistance, I was denied BECAUSE I had a mortgage and a car note so trust me, the system isn’t designed to help people get ahead.

As for late model cars, most people in “impoverished” neighborhoods are REQUIRED to get a late model car if they are getting it financed and are trying to build/rebuild credit.

They are usually overweight because it’s cheaper to eat bad. McDonald’s doesn’t have a salad on the Dollar Menu; chicken, lean cuts of meat and fresh veggies are much more expensive than hot dogs, ground beef and potato chips.

Being poor is about as adventageous as being a leper.

Every organization takes advantage of them….and don’t get me started on liquor stores in impoverished neighborhoods!

I’m an educator and the jobs are not here. My husband is an aircraft electrician. We both have master’s degrees. You are living in your own dream world.

What crystal ball are you looking in?

Methuselah Honeysuckle: Well go where the jobs are, Longbranch! Don’t just sit there and go broke!

So what do you think? Do poor people in the United States have a good thing going?  

This article was featured in the Carnival of Wealth: There’s Never Enough Carnival to Go Around” Edition at Control Your Cash.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea @SoOverDebt September 21, 2011 at 10:00 AM

I filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2006, and I bought a 2006 model vehicle in the middle of the bankruptcy. Why? Because there were restrictions on mileage for me to get financing – the bank wanted to make sure they could repo something of value in the event I didn't pay.

I felt like a total asshole driving around in an almost new car when I couldn't even pay my bills. But I had to be able to drive to work (40 miles away) and there were no other options.

People are SO judgmental when poor people want the same things we do. OMG they have cell phones! Well, do they suddenly not want to talk to their friends and family just because they don't have money? OMG they watch tv! What else are they supposed to do?

I could lose my job tomorrow, and while I'd like to think I could get another job fairly quickly, I can't predict that. Once my emergency fund ran out (about 6 weeks at the moment), would my car and house suddenly turn into pumpkins? Would my flat screen TV disappear, or my clothes magically become old and tattered? I would still look like everyone else, and I'd hang on to what I had for dear life because who knows when I could get anything like that again.

Sorry, I'm writing a post inside your comment box. I just get fired up about this issue. People have NO CONCEPT of what it's really like to be poor and no consideration for the circumstances that might have gotten someone there.

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Shawanda September 25, 2011 at 8:08 AM

Thanks for the blog post – I mean comment. :)

The only time I've been poor was in college. And I'd probably identify more with being broke than poor back then. To me, being broke is more of a temporary state.

I don't think there's anything wrong with poor people wanting the same thing as everyone else. That's completely natural. However, I don't think being poor somehow earns you the right to have what other people who've worked hard and sacrificed have. If you're a hard worker and not afraid of sacrifice, then you probably won't be poor very long.

I understand that things happen beyond our control. I'm sympathetic to that. We should help those who are struggling temporary. But there are many people who've made a way of life living off the government. Many of whom don't pay any federal income taxes. Why should a group that contributes so little receive so much?

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shanendoah September 21, 2011 at 4:11 PM

I think that I'm concerned that anyone other than kids in dorms live somewhere without a fridge (and lots of dorm rooms have mini-fridges), that I can buy a color television for $10 (color does not mean flat screen or big screen or anything other than color), that if I rent, I have no control over whether or not the house/apartment I live in has AC…
I think people who have never been poor really have no idea. And I'm one of those people. However, I'm married to someone who was, and trust me, it has lasting effects.
We donate to food drives every year, and my husband insists that everything we donate is something we would eat ourselves. He still remembers getting a can of anchovies on Christmas.
And my MIL- won't eat spaghetti. They lived on it for years (spaghetti noodles and tomato paste have always been cheap), so she refuses to eat it now that she can afford something better.
But according to the Heritage Report, they wouldn't have been really poor because they had a fridge, a range/oven, and didn't live with 20 other people.

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Shawanda September 25, 2011 at 8:25 AM

I think what the Heritage Report is trying to get at is that America's poor have a pretty good standard of living. It may not be the best when you compare them to the middle-upper and upper income Americans, but if you compare our poor to the rest of the world, they're doing all right for themselves.

I'm not sure if people in many parts of America understand how much government assistance the poor may be entitled to.

I know "poor" people who get thousands of dollars back every year in income taxes they never paid.

They receive childcare services which could easily be valued at about $700 a month per child.

They live in subsidized housing. In some areas the benefit could add up to a couple thousand dollars a month.

They get food stamps. Many food stamp recipients I know receive hundreds of dollars a month.

And then there's Medicaid. If you've ever tried to purchase health care as an individual, you know how expensive that can be.

