Being Poor

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can’t leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn’t spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won’t listen to you beg them against doing so.

Being poor is a cough that doesn’t go away.

Being poor is making sure you don’t spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

571 Comments on “Being Poor”

  1. “Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.”

    That one raised some memories. Back during my Army stint, I met a fair number of people who had joined the military, not for the training, not for the steady income, not for three hots and a cot each day, not for the GI Bill, but because the military would repair or replace the teeth rotting away in their head. Having bad teeth is one of THE major indicators of living in poverty.

  2. From someone who’s been there, and can still see it in the rear-view mirror, these are dead on. If I might add a few from personal experience (the * ones are from my mom’s POV, with the kids being me and my sibs) –

    *Being poor is your kids getting excited on Dumpster-hunt day, because that’s the only time they get to eat “real food” like cookies, fresh fruit and desserts.

    *Being poor is staying with a man who beats your kids because you can’t afford to keep them out of foster care without his salary.

    Being poor means making decisions like “is stealing food a sin” outside of an ethics class.

    *Being poor is scrambling under the car seats to make up enough change to get two happy meals to split between a family of 4 – and everyone is ecstatic when you do so.

    Being poor is realizing that heating and eating will probably be mutually exclusive this month.

    *Being poor is find that your landlord has tied $20 to your steering wheel out of pity.

    Being poor is finally realizing that when your Mom says you can be anything you want, she doesn’t really believe it, but feels she has to keep saying it anyway to keep the whole family from falling into despair-based lifestyles.

    Being poor is learning to live with condemned-quality housing because coming up with the first and last month’s rent, plus utility deposits, you’d need to move is a pipe dream.

    Being poor is discovering that that letter from Duke University, naming you as one of three advanced students in your class invited to test out of HS early into their scholarship program, is just so much firestarter because the $300 it costs to take the test may as well be $3 million.

    Despair is finally realizing, at nearly 36 and with a barely-afforded AA in English from a community college, just where you could have been by now had you had $300, and what that missed opportunity has truly cost you.

  3. Being poor is understanding that the lowest, poorest, starvingest time of the month for anyone on public assistance is exactly when Katrina hit.

  4. I laughed with tears in my eyes to see some of these because that is what it’s like.

    Being poor is taking a cash advance from the credit card–to pay the credit card minimum bill.

  5. More Scalzi

    Scalzi’s latest post on The Whatever is thought provoking for all of us who are just seeing the happenings in New Orleans on the news. Please read it before you try to understand why the things that are happening there are happening.

  6. “Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.”

    You know that involuntary little sharp intake of breath that we sometimes experience when a writer nails exactly the right…

  7. Being poor is trying to decide which one of you gets to eat today – the one of you that is pregnant or the one of you that can work.

  8. Being poor is fighting with someone you love because they misplaced a $15 dollar check.

    Being poor is stealing wood from Wal-Mart parking lot because it’s cold and you have no money to buy some.

    Being poor is a sick, dreadful feeling of your stomach dropping out when the phone rings, because you know it’s a bill collector and you know you’ll pick it up anyway on a one in a million chance someone does want to hire you.

    Being poor is laying down because it hurts to breathe and you are pregnant, but you can’t afford to go to the hospital.

    Being poor is crying when $50 bill you didn’t expect gets taken from your paycheck.

    Being poor is knowing exactly how many hours and minutes you’ll have to work extra to make up for that bill.

    Being poor is knowing that no matter how hard and how much you work, you still can’t cover it all.

    Being poor means never forgeting that the bills aren’t paid.

    Thank you for your post.

  9. Wow.

    Being poor is calculating how much you think your take-home will be on the first day of your new job, and discovering two weeks later you were drastically wrong.

    Being poor is like being an alcoholic (but about money). You’re always aware where your last dollar came from, where your next dollar is coming from and exactly how many dollars you (don’t) have.

    Growing up poor is spending the rest of your life trying to escape (and never realizing that you have).

  10. John, you nailed this right on the head. Being poor means looking at life in such a different way that most people can’t imagine it.

  11. Thanks for this blog, and this post.

    Being poor means that you’re the richest person in your family when you’re a grad student.

    Being poor means being grateful that you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

    Being poor means knowing viscerally the difference between poverty and struggling middle class.

    Growing up poor means you feel guilty when you escape, because your siblings didn’t.

  12. Being poor means saving the plastic containers and jars from yogurt or spaghetti sauce so you can take milk with you to school in your lunch after they lower the income limit for free lunches and your mom makes $3 more than the limit.

  13. Being poor is knowing that commodity cheese tastes like heaven on an empty stomach.

    Being poor is catching a beating because you fell through the rotting floor of the bedroom of your trailer. Your brother is already sick and even with the bard nailed over the hole, it’s letting cold air in.

    Being poor is getting your school clothes from the trunk of a community outreach car and hope they fit better than last years.

    Being poor is choosing between the lesser of two evils and not realizing it.

    Being poor is having a few books, but none of them with covers.

    Being poor is having sheets for curtains.

    Being poor is wishing the sheet that separates your bed from the rest of the kitchen was dark enough not to let the light shine through.

    Being poor is a motivator to never be as poor as your parents.

    Being poor makes you appreciate everything you’ve earned.

    Being poor gives you the ability to look at supporting your still poor mother as an honor not a burden.

    Being poor is looking back and wondering how you survived.

    Being poor is worrying that someday you will wake up, find yourself lying beneath a blanket in the back of that station wagon and realizing that your escape and rise was just a dream.

  14. Being poor means swallowing your pride and walking into the food stamp office because you don’t want your kids to go hungry, then sitting there smiling, while some social worker (gleefully) humiliates you as she goes over your application.

  15. Takes me back:

    Being poor is a month with 28 spaghetti dinners, 2 invitations over to eat, and a day without.

    Being poor is carrying your fiancee to the hospital to miscarry, then using their phone to call around for someone to take you back home, since there aren’t beds for Medicare patients.

    Being poor is wondering what sort of fool drops a penny on the ground and doesn’t pick it up.

  16. Being poor is wondering what to say when your friends ask you to join them for coffee in the campus coffee shop, and you can’t because you thought you had a couple bucks cash but you must have left it in your coat at home, and so you have to use all the change you dug up from under the seat for gas to get home after classes.

