The Reason We Need to Understand What it is to Be Poor in America
When the car not starting is a heart-stopping catastrophe or a scheduled day off means the bills will not be paid, the job(s) does not provide a living. Struggling on the way to a secure lifestyle and working through temporary hardships are part of life. The problem is that more and more people face financial challenges that too many will not be able to overcome. Because poverty affects our civilization in a number of socioeconomic ways, it is essential for us to realize being poor in America is becoming more of a norm that must be better understood by those who are not poor.
Poverty in Third World countries often translates into a lack of access to modern necessary conveniences like electricity or medical care while starvation is a very real possibility where food supply is disrupted. Although social programs are being whittled away even as the need for them grows, poverty in America is usually alleviated with the aid of social programs, but the American lifestyle does leave the impoverished without many modern necessities. The result is an analogous burden of despair and stagnation that compares in relative terms to the insurmountable struggles found in developing countries.
The Great Recession did quite a bit to open the cracks that have been forming in the American economy. Since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, Americans have pulled back from excess spending, inflated home prices have fallen, and savings rates have increased, but these things are ironically felt as burdens to our economy. Our addiction to excess created an economy that did not actually support the needs of our population in a sustainable fashion. This is partially why the unemployment rate has remained high despite the technical end of the Recession while the overall growth of the economy has been sluggish.
Thanks to the Recession, we realized our economy was growing from excess, not sustainable consumption. For the upper Middle Class, this meant spending for the sake of spending to the point a temporary loss of income could force an overleveraged family, which should be in a secure position for some time, into bankruptcy. The Middle Class, in turn, supplemented their lifestyles with credit cards and second mortgages even as their incomes shrank. The growing poor continued to juggle past due bills while indulging their very human need for excess by buying trinket luxuries that had no real value in terms of bettering their standard of living.
Where the wealthy and upper Middle Class have the option to pull back from a lifestyle of excess, unless they are critically overleveraged, the Middle Class and poor have far fewer options when it is time to slash their personal finances. For these socioeconomic classes, cutting back translates into real pain, which might include a total loss of what little wealth they have amassed throughout their lives. The Middle Class feel this not only when their children give up costly hobbies or bills outside of barebones necessities must be eliminated, but they live this when they lose their homes.
As the divide between the haves and have nots develops into a chasm with the number of poor only growing, this socioeconomic class experiences devastation quite differently. To the poor, excess means dollar trinkets and luxuries like cell phones. As such, supposed modern necessities are quite a burden. Having to compete against individuals with greater access to tools like the internet, life experiences, and other resources of the modern world, it is ever harder for the poor to improve their lives. Meanwhile, insecurity brought on by subpar living conditions and rising costs of necessities like heating leave the poor struggling for survival instead of thriving toward a better lifestyle.
The decline of the Middle Class and the expanding ranks of the poor undermine our civilization on a number of economic and social fronts. When opportunity is far more distant, the psychology of being poor pushes people to settle instead of striving for better. What hurts our society the most in the long run is the loss of opportunity for greater productivity and novel thinking exasperated by the increased need to sustain those living on the edge. If our society is to address this dynamic, we must change the mechanisms of our economy, so more individuals can enrich themselves by expanding our economy while once again rewarding hard work with gains in standard of living.