One of my friend's qualified for down payment assistance of $20K to buy a house because she had a low income. I have another friend who's probably considered a middle-upper income earner tell me that summer camp for her son would cost $160 a month while a colleague who made less money could send her son to the same camp for $40 a month.

Personally, I think Americans can learn a thing or two from our nation's immigrants. They seem to be more cohesive.

We have to make choices. You can live in a 3 bedroom house with a whole bunch of people in it or you can eat spaghetti every day. I can live in an older, but more affordable apartment, occasionally take in paying house guests, or work until 75.

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Toy Lady September 22, 2011 at 8:40 AM

I know what it's like to be poor – to open the cupboard and have to decide between rice or pasta. Or nothing. We went through a period, when I was a very young (and somewhat dumb) bride where a local convenience store extended us credit – so when we ran out of cash, we'd be able to buy convenience store crap – at grossly inflated prices – to tide us over, paying it back on Friday, thus leaving us short for the next week, to start the cycle all over again. And I know what it's like to eat so much of something – because it's cheap – that you never want to look at it again. There was a time when it was easier and cheaper to take a hit of speed (which suppressed the appetite) than to eat. I know how it is to have to decide between rent or the electric bill, and to keep the thermostat just above freezing so the pipes didn't burst because you didn't know how you'd be able to pay for another tank of fuel this winter. And I didn't have cable, didn't have a phone, I didn't buy junk food or booze, and I didn't buy new clothes or manicures and I wore my hair in an ever-longer braid rather than paying to have it cut. I got my priorities straight and took care of what needed to be taken care of, for both myself and my family. And what I have – what I've worked for – has far more value than it would had it been a "benefit."

There's a difference between a temporary safety net and a way of life. Poor people – even the "working poor" – have got to take responsibility for themselves.

Yikes. Maybe I need to do my own blog post. . .

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Shawanda September 25, 2011 at 8:35 AM

Wow. Sounds like you were really struggling there for a while. I'm glad you got your priorities straight and "took care of what needed to be taken care of."

My mother grew up really poor. Fortunately, her and my dad were able to provide a very comfortable life for us kids. I remember my mother telling me she had only two pairs of underwear when she was a kid. That she'd have to hand wash them and alternate.

Everyone who knew my grandmother said she was an excellent cook. She didn't have access to the best spices and finest cuts of meat. My mother told me that my grandmother would bake chicken and use the chicken fat to cook other meals in. After grits became cold, my grandmother would mold them into patties and fry them. There are ways to get by.

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My University Money September 22, 2011 at 9:01 AM

I know that there is a fine line here. It seems like big government programs can never distinguish between helping someone out with a "hand up" and feeding the types of people that make a living off of milking the government. I think one thing the government should look at it tying some financial aid to moving to jobs-rich places. For example, I live close to the North Dakota border right now, and that place is booming! They can't find enough of workers, and they're paying crazy good wages! Many of these impoverished people don't have a lot of education, so the whole idea of training them up to a certain level is usually unrealistic, but moving them to Fargo to deal with a little cold (still much warmer than up here in Canada) and make a ton of money in the oil fields sounds like a decent solution to me!

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Shawanda September 25, 2011 at 8:41 AM

That's a great idea! I've heard some say we should help move people in parts of the country where there are hardly any jobs to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern part of the United States. However, that probably won't work out very well if these areas don't have any jobs for which the people relocating are qualified.

North Dakota sounds like a much better alternative for the less skilled unemployed. I wonder how many Americans would sign up to relocate to North Dakota if the government paid for the move.

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AlwaysAnExcuse September 22, 2011 at 12:29 PM

If you can open up your cupboard and have rice & pasta, what are you complaining about? I know. You want to see lobster and steak? Where does this entitlement mentality come from?

It just sounds insane that someone going through foreclosure would have a late model car. How do you make payments on it? The insurance? When times get tough, cable, late model car, and expensive data plans on cell phones should be the first things cut.

It is time for the poor to tighten their belt like everyone else in this country.

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Shawanda September 25, 2011 at 8:46 AM

I'm not sure what the circumstances were for people who say they have to buy a brand new car and finance it, but I have a family member whose purchased older, reliable vehicles from "buy here pay here" car lots for years. Her credit is probably about as good as someone who has filed for bankruptcy.

I agree that when people's incomes drop, they need to be prepared to make some tough decisions about what they're realistically able to keep and what they need to get rid of. Many people wait far too long to get their expenses under control.