    Because of course you can’t afford to *live* on campus…

  17. Being poor is getting up at six-thirty to walk to work because you don’t have money for the bus.

    Being poor is buying the 25 cent loaf of bread at the grocery store and making it last for lunch and dinner.

    Being poor is pretending to any major, religion or career interest to get free pizza on campus.

    Being poor is not being able to afford clothes from Goodwill.

  18. Being poor means dreading getting a Christmas present from the Fireman’s Charity, because you’ll end up on TV and everybody at school will find out.

  19. Being poor is wearing the same dress to school every day for four months, then getting “new” clothes from the church for Christmas and changing your clothes three times in one day because you can.

    Thank you John.

  20. Being poor means not being able to take a better job because the shift ends are after the busses stop running, and you don’t feel safe walking the two miles home after dark.

  21. There are more than a few walls I would like to pin this to.

    It seems a shame that people need to have been there to understand it intrinsically, that we have to have driven our junkers and worked our deadening night shifts at gas stations with a baseball bat under the counter and routinely known exactly how many months you could let each utility go before they’d cut it off, and done the “steal or starve?” question … maybe more than once. Maybe more than a few times.

    Why is is so hard to remember poverty once you get past it, if you get past it? Why is it so hard to empathize with poverty if you have never had it? What the hell is wrong with us?

  22. This needs to be emailed to al the major news organizations and printed on the OP-Ed page. the people who suffer most in all these disasters are always the poor. this is not a race is a class one. people who have always had money and food and ..goddamn gasoline! not have even the remotest clue how it is to live like this. this event in the SE is going to highlight the difference between the haves and havenots.

    Being poor is registering for RedCross training even tho your waiting on job replies and knowing you will not be paid for Redcross..but you must do something to help right now!

  23. Excellent, and excellent comments. There are so many more, but I would add these:

    Being poor means learning firsthand the meaning of words like “eviction,” “garnishee,” “repossess,” and “transient motel.”

    Being poor means paying the special poor taxes—parking tickets for the old car in disrepair on the street because you have no other place to put it, fines for the busted taillight or the expired license, fees for cashing the government check, and so on.

    Being poor means paying a premium on food and goods at local stores that jack up prices for being in a poor neighborhood, or simply because they can.

    Being poor means buying bread at the “day old store” even though it’s a lot older than one day.

    Being poor means paying high prices for exprired meat at the bodega, because there isn’t a supermarket chain willing to open a store in your neighborhood.

  24. Being poor means your 10 cent an hour raise is almost negated by the 25 cent increase in bus fare.

  25. Being in a “socialist” country makes some of those look really weird, sometimes in one direction, sometimes in the other. They fall into three categories:

    – the ones that are still spot on, whichever country you’re from
    – the ones where the phrase “being poor” coexists with the phrase “your car”. People who own cars, hell, people who have someone in the family who ever learned to drive, can’t be poor!
    – on the other hand, there are the ones where being poor means good hospitals and good schools aren’t for you. We were poor, not *animals*.

    As to the last, I’m thankful to have grown up a civilised first-world country.

  26. I am grateful for what I did have in my youth (which wasn’t much) and I’ve realized in the past 8+ years of parenthood, that I had more than others…that said, I challenge American citizens (of all classes, races, religions, etc) to demand that a fund be set up, along the lines of The Liberty Fund in NYC post 9/11, to benefit these survivors. Aren’t they as deserving as middle and upper class widows/widowers/children in the East Coast in the richest city?

    Thank you for this thread!

  27. Being Poor

    John Scalzi (6 hits) has a very relavent post about what its like being poor (0 hits). As tough as it is for a lot of us to fathom, John does an excellent job of putting us in the mindset of truly being poor.
    Be sure to read the comments too.

  28. Being poor means watching your disabled child get worse and worse because you can’t afford the therapies.

    Being poor means having your life gone over with a fine tooth comb to see if you’re bad enough to help.

    Being not poor means realizing you still can’t afford the thereapy, and there’s no ‘help’ because you’re not poor.

  29. Being poor is feeling ashamed when your ‘peers’ slam WalMart, and talk about buying organic, and the horrors of driving gass-guzzling cars, all while wondering why you repeatedly find ways to not join them at $15/plate social dinners.

    Being poor is avoiding spending time with people you care about, because you don’t want to have to answer “how are you doing?”.

  30. Anonymous: I am totally on with you about the Christmas present from the Fireman’s Charity. When I was fifteen or sixteen, my dad became unemployed for the first of what was many years, and half a year later, at Xmas, we received a mysterious box of presents on our front porch. At the time, being a prideful teenager, I was incandescent with rage, because you know, we weren’t THAT poor. And yet at the same time, I felt guilt, because I knew that it would ease the Xmas burden on my parents and whoever had done it was just trying to be nice. I just felt reminded of my poverty.

    Being poor is having to explain to your friends why all the food in your house has a welfare organisations logo on the packaging.

    Being poor is having your best friend’s mother compliment her for hanging out with you–shows good moral fiber, don’t you know.

    Being poor is having your mum scrimp and save to get you the latest “in” thing, just as it goes out of style. (But you wear it anyway, so she doesn’t feel bad, and then all the kids at school make fun of you.)

    Being poor is being the family that everybody knows it’s okay to pick on.

    Being poor is having your house egged and a firecracker tossed through your front door because some kid thought it was funny.

    Being poor is losing your special lunch card and seeing the snotty kid across the street find it, chop it up with scissors, and return the pieces to you.

    Being poor is getting one box of sugar cereal on your birthday, and a package of chocolate mix for Xmas.

    Being poor is one meal a day, if that.

    Being poor is worrying about appendicitis every time you ovulate.

    Being poor means going to a church school on a Pell grant and trying to get your associate degree in one year, because you know your sibs are close on your tail, and your family has barely enough money to send you.

    Being poor means even with a scholarship, you can’t go to Art Center.

    (Granted, these are all a little less than universal, but this entry called up some of these old memories.)

