Why Do We Always Blame the Poor?
I’ve been writing this post for the past 6 months. I’ve written and re-written it at least 10 times, and it never quite feels right. I’m always concerned that that it will be negatively received.
This is a really important post that needs to get out there, so here we go.
There is something dark lurking in the personal finance community. I didn’t notice it at first, but after starting Zero Day Finance a year ago, it has become painfully obvious. There is a small (but vocal) group of people who hate on poor people. Sometimes it shows up overtly in conversation, other times it is more subtle. Regardless, it is something that the personal finance community should not tolerate, and even seek to correct.
Poor People have a Tough Life
We need to get this out of the way. Right now. Poor people have a tough life. There is nothing glamorous about being poor. You almost universally work low-paying, high-stress jobs. Note the plurality of jobs: most poor people need to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
And when I say “make ends meet,” I really mean that they can pay for their rent and food, but not much else. Maybe they’ve got an old car that needs an oil change and new tires. If they’re really lucky, maybe they have a few dollars left over each month to make them feel human.
When you are poor, Everything is Expensive
You can ask a poor person how much milk and bread costs – they’ll know the lowest price, and at were to buy it. Because when they go shopping, they need to go to several stores, based of the current sales. They can only afford to purchase food on sale.
When you are poor, you don’t get to use the same financial system that higher-income people enjoy. What am I talking about? Banks. When you are poor, you most likely can’t bank like the rest of us do. At some point, you’ve overdrawn your checking account. Probably multiple times. If you don’t have enough money to pay for both rent and food, which one do you choose? Well, most likely food, because you need to eat to survive. At some point, you’ll have too many derogatory marks in ChexSystems, and then no more banks.
If you’ve never heard of ChexSystems, think of it like Equifax, but for banking. If you’ve never heard about it, then it probably never affected you before.
Many poor people have to rely on “Checks Cashed” storefronts to get their money. So they spend a ton of time working long hours at multiple jobs for minimum wage, and then need to pay exorbitant fees just to access their money. How bad are the fees? They are usually between 5% and 10% of their total salary, which is a lot for them. And hopefully they’ve never been really desperate, and taken out a payday loan. Because if they have, they’ll probably never escape that vicious cycle. Payday loans often have interest rates of 400% or higher.
Or, maybe they’re lucky and don’t have any negative marks in ChexSystems. Now they can just pay high highly fees to use your Bank of America checking account, because they don’t meet their $2,500 minimum checking account balance. Sure, the fees might only be $12 or $15 per month, but that is a lot when you only make $1,500 a month.
Survival is Your Mindset
When you’re poor, you don’t have the luxury to fantasize about the future. You live in a harsh reality where you don’t know if you’ll be able to put food on your table that night. So how in the world can you start thinking about IRAs and 401(k)s? You don’t have the time or the energy to spend hours reading MMM or Dave Ramsey. Excess time and energy are a luxury. Time and energy are your main currency, you convert that to money at a meager exchange rate.
When you’re poor, you probably don’t know that you can open up a credit union account and pay less (or nothing!) in fees. Hell, most high-income Millennials don’t even know that. Don’t believe me? Just go to r/personalfinance and see how many times that question gets asked in a single day. Or just observe the fact that there are tens of thousands (at least) of personal finance blogs. Why? Because so many people don’t know anything about finance. Why do we gently teach high-income folks, and blame the poor ones?
When you are poor, everything is about the present. Do you have food for tonight? Do you have $7 to put 2 gallons of gas in your car. Because you can’t even remember the last time your car had a full tank of gas. A full tank of gas is a luxury that you cannot afford. You don’t have time to research that if you invest $15 a day, you’ll build a $1,000,000 portfolio by the time you retire, because you are wondering if you have enough gas to get back home. What’s the best case scenario? If you’re poor, you’ll meet a “financial planner” that sells you an expensive whole life insurance policy with the promise of riches.
If you want to find out more about what it is like being poor, here is a Reddit thread (hint: you won’t get any warm fuzzies).
Too Many People Blame the Poor
Poor people need our help, and the personal finance community is perfectly tooled to help out. In fact, I am consistently surprised by the community that I now call home. Yesterday, I posted on Twitter, asking how people were planning on giving to charity in 2018. I was not prepared for the positive responses, and pure generosity of our community.
Is anyone creating a charity donation plan for 2018? Most of us are very privileged, and we can do a lot of good giving back to society
— Zero Day Finance (@zerodayfinance) December 30, 2017
The tweet had more than 21 replies, broken down into several threads. So many people donate both their time and money to help those in need. Whether its volunteering for your church or a local food bank, to making donations to organizations that help those in need. The wide variety of ways that people in my community help others makes me extremely happy.
Unfortunately, there are some of us that don’t share these opinions, and that’s okay. We don’t have to agree. But what happens when these opinions become increasingly negative? What happens when these people chastise and blame the poor? What happens when these people rob the poor of their own humanity, and reduce them to bad decisions and apathy?
I can’t stand for that. Given how connected we all are with text messaging and social media, I can guarantee you already know somebody like this. Some of these people are in our community, and they are often very vocal.