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Carly June 11, 2012 at 8:59 AM

This is going to sound so nasty .. but many times I have found myself secretly frustrated becuase some of my friends have been given these amazing homes and a generous monthly stipent by the government on account of them having a spouse in the military or because they got pregnant. They then don't have to work and can spend all day watching cable tv (which I don't have) and its all on the government's dime. I work two jobs, live in a simple studio apartment, and before that was in a series of share houses with housemates that were loud, inconsiderate, and messy. In a way I felt like I was being punished for knowing how to use a condom!
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A. Gonzales July 24, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Growing up we were very broke, and survived off of beans and rice MOST of the time. However, I was just telling my husband the other day, quitting my job and getting on welfare sounded like a good plan since then, we’d be able to get government assistance for just about anything. (I was just joking of course) But I personally see many around me that take advantage of unemployment, and government assistance like section 8, foodstamps and free medical insurance and because of it, not even TRY to get a better job, or a job at all and they can still drive brand new cars, shop and get their hair and nails done EVERY weekend. I was once on Section 8, foodstamps while in college but I worked my butt OFF to become self sufficient. The day I called Section 8 and told them I was happily requesting to turn in my voucher because I no longer needed assistance was a great day. Do you know how many people told me I was nuts and should have taken advantage of it as long as possible???
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Sam September 2, 2012 at 2:38 PM

I hope the original starter of the conversation was once poor. Otherwise, what credibility does she have?
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kathryn February 4, 2013 at 9:29 PM

People who declare bankruptcy are just as bad as the people who abuse welfare. Change the bankruptcy rules. If payments need to be lowered, so be it.Don’t allow them them to walk away scott free. It doesn’t seem to hamper their ability to get more credit, from the looks of the cars they drive.
Very few people live in poverty. If they do, it is because they choose to not access government benefits.Having a bedroom for every child is rediculous.
People on welfare are not entitled to anything. Mobile phones, landline phones, internet,vehicles,cable, satellite,computers, etc are luxuries.
If they have time to sit home and watch tv, they have time to search for work, collect pop cans for recycling. They can babysit in their home, or go to the child’s home. They can get a newspaper/flyer delivery route.
They can get of their butt and start cooking inexpensive nutritious meals. If you don’t know how, get a book, or do a google.Clean their home.Help their kids with homework. If they didn’t finish school, have their children help them learn.
Learn other ways to reduce costs. Take in a boarder.take in a single mom with a child, and provide them with room and board in exchange for child care. Take in a working parent, and share the house expenses and childcare expenses.

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Shawanda Greene February 4, 2013 at 10:24 PM

You’ve provided so much good advice in your comment I don’t even know where to start.

I’ll start here. “Having a bedroom for every child is ridiculous.”

Ain’t that the truth. As long as the siblings are of the same sex, I’m all for them sharing a bedroom. By today’s standards, my childhood home was a tiny 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom singly-family home–no larger than 1,500 square feet, and it accommodated a family of five just fine.

I’m shocked at how some (of course not all) “poor” people can shun honest sacrifice. People who receive food stamps are among the least likely to coupon. They should be the main ones trying to figure out how to stretch a dollar.
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kathryn February 5, 2013 at 12:26 AM

My husband and I are also landlords (in Canada). On occassion we have welfare tenants. Our rules are a bit different in our province. They can break their contract without penalty from Community Services. They have to agree for the landlord to be paid directly.We cannot garnishee their benefits if they stop paying or trash our property. Now we insist anyone without employed income, must have a co-signer.
We see how “the poor” live. They have lots of fast food, pizza and alcohol. They all smoke and most have big flat screen tvs. They all have internet, mobile phones, cable packages.
We may have a lot of properties, but we also have a lot of debt, and responsibilites to go with it.Our bank doesn’t care when 15% of our tenants decide to not pay, or when 25% pay late. We need to be able to have money to pay.
We’ve had to turn our heat down, and listen to our kids complain it was cold when we were tight for money. Kids take lunches to school. I worked in a factory and brownbagged my lunches.My husband spend his days cleaning up crap tenants left behind (sometimes literally). Our groceries from the reduced rack at the grocery store. Stock up on sales, and make almost everything from scratch.
Over the years we have delivered 367 weekend fliers every saturday..on foot, for 2 years, for extra money. I have babysat 5-6 kids in my home, when mine were little.I sold Avon in my spare time.
Never have we gone to a food bank, or on welfare. We didn’t take expensive vacations. My husband would drive me to work, so he could use the vehicle. (no public transport) We picked berries to save costs.
Eventually all our hard work and sacrifice paid off. We now live in Australia in their summer, and canada in our summer.We are frugal and still live on an average of $1000 month for the 2 of us.
We never thought we were hard done by, with our life style. We knew we would be in a better financial place by working hard.
We look back at these days with pride.

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