  31. So many of these have been true for me. I’m a little better off now, but for a few months out of every year, I still feel the crunch. So here’s mine:

    Being poor takes time. Time to wait in line for the reduced-price clinic while gathering all your paperwork, and hoping you have it in order so you won’t be sent home to get one little slip of paperwork. Time to wait in line at the food bank, where people fight to get to the one box of expired Entemann’s first. Time that you spend walking back home or waiting beside your POS car because it broke down for the umpteenth time. Time that you spend at your minimum wage fast food job after hours because you really don’t want to go home, and the manager might just feed you.

  32. Being poor is offering to “go buy a soda” for your visiting sister-in-law, knowing already that you’ll have to use your EBT (food stamp) card to get it and hear the woman in line behind you cluck at you and lecture you on what a horrible person you are to use “her tax dollars” on a frivolous soda.

  33. Being poor means that if you pull yourself up and stop being ‘poor,’ you will still be struggling and behind, because a large chunk of your money will go toward cleaning up all the stopgaps, mistakes, and overcharges you accumulated when you were poor.

    People who own cars, hell, people who have someone in the family who ever learned to drive, can’t be poor!

    derek, in the US this isn’t true.

  34. Being poor is always walking.

    Being poor is everything gets washed by hand in the bathtub with the smallest amount of dollar-store detergent.

    Being poor means saved up bacon grease for re-use.

    Being poor means saved up tea bags for re-use.

    Being poor means drinking hot water, when those teabags finally lose all their flavor.

    Being poor means choosing between a cup of coffee, a newspaper, or a load at the laundrymat. You can’t have all three, or even two of them. ever.

    Being poor means always the library, never the book store.

    Being poor is everything must be mended, pinned, taped, glued or stapled for a little more use.

    Being poor means two or three jobs, and never enough time, sleep, or money. never.

  35. John, thanks for this. This is so spot-on it hurts. And I don’t have to do any of these things any more, but you really don’t ever forget what it’s like to do them.

    Being poor is eating no-brand hotdogs and the cheap ramen every day for two months because otherwise you couldn’t afford formula for the baby.

    Being poor is really, really pushing your two-year old during potty training, because diapers are really, really expensive.

    Being poor means that the $50.00 subtraction screw-up in balancing the checkbook throws you into a year-long spiral of out-of-control debt and bounced check fees.

    Being poor means you sign every single free credit application that comes in the mail, and use the 28% cash advance checks to get cash with which you can pay the electric bill, and then wait for the next set to pay the new ones off.

    Being poor means you use the money your in-laws send your kid for his birthday to buy peanut butter and pay the pediatrician.

    Being poor means that you bring a bag of potato chips to every family gathering as your dish to pass.

    Being poor means that you laugh hysterically when you watch the financial planning segments on the Today Show, because the thought of starting a college fund for your child is so far beyond the pale that if you don’t laugh, you’ll start to cry and you’ll never stop.

    Being poor means that three years after you’re not poor anymore, you still know exactly what everything costs; you still feel like a dinner at Chili’s or even Wendy’s is a huge splurge; and you still feel like you can’t afford to buy a six dollar belt at Target. And you still buy ramen.

  36. Being poor is feeling like a failure every time you and your father discuss your “financial restructuring” because neither of you wants to say the word “bankruptcy.”

    Being poor is obviously your fault, even though the biggest, fattest reason you had to file bankruptcy in the first place was because your husband frivolously got cancer while laid off. How silly of him! And then he couldn’t find a new job until he was done with treatment because oddly, employers are shy of hiring bald, vomiting people with IV ports taped into their arms.

    Being poor is being horrified when you see a very young person from your area with an arm, neck, or hand tattoo, not because corporate America generally bans such things… but because fast-food and retail America does, too.

    Being poor is being bumped by somebody carrying a Prada tote bag on your way to pick up your paycheck… and instantly realizing, without having to calculate, that in terms of actual cash value, the tote bag is worth far more than the paycheck.

  37. Being poor is feeling like a failure every time you and your father discuss your “financial restructuring” because neither of you wants to say the word “bankruptcy.”

    Being poor is obviously your fault, even though the biggest, fattest reason you had to file bankruptcy in the first place was because your husband frivolously got cancer while laid off. How silly of him! And then he couldn’t find a new job until he was done with treatment because oddly, employers are shy of hiring bald, vomiting people with IV ports taped into their arms.

    Being poor is being horrified when you see a very young person from your area with an arm, neck, or hand tattoo, not because corporate America generally bans such things… but because fast-food and retail America does, too.

    Being poor is being bumped by somebody carrying a Prada tote bag on your way to pick up your paycheck… and instantly realizing, without having to calculate, that in terms of actual cash value, the tote bag is worth far more than the paycheck.

  38. Being poor is not going to college right after graduating high school because if you wait until you’re old enough then your “Expected Family Contribution” will be zero.

  39. Being poor means getting a part-time, minimum wage (then $3.35 an hour) janitorial job, and being told that the Union would take $35 a month in dues from your wages.

  40. Being poor means selling blood plasma and signing up for every medical experiment they’ll let you into, and breezing past the disclaimer form because, really, are you going to give up $100 just because you may be risking injury or death from whatever they’re giving you?

  41. – Being poor is spending money you know you don’t have on a candybar because you need something to cheer yourself up enough to get out of bed.
    – Being poor is running up pans of water you heated on the stove so your mom can have a bath, knowing she’ll do the same for you then.
    – Being poor is knowing baby powder sprinkled in your hair means one more day it isn’t so greasy you’ve got to try to wash your hair in freezing water in the middle of winter.
    – Being poor is sleeping everyone to one bed so you’re a little bit warmer.
    – Being poor is hoarding the money meant for your reduced lunch so you can get yourself new shoes and your family doesn’t need to worry.
    – Being poor is getting socks and underwear for Christmas.
    – Being poor is having friends who’s parents won’t let them sleep over because you live in that part of town.
    – Being poor is not caring that starchy carbs are bad for you, rice and pasta are cheap, and it’s either that, or nothing at all.
    – Being poor is throwing away the envelopes from bill collectors straight away because there’s no point in even opening them.
    – Being poor is making the windshield wipers of your car go by tying rope to them and pulling them side-to-side while your mom drives.
    – Being poor is the lunchlady feeling bad for you so she sneaks you leftovers from after all the classes have eaten, for you to take home for dinner.
    – Being poor is learning to like skim milk because it’s a nickel cheaper than whole.
    – Being poor is learning how to syphon gas from your (er, or others’) lawnmower because there’s no more money for a tank of gas for the car.
    – Being poor is grinning at memories that this post has brought up, rather than describing it as ‘heartbreaking’.

