8 Ways Being Poor Is Wildly Expensive in America
Poor economy represented by empty wallet
Photo Credit: ZEF
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It takes money to make money, they say, but if you don’t have money you lose money. Those with the money have been cutting themselves so much of the money pie that half of us are poor or almost poor now. According to the US Census Bureau, half of Americans are poor, or just on the edge. Fifteen percent (46.5 million) are in poverty, while “half of Americans are in or near poverty." On top of that 76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Republicans constantly talk about how good the poor have it. In 2002 the Wall Street Journal called the poor “Lucky Duckies” because they are “the beneficiaries” of the progressive tax system and pay little or no taxes. But the reality is that it just plain sucks to be poor. It’s actually more expensive not having enough money to get by.
Here are nine examples of why it is expensive to be poor.
1. Getting around. When you don’t have the money to get a nice, reliable car you are stuck with time-consuming and not-inexpensive public transportation—if it is available at all. Investment in public infrastructure has declined dramatically since the Reagan tax cuts, and that was a long time ago. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) “ Infrastructure Report Card” gives our country’s transit systems a D, saying, “45% of American households lack any access to transit, and millions more have inadequate service levels.” Additionally, “deficient and deteriorating transit systems cost the U.S. economy $90 billion in 2010, as many transit agencies are struggling to maintain aging and obsolete fleets and facilities amid an economic downturn that has reduced their funding, forcing service cuts and fare increases.”
The alternative to relying on our crumbling and increasingly expensive-to-ride public transportation systems is finding an old beater to drive. Old cars break down and this costs money. It costs time. It can cost you a job. Lower-priced older cars will often be the ones that use a lot of gas, sometimes getting less than 20mpg. At today’s gas prices and today’s wages you’re eating up an hour or more’s pay every day just to get back and forth.
2. A place to live. When you rent a typical apartment you have to pay the first month’s rent, a security deposit and sometimes the last month's rent. You have to have a reference and usually a credit report. If you are poor you may not have any of these things, and you have to live somewhere else. That can be expensive. You might be in a week-to-week situation in a budget motel, requiring you to pay with a money order. Money orders cost money so you’re even paying a fee to pay for your place to sleep.
A 2012 McClatchy news story, Motel families live in limbo, explained,
They are not technically homeless. Yet they have no home beyond a week-to-week existence. Though comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, it’s clear that this lifestyle is becoming more common.… Typically, these families can’t afford the upfront costs of an apartment, so it’s either a motel or a shelter or the street.… Some families move from motel to motel, often for years, trying to be closer to jobs or to escape the harsh culture that sometimes develops.
3. Eating. Eating when you are poor is a problem. Of course, first is having money to get food at all. Then when you can get food you are faced with food choices that can lead to health problems. If you don’t have fridge or a stove you might depend on cheap fast food. If you don’t have a car (or gas for the broken-down car you have) you depend on what is nearby and local stores in bad neighborhoods are expensive compared to gleaming suburban supermarkets. Never mind buying in bulk at Costco, the membership fee alone is more than you can probably afford.