Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Poverty Matters

Sometimes, it is just too much to bear. For years, (you heard it right, folks, years), I've been asking how people are getting by when they make so little. I ask this question because I have been fairly fortunate to have my own home, to make a decent salary, and to find myself able to  make a decent life for myself.

However, I know that there are people out there who are not making enough. This recent story from msn money explains one woman's life of living just above the poverty line, making 6.50 per hour, living in Montana.

The unfortunate thing is that I know there are many people in this situation. Through a network that I belong to, I found out about a local man who was in his fifties and had a problem where he and his wife now no longer have a car so that at least one of them could work.

This is the ultimate issue; people are not necessarily living when they make wages this low--they are surviving. And these are not lazy people either. They simply have had bad luck or need more skills to move up.

I talked to my mom about this and she reminded me of times when I was little when the money situation was tight; and I always knew as a kid subconsciously when money was ok or if it was tight. For me and my mom, education was the key. My mom became a nurse, and I got a bachelors degree with a double major and concentrated in several key subject areas.

Education was the key because it allowed us to discuss topics and have credentials to get interviews and jobs where we could actually afford things we needed to live. And the jobs it got us raised our standard of living and brought us both into contact with other wealthier, more educated people increasing our social network for other jobs, money-saving opportunities, and advice.

So while I agree with some of the core principals that this person states: you shouldn't define yourself based on income and that there is "no shame in being poor", I truly feel that being poor is ok if you are happy. But most people are like this woman who "envys her friends kitchenware". And I don't think we're talking expensive stuff from Crate and Barrel or Williams Sanoma here.

If you really don't have enough money to go out to eat once every few months, or buy a new shirt or pair of jeans when you could really use one, or to buy yourself pots and pans while everyone you know is able to do those things, I don't think that it is a situation where you can really say you are happy. (I'm not talking about foregoing these things because you are saving for something like the recent trend of 'buy nothing' months; that's a different ball of wax.)

And I don't think it's greed either. There are tons of people that have less than even the most poverty stricken people in the united states, but we have a culture and society that surrounds us with rich people. And for anyone to be working very, very hard in this country and end up barely able to survive, it is a sad situation.

The far more likely situation, based on my personal experience, is that people make choices to stay in poverty. They won't work hard to get educated. They won't take a second  job. They won't ask for help with babysitting, transportation, etc. They enjoy being victims of their circumstances, a bad divorce, a bad breakup, a broken home, or a medical situation. And worst of all, many people live and wallow in the regret, shame, and blame of their past choices.

The only way to make progress is to move forward; learn from mistakes and make better choices in the future. Just doing this myself over the past year has been a huge positive step. This change in attitude helped retire 2 credit card debts and 1 student loan so far in just about 1 year. With another debt payoff on the horizon, things are looking good.

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