  42. Not being poor is doing your homework locked in your room while your mom goes out to buy whiskey and your dad doesnt give a shit that you are alive.

  43. Being poor means that although you actually own a house, and it’s paid off, you’re worried that it’ll be taken because you can’t afford to pay the property taxes (let alone take out a mortgage to pay them).

    Being poor means your husband is working – when he can get work – at Labor Ready, and you’re at the food bank. Being poor means your husband is sharing his main meal of the day with someone who hasn’t eaten for three days.

    Being poor means not being able to afford the $10 co-pay at the free clinic.

    Being poor means the only reason you’re able to eat meat is that your best friend raised it. You’re supposed to pay her back for the cost of the feed, but you can’t.

    Being poor means you can’t afford to go to a job interview because you don’t have transit money.

  44. Being poor is rejoicing the fact you miscarried

    Being poor is driving to a free crisis center for an abortion when you know you’re pregnant

    Being poor is hating yourself for having children when you can’t even afford to look after yourself.

    Being Poor with children means you know you failed at providing them a good life.

  45. chris, people who are not poor can also have difficult, shitty lives. Nobody’s said otherwise, so can you kindly stifle the “hey, what about me?!” urge?

  46. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, although not as tragically poor as some folks. The one thing I remember most about being less well off than everyone else was having an outfit that my grandmother bought new for me in seventh grade last me until my first daughter was born, some ten or more years later….I still have clothes that are more than five years old. I can’t get over that part of me that says “if it still fits, wear it”.

  47. Being poor is stealing food. From the grocery store, from the dumpster in back of the Pizza Hut.

    Being poor is ketchup sandwiches. When you’re pregnant.

    Being poor is sleeping in stairwells.

    Being poor is washing up in public bathrooms and sampling fragrances at the department store so you don’t smell bad.

    Being poor is becoming a stripper just to make the rent, and hating yourself for it.

  48. Being poor means mom and dad do not sit and eat dinner with you. They eat after the kids are done with what’s left. Dad’s dinner is wiping clean the bits from the frying pan with a piece of bread.(He still does that out of habit just like grandpa.)

  49. Being poor is all generic food all the time.

    Being poor is food pantry visits once a week because they’ll give you the staples you need in small amounts.

    Being poor is being car-less, because any car would cost too much.

    Being poor is hoping you can survive for six months or more while you try to get disability. When they reject you, you need to appeal, and then appeal again before you’ll be accepted. (Almost everyone not paraplegic is rejected at first.)

  50. Feeling poor is having experienced enough want to imagine actually being poor, yet still estimating indulgence, literacy, safety, and luxury. I correct myself after discussing this post at home and remembering visits to Santo Domingo and the interior of the Dom. Rep.: I may have felt poor at various points in my life, but I have never ever come close, even while being able to afford no more than a half-gallon of milk per month or using dishwashing liquid for shampoo.

    I think there is still a lot unimaginable from the top (such as running out of money at the second or third week of the month, every month), just as the view from the middle of doesn’t recognize its own invisible wealth, while other millions are accustomed to the fact that every day can be the day one dies of poverty.

  51. Being poor is not having sex because you can’t afford birth control and you’re smart enough to not get pregnant

  52. Being poor is knowing ‘Hot Water + free fast food Ketchup packs = Tomato Soup’.

    Being poor is having the electricity shut off on Christmas Eve. You’d call the family, but the phone went off last month.

    Being poor is paying for food and gas with pennies.

    Being poor is stealing newspapers from the recycle bins to burn in your secondhand hibachi for heat.

    Being poor is pounding nickles with a hammer to the size of quarters to fool older coin-op washering machines.

    Being poor is knowing that you can send free mail by putting your own address in the middle and the intended address in the ‘return to’ corner…

  53. Being poor is rejoicing in the fact that after five years, the color of your expired vehicle tags has cycled back around, and there’s less of a chance of getting pulled over for your 2001 tags.

  54. Being poor is counting your food money for the week and knowing you will have to walk the two miles to the grocery with three children under the age of six.

    Being poor is buying what you can afford and carry while walking that two miles.

    Being poor is counting the change and going back to buy YOUR food, because everything you bought has to go to feed the kids.

    Being broke is making a meal and sitting the kids down at the table, and sipping a glass of watered down powedered milk while they eat.

    Being poor is hearing your daughter tell you twenty years later that she finally realized that ‘Mommy already ate, sweetie’ was a lie.

    Being poor is not being able to afford to pursue the ex who owes you child support.

    Being poor is having a judge give him custody because HE isn’t poor.

  55. Poor never seems to leave us completely. No matter what we do or have done, we will always be haunted by the tears and shame of poverty. The worst part: even if our kids escape, THEY REMEMBER forever. A legacy we’d rather not give.

  56. Being poor is having someone tell you that if you own _____ (A car, a TV, a bed) then you really aren’t poor, & realizing they’re either stupid, or worse off than you

  57. Being poor means you aren’t truly hungry until the third day without food.

    Being poor means never chipping in for pizza. On a good day, you’ll still get a pity slice.

  58. Humbling stuff

    Ouch. Thanks to a post of Cory on boingboing I found this post.

    Humbling stuff, some of them I know from when I was still living with my mum who left my dad, a brave deed that I am eternally grateful for, but most things on there I can’t even begin …

  59. Being Poor is only bad if you don’t help yourself when able. A lot of the “poor” receiving assistance have a higher standard of living than many middle class who struggle to makes ends meet.

    You turn down a better job because it’ll cut your “benefits.” You live in a subsidized house with reduced energy bills, you have Medicaid insurance, you get back $4800 on your tax return. You’re not married, but the baby’s daddy stays over every night. You’re able to get your hair done, along with your nails at least once every two weeks. You have every channel on cable. You have the latest smallest cell phone with all the options. You love clothes, and have the latest fashions, including shoes. You love to go out every week!

    A State program worker told me a couple of years ago that a single mother on assistance could make $34,000 a year if she maximized all the programs, and didn’t identify the father of all her children, and didn’t admit that a man lived with her.

