Friday, June 24, 2016

Of the Working Poor: My Introduction

The reality: I am a member of the economic group called "the working poor." The people in this group have jobs, but they are usually minimum wage jobs, often part time so they need more than one in order to make enough money to pay the bills. They live paycheck to paycheck. They are exhausted. Maybe they've heard of Warren Buffet (I have), but I wonder if Warren Buffet really knows anyone in this economic group. They shop at discount stores, thrift stores, dollar stores, and low end grocery stores. Some have families to support, or are single mothers/fathers with children. Some are single (like me). They are young, old, middle-aged, healthy or disabled, living alone in subsidized housing or in a group home. Some are homeless. This is America today for a much larger percentage of the population than the people who are members of the economic group known at the "1%" believe.

The reality: I am no longer a good consumer. I have just enough money to pay my bills and no more.  So if you're a company who wants me to buy your product, whether it's furniture, clothing, books, or electronics, face the reality that I don't have the money to buy your products. If you're a company that grossly underpays your employees, you are contributing to the demise of your own company because you are not paying your employees enough so that they can buy your product.  I used to buy books, CDs, DVDs, go to movies, theater, concerts, restaurants, among many other social activities. No longer.  I used to buy clothing, shoes, jewelry and other accessories on a fairly regular basis, and I actually need a new handbag right now but I'm making the one I have (it's beginning to fall apart) last for as long as possible. I don't travel, don't take vacations.  I am no longer a good American consumer.  And I've discovered just how "easy" it is to do without, because there's so much out there on the market that human beings really do not need unless they have too much money. (Ha! One way for the poor to stick it to the rich? Just not buy anything, don't go into debt, and demand more pay.)

The reality: I work hard. I have more than one job. I work a part-time job, I work at marketing and promoting my first novel and my other writing in order to increase sales, I write nonfiction on a freelance basis for pay, and I have a small editing business that I need to promote more. But there are 24 hours in an earth day, not enough time to get everything done each day that I want to get done.  And also take care of myself.

The reality: It's fortunate that I'm single with no dependents. I also don't own a car with its associated maintenance, insurance, and fuel costs. But I have costs for public transportation. I must feed and clothe myself, and take care of my health. I have chronic illness that means I have higher than average medical costs. I walk a lot because it's cheap and it's also good for my health. No fancy gym membership for me! No nice new 2016 car! I also do not own a house which may or may not be a good thing. If I owned a house, I could sell it and live off the money for a year or more. I do own some possessions that I'm in the process of selling. This is a time-consuming process, even more so than I'd anticipated. Each item must be photographed, documented, sometimes appraised, and then either put up for sale online or through some other selling outlet like a dealer. (And what if nothing sells?!) I tell myself that the good thing about selling my possessions is that I'm cleaning out my storage unit as well as the clutter in my apartment.

The reality: I am not alone. I'm part of a large group of people whom I don't know personally but I know that I share their concerns and fears. I am also not angry. I'm frustrated, frequently frightened, and I've woken up in the middle of the night in the midst of a panic attack. So far, I've been able to pay the rent and my living expenses so I've been able to stay in my apartment. But I know that could change in the blink of an eye.  So far I've been able to secure state medical insurance so that my out of pocket costs are much lower than if I'd continued with private insurance. My illness is quiet, a much, much bigger deal than anyone without chronic illness can know.

It seems the American "middle class" is actually part of the working poor also. Neal Gabler wrote in the May 2016 issue of The Atlantic that he is a member of the middle class but would not be able to find $400 in a crisis. As I read his article, "The Secret Shame of the Middle Class," I thought about Capitalism. The American economy is a Capitalist economy. What does that mean, really? It means that there are people who provide goods or services to other people who pay for them.  Producers make the cost of their goods or services back plus a profit. Capitalism is an economic system motivated by the making of profit. Nothing more, nothing less. It is also a system based on supply and demand. The more the supply, the lower the demand and the cheaper the product. The less the supply, the more the demand, and the more expensive the product.

The reality: The purpose of American life is to make money, whether you are a worker or a member of the "1%." We must make money in order to live -- to obtain shelter, clothing, food, transportation, medical care, education, and security. We need money to have garbage collected, to pay for the delivery of water and power, to pay for phone service or internet.

How much time to you spend in an activity from which you receive money? Do you consider yourself middle class, wealthy, or a member of the working poor? Are you a good consumer? Do you know anyone who's a member of the working poor? Have you ever been a member of the working poor?

Please post your answers or thoughts in the comments section below.  Thanks!


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