Overtly Blaming Poor People
I’ve seen too many tweets that overtly blame poor people, and fail to recognize the struggle they go through on a daily basis. So I’ll post some of them. I’ve slightly tweaked the content of these tweets, so you cannot search them and find the original posted. I actually toned them down, these tweets started off much worse.
“95% of poor people are poor because they want to be”
Woah. Pump the brakes. What? 95% of poor people are that way because they choose to be? This isn’t even factually accurate. Let’s think for 1 minute. Would you rather be financially poor, or financially comfortable. Oh, you picked financially comfortable? So did 99% of everyone. This is just a ridiculous, condescending comment.
We just went through 1,000 words that barely tips the iceberg of the struggles that poor people face. Struggles as I understand them, and I’ve never lived in extreme poverty. The closest I came to that was when I was a student. My financial aid + TA job barely covered my $425/month apartment, textbooks, and food. I can guarantee you that I did a piss poor job describing what it is like to be poor, and I already painted a negative picture.
Now just image what being truly poor feels like. Do you really think those people, 95% of them, actually want to be poor? I don’t think so.
Now, this original post didn’t get much attention. However, someone in our community, who we all interact with and is fairly popular, decided to share that tweet. It has since been deleted, although it was there for several days.
“Certainly true in USA, Canada, and Australia! Bar is low in these parts.”
Saying the bar is low in the USA, Canada, and Australia shows a lack of understanding about the struggles that poor people face. Unfortunately, this belief is built on a lie. The lie is “The American Dream.” The American Dream is the belief that anyone, even the poorest of the poor, can make it big and become successful.
Of course, this is technically true. There are thousands, even tens of thousands of poor people who have gone from rags to riches. But there are more than 300 million people in this country. If we want to isolate the group of people that actually went from poor to rich, we are talking numbers so small that you need scientific notation to accurately describe them. Going from rags to riches is the exception, not the rule.
It is this dream that leads to statements like this. I love the fact that people can make it big in America, but it isn’t common, it is extremely rare. So rare as to be effectively negligible. But enough of me talking about it, let’s hear from somebody who actually came from rags, and ended up in riches. Seriously, read that article. It is long, but informative.
Here’s another person that fails to appreciate how difficult it is to save any amount of money and get ahead.
“The bar is low in America. How to be in the top 5%: save/invest half your income, read a book a week, exercise 3x a week.”
That last tweet? It has 103 likes and 50 retweets. If you are reading this, and came from Twitter, I would bet money that you either follow or have interacted with this person. Remember, things seem really easy when you are sitting on a leather couch, typing on your $2,000 computer, and checking snapchats on your $800 cell phone. Let’s break this tweet down piece by piece. Remember, we are interpreting this within the context of “the bar is low in America.”
Save/Invest Half your Income
This just isn’t easy. Period. No if, ands, or buts. Saving half your income isn’t easy. I would wager that not a single person who makes anything less than $50,000 per year can do this. If you make $50,000 per year and pay 0 taxes, that means you need to live on $25,000 per year. Most people just can’t do this. Hell, I lived for free with parents for 4 months last year, and my spending was still a full $10,000 more than this figure. Saving half of your income is impossible except for very high income folks. We can’t call this a low bar.
Read a Book a Week
This one also isn’t easy. I’m an avid reader, but I just don’t have time to read 1 book a week. If the average book is 300 pages, and it takes 2 minutes to read a page, then you need to come up with an extra 10 hours a week to do this. Sure, 10 hours isn’t that much. But if you are poor, you are probably working 60 hours a week across 2 jobs. You might even need to take public transportation to get to the library to check out books. 10 hours can easily become 15 or 20, especially if you aren’t a fast reader.
Exercise 3x a Week
Again, another random metric. Exercising is a privilege. To exercise, you need a gym membership or a home gym. Of course you can get a $10/month gym membership from Planet Fitness. Realize this assumes you can easily get to the gym in the first place. If you need to take the bus to workout, its now going to take 3 hours to workout, or at least 9 a week. Wait, weren’t we supposed to spend an extra 10-15 hours a week reading? Where is all of this tie coming from?
Now, I’m going to be honest. I wholeheartedly agree with the second sentence in the tweet. I believe that if you want to be in the top 95th percentile, save half your income, read 1 book a week, and exercise 3x a week. But seriously, the first part of the tweet is cruel. The first part of the tweet implies that doing everything in the second part of the tweet is easy. It isn’t, not even for people who make $100,000 a year.
Stop Blaming Poor People
Poor people already have a ton of problems. From stressing about having enough money putting food on the table and paying rent on time, to not buying clothes for their kids because there just isn’t enough money. And this isn’t even referencing the impact that additional stress has on the human body. Stress often causes sickness, and I can tell you that poor people don’t have good healthcare plans.
Life is tough. I’d bet dollars to donuts that fewer than 1% of poor people actually want to be poor. Yet, so many people think the opposite. So many people blame them for their situations or trivialize their existence.
This is something that I will never stand for, and this isn’t something that the personal finance community should stand for, either. But we can change this. We can all work to help out.
I have a challenge for you. Let’s all positively contribute to peoples lives. If you were considering donating time or money to those in need, now is the time. If you see people blaming poor people, say something. As a community, we can enact so much positive change to help those in need. Whether it is through direct time or money, or helping to change peoples opinions. We can help, so let’s do it.
Good Hunting, and welcome to 2018