    Its sad that people are poor, but those with some shame and dignity that work every day to make it are far richer than some other folks.


  60. derek, in the US this isn’t true.

    I understand that things can be different from place to place and time to time, which is why I posted my own gut reaction, borne of my own background, for your amusement.

    I wonder if you ever will?

  61. Being poor means a 4 hours of commuting for a 6 hour shift.

    Being poor means fishing for coins in your friend’s couch while he’s in the bathroom.

  62. Being poor means putting a beloved pet to sleep because you can’t afford the vet bill.

    Being formerly poor means that your never-poor spouse resents the hell out of the fact that you still give your mom and siblings money – money that could have gone to “our” family. It means your spouse never quite thinks of your family as her family too because the resentment is there.

  63. Being poor is throwing up six times a day because you are pregnant and don’t have health care.

    Being poor means that you can’t even scrape together enough change to ride the bus to the neonatal clinic, and it’s the middle of summer and too far to walk.

    Being poor means pondering an abortion because you know everybody around you is equally strapped for cash, you only get one meal a day, and you don’t see that changing in the immediate future.

    Being poor means after much tears and thought, when you finally decide to have the abortion, you have to borrow the money to get it done.

    Being poor means that if you’d kept the baby, some rich people would accuse you of abusing the welfare system.

    Being poor means that by getting the abortion, some rich people accuse you of murder.

    Being poor means weeks of crying and hating yourself.

  64. being poor is feeling all the eyes judging you, measuring you, and coming to the conclusion that you don’t belong; when all you want is to be away in the comfortable place you don’t have.

    being poor is never to be introduced in a non-condescendent way.

    being poor is spending the money your parents and brother saved to go to find work in new york, as everybody’s hero; and crying over the phone saying everything is fine.

    being poor is seeing your parents work a month to make what converts to five hundred dollars. and support a family with that, and dream.

    being poor is being exploited by rich people while you smile, not to be fired.

    being poor is not having the dollars to buy your freedom.

    being poor is mom and dad being humiliated saturday and sunday to pay your failed attempt at the american dream, because first you’re not american, second you are not rich, third you are not america educated, and all those dollar-master slavering world wonderpeople can tell you, making fun, is: born in the wrong country pal, hahaha.

    being poor is working hard and never had worked enough.

    being poor is paying a debt to the rich for being born in their world.

  65. Being poor means hanging out your used paper towels to dry.

    Being poor makes you appreciate the value of free napkins, plastic food utensils, matches, condiment packages, plastic bags, or any other giveaway item of use in the home.

    Being poor means never having leftovers.

    Being poor means your furniture has had at least two previous owners (and it probably was designed for patio use).

  66. Being poor means this is my last post for now on the matter, because the library has time limits on Internet use.

  67. pictruandtru: you, more than anyone else here, need to read John’s article over and over again, until you get it. It was you he wrote it for.

    Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

  68. Having bad teeth is one of THE major indicators of living in poverty.

    It’s an even better indicator of not brushing or flossing. Bad teeth are not about poverty: it’s about bad memes.

    The majority of the bullet points listed in this post don’t strike me as being caused by poverty, but as CAUSING poverty. Spening money on lotto tickets? Buying name brand breakfast cereal instead of generic oatmeal? RENTING FURNITURE? People aren’t forced into these things by poverty; they’re forced into poverty by these things.

  69. Being poor (or having been poor) means you know that if there is a devistating economic crisis, you will know how to survive when those who never were poor are paralized with fear. Being poor is knowing you are strong and resourceful.

  70. I’ve also been “mostly” poor, but not desperately so. My addition is:

    Being poor is sitting in your car crying uncontrollably because the car has run out of gas, again.

  71. – Not being poor is feeling like shit for wearing what you wear around less fortunate people.

    – Not being poor is having to watch your parents try to stop you from having poor friends.

    – Not being poor makes any deed you do for a poorer person look like a charity, and thus have the person hate you for it.

    – Not being poor is having to watch a good-willed soul go down the wrong path, and you can’t say or do anything because they don’t even want to lay eyes on you.

  72. Bad teeth are not about poverty

    Being poor means that dumbasses who have never themselves been poor will tell you that if only you’d brushed your teeth harder, if you’d bought shitty store-brand Raisin Brand one time less, if you’d gone shopping at IKEA instead of renting furniture, then by jingo, you’d be comfortably middle-class too!

    As you didn’t know, TJIC, part of being poor is that you have to be penny-wise and therefore don’t have much choice about being pound-foolish. Yes, it is cheaper to buy a functional couch for $300 than to rent one at $15/month. Of course, if all you have to spend on furniture is $15, then you’re kind of stuck, aren’t you?

    You turn down a better job because it’ll cut your “benefits.”

    Which, in fact, it will.

    I wonder if you ever will?

    Posted my gut reaction? Actually, I chose to politely say that things in the US are different, rather than assuming that naturally, everywhere in the world is or should be just like the US, so of course you would know what is and isn’t normative here. I apologize; next time I’ll do the scolding lecture thing.

  73. Being poor increases your chances of using alternative energy sources- specifically, male/male extension cords and stolen car batteries.

  74. As a born-and-bred welfare kid raised by TV and cheap supermarket off-brands, I see my mother in many of these statements. She worked so hard to raise herself out of crushing poverty, with little or no useful help from the government or well-meaning “liberals” with social-science degrees that I can only shake my head and wonder how it was I got out of the poverty trap at all.

    I think I was just lucky. I also happen to be white and male, and I’m reasonably sure in today’s world this is a certain advantage.

    Nothing in this list is histronics or exageration. Being poor is like this to a greater or lesser extent. We should remember that before we judge the actions of people hit with some new hardship in the middle of an already difficult situation.

    Being poor means that someone who has never been poor will never really understand what it’s like.

  75. Very facile piece, but the lack of personal experience shows. For *really* being poor means *not* having two things you mention several times: car and house.

    The bit about being six bucks short on the utility bill is also a tip-off to the writer’s imagination. Being poor actually means *always being a month behind* in the utility bill. And it also sometimes means having your phone or lights or gas — or all three — cut off.

    And the really telling part is that a landlord is not mentioned *at all.*

    Christ. Next time at least *ask* someone who is or has been *poor*.

    Stuff like this is a pill. You write it to display yourself, not to encourage any understanding.

