Friday, September 11, 2009

Fulfilling the promise of poverty

Financial Times:

The US poverty rate jumped from 12.5 per cent in 2007 to 13.2 per cent last year, with 39.8m people in poverty. Poverty is defined as an individual with an annual income of less than $11,200 or a family of four earning less than $22,200.

I lived in poverty for several years. Mostly what I took from it was gum disease and narcolepsy; also, a healthy indebtedness to credit card companies, who I ultimately relied on for necessary and unforeseen expenses. Now that I have entered into conjugal partnership those issues stand resolved, but I still err on the side of hoarding food that has not gone obviously bad under an "innocent until proven guilty" clause.

I met the government's standard of "poverty" by working part-time in an entry-level position after college. Suffice it to say, my strongest interests -- learning music and reading books -- were not well-suited to a respectable career, which, experience had counseled, can too quickly become all-consuming. So I worked as little as possible, to reasonably good effect, an aching jaw and occasional loss of consciousness notwithstanding.

Socially, this was alienating -- it is hilarious explaining to friends, all the more family, that you don't want full-time work when the alternative is akin to non-existence; not having money makes social relationships nigh impossible: there is almost no modern recreation that occurs without paying a third party to supply or grant access to the experience. The concept is even more alien when you say it's because you want to do something you love. If fact, whatever you do, don't say that. There isn't a place big enough for "what you love" in corporate culture -- except, of course, if "what you love" is also extremely profitable. Given those not-so-good odds, it's probably easier to chase what is extremely profitable in the hopes it will someday become what you love. Well, good luck with that.

With all the advantages of a privileged upbringing, it is impossible to characterize my experience as poverty except in a strict material sense; and even then I had the advantages of public resources which attend most developed societies. It should also be said that I had excellent health care, thanks only to a union-negotiated labor contract. The reality is more likely that I was not living in poverty at all, since health insurance probably doubled my total compensation. Still, I would not describe it as any kind of life, except insofar as I enjoyed freer range to pursue what interested me.

The main point is that almost everyone is only one layoff or one injury away from poverty, regardless of their background. Most of us are just one misfortune away from losing our residences as well. This doesn't even take into account the fact that our parents will require assistance as they age, or that raising children is expensive; each step of the way, we pay for life's natural progression in ways we can't afford, securing a dependency on others who in turn control us. Never mind that we once had personal ambitions for ourselves!


Montag said...

amen, brother.

Anonymous said...

my boss comes up to me yesterd. and says, commenting on my own ed. background, his daughter wanted to get an MFA and his reply? "not if you want to be flippin' burgers all your life." being an at will wage slave, i nodded & smiled.

smug prick annoyed the hell out of me.

nony said...

right on.