  76. Being poor means you no longer have to fill out the forms at the ‘payday loan store’ because they have your information memorized.

    Being poor means eating off of stranger’s plates while passing through the restaurant to wash up in the bathroom.

  77. Being poor means your child’s reward for doing well is 3 M&Ms. If he gets six, he knows it’s a special day.

  78. Being poor means realizing that lady they just interviewed on TV at the Superdome is just like you — even though we both thought we were middle class.
    Being poor is knowing that neither one of us matters at all to America anymore.

  79. I joined the military so they would fix my teeth. I brushed everyday. And flossed. But never had dental insurance. Only got cleanings maybe once in my childhood.

    Great post.

  80. “Bad teeth are not about poverty: it’s about bad memes.”

    Unless, of course, you contientiously care for your teeth and they go bad anyway, which happens. Or you hit something and break a tooth, which happened to me. I was in college when it happened, so I was covered by my school insurance, but if had happened over the summer I would have been in trouble. It’s pretty easy to say “well, you should just take care of your teeth,” but while it’s easy, it’s also missing the point by a considerably large margin. The point is when something goes wrong, for whatever reason, being poor means your options are limited, and what options you have are often likely to cause you pain.

    The problem is people who aren’t poor or who have never been poor often don’t grasp why it’s difficult to escape poverty — you can do everything right in terms of trying to improve your life situation (and there are many people who are poor do), and yet just one thing going wrong can mess the whole thing up.

    Your taking classes in college can disrupted by a kid or parent getting ill. Your saving for a house of your own gets undermined by some jerk ramming into your car at a red light. Got a plumbing leak? There goes the school clothes money. When you’re middle-class or well-off, you can absorb a certain amount of the crap life throws at you. When you’re poor, you really can’t.

    Being poor is not having any margin for error. The problem is that life only rarely lets people get through it without error.

  81. Being poor is being downsized at 50 or older and having to take a job at 1/3 of what you used to make because after hundreds of interviews it’s the only job offered.

    Being poor is having to commute two hours each way by public transit to a job that is 4 hours a day and pays minimum wage.

    Being poor is feeling useless because all your life you were taught to pull your own weight and now you can’t.

    Being poor is wondering why the heck you have to start all over again yet again.

  82. Being poor means working double shifts at the nursing home while attending full-time high school and living in an abandoned burned-out home with no water, electicity, or doors – at 16.

  83. Why didn’t they leave?

    For anyone asking the blame-the-victim question about Katrina’s victims–”They had warning, why didn’t they leave?” I recommend John Scalzi’s wrenching blog post, Being Poor.

  84. Being poor does *not* mean you get to terrorize a city during an emergency.

    Being poor does *not* mean you get to break into an electronics store and stock up on iPods and TVs during an emergency.

    Being poor does *not* mean that while you’re an evacuee you get to turn your surroundings into a pigsty.

    Being poor does *not* mean you magically have carte blanche to discard manners or consideration or all norms of sociable behavior.

    I see this bullshit time and again from people who have *never* been poor: the stench of covert condescension. That filthy bleeding-heartism that in its vomitous dewiness too often can’t distinguish between a simple *lack of money* and *bad behavior*.

    Being poor does *not* mean you get to do whatever the fuck you *want* to do. Understand that *first*.

  85. Being poor means Thanksgiving dinner is a lone cheeseburger at Burger King between shifts.

    Being poor means paying by money order.

  86. a brick to the forehead

    There are those times when you are sitting down and reading boingboing and you’re getting tired of hearing about Katarina and “man’s inhumanity to man” and the almost non-existant support the people are getting and then somebody throws a curveball…

  87. >>>Being poor means paying by money order.

    — and hating those ebay sellers who will only accept PayPal. (It is strange that they never notice that PayPal-only sales *always* have fewer bidders and *lower* winning bids.)

  88. Mike Cane writes:

    “Next time at least *ask* someone who is or has been *poor*.”

    Well, let’s see, Mike, which of the things on the list would like me to admit happened to me? Or maybe you’d prefer something off the menu:

    Should I point out to you that I’m the first one in my immediate family to graduate from high school, much less college?

    Shall I describe to you the taste of Government-supplied peanut butter?

    Will being able to describe the inside of a social workers office be sufficient for you?

    Should I mention that for a long time I made more than every other member of my immediate family, combined? And get this — it wasn’t that much that I was making.

    Maybe you’d like me to tell you about the time my mother had to send my sister and I away for a year to live with our aunt because she’d had a back injury and couldn’t work or afford to keep us with her.

    Or perhaps you would like me to mention that one of the primary functions in my family is to serve as the emergency bank, for when the lights are about to go off or a tire goes flat or one damn thing or another is about to happen unless there’s money on the table right now.

    At what point, Mike, will I have accrued enough poverty cred to suit you?

    Don’t imagine that I don’t write from experience, Mike.

    Your argument here is largely boils down to “you can’t have been poor because you’re not poor as I define it.” Well, see, Mike. There’s lots of different ways to be poor in America. In some of these ways, you have a car (especially if you live in California). In some of them, you might even have a home. We did, for a while, when I was young. We had a nice big house and we looked pretty prosperous and then one day my stepfather’s business went into the tank and suddenly people were leaving charity boxes of food on our front step. We did eventually lose the house, though. That should make you happy.

    As for the landlord not being on the list at all: As you can tell by the number of people chiming in, the original list is by no means exhaustive.

  89. Being poor means sitting on top of the washer for each load of laundry, holding the button in until your fingers are numb–so the washer doesn’t stop. You can’t afford to replace it, let alone get the problem with the button fixed.

    Being poor means not bringing home information about field trips or yearbooks or music lessons or anything with a price tag attached, so mom doesn’t feel bad when she has to tell you no.

    Being poor means selling down your meal plan at college to buy textbooks.

    Being poor means deciding to work fast food for minimum wage because at least there’s a lot of cheap, discounted or free food in it for you.

    Being poor means getting yelled at by your richer friends for making them feel guilty because you can’t afford to go to a movie. Saying “I can’t afford that” hurt their feelings *way more* than it hurt your pride to admit it when pressed about why you wouldn’t go. Or some crap like that.

    Being poor is an inheritance. Sometimes it gets worse, sometimes it gets better, but it doesn’t go away unless you’re smart and lucky both, and someone along the way teaches you a few of the key principles. My family of origin still doesn’t get delayed gratification in terms of saving money, and frankly, if my husband didn’t work with me constantly on our finances, I’d have bankrupted us by now–not wilfully, but because being poor means not understanding how money really works.

  90. Oh, yeah.

    Being poor means that even after you get unpoor and clean up your messes, you still get denied things like a checking account because the system can keep your error on their record for 7-10 years, even though you did clean up your mess as quickly as you could.

  91. being poor does not allow you to wear big football jerseys and shoot people.

    I wondered how long it would take the assholes to show up. What kind of a world do you live in? What if all poor people are not perfectly behaved every single second of ever single day then they are all bad, bad people?

    What exactly are you trying to say?

  92. >>>At what point, Mike, will I have accrued enough poverty cred to suit you?

    As you can tell, this subject hits a sore spot with me. Especially not mentioning the landlord.

  93. >>> What if all poor people are not perfectly behaved every single second of ever single day then they are all bad, bad people?

    This is exactly my attitude with both politicians and corporate CEOs.

  94. > being poor does not allow you to wear big football jerseys and shoot people.

    No, you’ve got to join the Army to do that.

    Strangely, most recruits in the Army come from very poor areas.

  95. Being poor means understanding that Internet flamewars are a tragic waste of time better used bettering yourself. Use that time and effort to build yourself up rather than tear a stranger down- you’ll feel better afterward.

  96. Mike Cane:

    “As you can tell, this subject hits a sore spot with me. Especially not mentioning the landlord.”

    By all means, then, add a few lines to the collection. There’s (sadly) always room for more.

    Also, everyone, let’s not let the occasional jerky statement derail the thread. Ignore the obnoxious; respond to the people who are saying good if confrontational things.

  97. Many of these really hit home. The ones that don’t are only because in some ways my mom was really, really lucky, purely by accident; we lived in a rural town that was relatively inexpensive and often had family nearby when things got really dire and they caught wind of it. It so often could have been so much worse. There but for the grace of God go I…

  98. Takes a deep breath.

    Not trying to flame, it’s just that I truly don’t understand how listing the bad bahavior of some poor people mitigates any of the discussion here. I mean, so what?

    The fact that a poor person has committed a crime doesn’t make them any less poor. That a poor person can also be an asshole, or a wife-beater, or a Republican voter doesn’t makes the fact of their poverty any less.

  99. chris, people who are not poor can also have difficult, shitty lives. Nobody’s said otherwise, so can you kindly stifle the “hey, what about me?!” urge

    Yes, that’s quite true. But poor people are not exempt from those same difficulties I assume you’re talking about (illness, divorce, misfortune of all kinds) and must cope with them against a backdrop of poverty and the never-ending crises that are part and parcel of that.

    Things that never need be considered by people who are more well off become insurmountable obstacles for people who are poor. Yes, middle class people’s parents have heart attacks too, but they don’t have to worry about how they’ll get back and forth to the hospital to see them. It’s the enormous and never ending complications attendant on everything one tries to do without money that grinds people down.

  100. Being poor means being relieved when you answer the knock on the door and it’s a friend, not the expected landlord looking for the overdue rent.

    Being poor means your money is eaten away by fees: for money orders, for cashing a paycheck.

    Being poor means not being able to take advantage of all the really great sales that come along — because they only seem to happen when you don’t have the money in hand.

    Being poor is knowing that even though a company is paying a temp agency $X, they’d *never* pay that to *you personally* as a salaried employee.

    Being poor means being stuck around people who want you to continue to be poor.

  101. Being poor is having the grocery store checker give you dirty looks and make comments to the next customer about “my tax dollars being wasted” when you use food stamps to buy a day-old cake on sale and a package of birthday candles for your child.

    Being poor is being overwhelmingly grateful that the next person in line says to the checker, “I can’t think of a better use for my tax dollars than to pay for a poor child to have a birthday, you heartless prick.”

  102. Memories of poverty last your whole life, and affect your whole life.

    I was quite poor in my twenties. I managed to get through college, the state university when it was still heavily subsidized.

    Poverty is checking your college textbooks out of the library because you can’t afford to buy them.

    Poverty is walking everywhere, and feeling far less poor when you find a bike for $10. And ride that bike 12 months a year in Minnesota.

    Poverty is never going to the movies.

    Poverty is never eating meals out. Poverty is peanut butter sandwiches, every day.

    I still use tea-bags twice. I won’t eat ramen, because I ate far too much for too long. I consider myself well-off because I have a lot of books and I never skip a meal. I know exactly how much things cost, and shop at two supermarkets because one has cheaper prices on produce and meat, and the other has cheaper canned goods. And I know the usual price of everything I buy on a regular basis, so I know whether the “sale” price is really a good deal.

    And when it is, I stock up, just in case.

  103. Mike Cane wrote: Being poor means your money is eaten away by fees: for money orders, for cashing a paycheck.

    Yes, this is so true. I worked for a bank for a while after finishing my bachelor’s degree, and here’s what I learned:

    Being poor means the bank doesn’t want you as a customer.

    Being poor means you will pay the highest fees for every service.

    Being poor means you will pay the highest interest on any loan.

    On the other hand–

    Being rich means all service charges will be waived on your accounts, because you’re a preferred customer.

    Being rich means never waiting in line, because the bank manager greets you when you come in and takes you to a customer service representative who handles your transactions.

  104. Being poor is mixed fruit jelly (identifiable flavors cost more) with the mold scraped off.

    Being poor is green tennis shoes (worn with skirts) for your school shoes, in a town where even the 10-year-olds know a designer label.

    Being poor is knowing how to sew.

    Being poor is powdered milk – skim milk was the good months.

    Being poor is being astonished at how harsh brand new sheets (rather than the ones from the Goodwill) feel when they’re given to you as a present.

    Being poor is pawnshops.

    Being poor is having a lower Social Security number than your classmates in high school, because you had to get one young to get welfare.

    I’m not there any more, but many of these posts brought me back.

  105. Being poor is $5/week for food, for three people, one a nursing mother.

    Being poor is tuna mac (.25, because the tuna is WIC) that lasts 2 days.
    Being poor is putting 2/3ds of the food on your child’s plate, then adding half of your own because she’s having a growth spurt.
    Being poor is timed-out chicken from the truck-stop that your husband brings home.
    Being poor is 3 jobs, two toddlers and one car.
    Being poor is the laundry done in the bathtub and hung to dry on the porch.
    Being poor is finding prostitution a valid way to pay the electrical bill, and then lying to your spouse about where the money came from.
    Being poor is the WIC milk you dilute with WIC powdered milk as the month wears on.
    Being poor is the 39c. can of peaches that looks like an extravagance. The one you hoard in the cupboard for weeks because you know you can’t afford another.
    Being poor is exploding at the old lady who has taken all the 20c bread at the day-old store to feed to the fraggin’ SQUIRRELS.
    Being less poor is buying TVP at 79c/lb and mixing it half-and-half with hamburger to make five pounds go 12 meals.
    Being less poor is living close enough to work and the store and the library to walk and NOT have to buy gas.
    Being less poor is 10c for a packet of seeds that produces zucchini in your yard all summer.
    Being less poor is figuring out which creditor you lied to last month and have to pay this month.
    Being less poor is keeping an exact record of every penny spent, so you know exactly where you can pare back next month.

  106. Caroline, I’m not disagreeing with you. My point was not that poor people suffer no more than rich people; my point was to the original poster, who seemed to take “poverty sucks” as a personal insult and a suggestion that only poor people can have bad things happen.

    As an aside, one of the things I do in my spare time is volunteer to represent San Francisco residents who are being evicted. At their income level, in San Francisco, this means homelessness.

    I tell you this not to display my saintliness, but to put into perspective a conversation I have not infrequently with other members of my profession:

    ME: …no, I’m really tense about this case. If we lose, Mrs. Smith and her nephew have nowhere to go. She’s on a fixed income. What if I screw up and it costs them their apartment?

    OTHER LAWYER: Wow. Well, it could be worse. I mean, what if it were a big commercial-litigation case, and you screwed THAT up, and lost twenty million dollars for the client? At least the pro bono cases are over, what, five hundred dollars or something?

    (Pop Quiz: do you think the Other Lawyers who make such remarks have ever been poor?)

  107. Being poor and having been poor is so much more common than we think of, isn’t it? Look at everyone adding things into this list. But we don’t talk about it.

    I have two friends with whom I ever discuss the poverty of my childhood, both now well-paid and settled. One never eats eggs, because scrambled eggs on toast was her mother’s end of month money-saving meal. The other reads stories to every child she is near, always, because her mom worked too hard to have time to do so for her.

    Reminds me of miscarriages, which many people have had, and still suffer the memories of, in silence.

  108. Being Poor

    John Scalzi, whose Old Man War I couldn’t put down, has an extremely touching post up called Being Poor: Being poor is knowing where the shelter is. Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose…

  109. Being poor is reading this book — — and crying because you *finally* found others who understand. (Note: I have no connection other than as a reader.)

    Being poor is library fines.

    Being poor means you don’t count (unless you are pretty).

    Being poor means hating that you were ever poor.

  110. Actually, being poor meant being painfully aware of library due dates for us. We never had fines because we didn’t let the books go overdue.

  111. -Being poor is stealing your mom’s credit cards to buy milk and bread to feed your younger sister only to have all of them declined when your total’s under five bucks.

    -Being poor is sobbing hysterically when you break your glasses because you know you’ll spend the next year with glasses that have been taped together. (Being poor is feeling lucky to have the glasses at all.)

    -Being poor is knowing exactly how much your mothers income is, and exactly where it goes, and explaining to your sister that she can’t have the stuffed animal because mom needs that money to pay most of the electric bill. Being poor is having a store employee chase you down the block with the toy and realizing he stole it because he felt bad for you.

    -Being poor is dreaming about how great life would be if you could drop out of high school and get a second minimum wage job to help your mom out.

    -Being poor is looking at the BMW that nearly ran you over and realizing it cost more than you make in two years.

    -Being poor is being generous of spirit– it’s having nothing physically to give, but giving what you can, because as bad as it is, there’s always someone who’s got it even worse.

  112. Thank you so much…this whole forum and post has truly opened my eyes and broke my heart. My parents grew up in poverty, my dad in las vegas, and my mom in zambia africa. This post has truly shed light into what they went thru as children and alot of the things here have come out in there stories to me. I am truly grateful for the opportunity i have being in high school and not having to worry about being poor.

  113. Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

    I confess I wondered why people didn’t leave. It was easy to do so – the only folks I saw talking on the TV screen were stupidly vowing to ride it out – because they wanted to, not because they had no choice.

    Now I’m ashamed of myself for thinking it.

    Good post, John.

  114. Being poor is never looking down on a man begging for change, mainly because you have seriously considered doing it.

  115. – Being poor is buying Cup of Noodles as a treat to yourself when it goes on sale for 4/$1.
    – Being poor is managing your money and feeling like the most horrible person in the world when that $1.99 you spent on milk now gave you a $27.00 NSF fee because you miscalculated by twelve cents.
    – Being poor is making the rent and bills by six dollars and not having any left over for grocery shopping that week because that six dollars is for gas to get to work.
    – Being poor is having the luck and luxury of growing up rich and having no resources whatsoever when you are tossed out of your parents house with no money for “the gay thing” because it’s an embarrasment to daddy and his ilk.
    – Being poor is feeling excited when you manage to pay off your credit cards 100% but are now budgeted to within an inch of your life to afford college.
    – Being poor is having budgeted every single paycheque to the end of the year to within dollars of what you will be making.
    – Being poor is considering tax fraud because it would let you buy more food.
    – Being poor is working sixty hour weeks while taking college courses one at a time online because god knows you don’t have the time or gas money to go to a “real” school, nor could you ever afford a semester’s full tuition on your own.
    – Being rich to poor means your parents make too damn much for you to get student loans so you have no way of getting any help, whatsoever.
    – Being rich to poor means that you can’t fathom how your family of two that you no longer live with lives in a 5500 square foot house.
    – Being rich to poor is your dad telling you it’s strange you don’t have a car, when you are paying for college on your own and he has just bought your younger, non-gay sibling, a BMW.
    – Being rich to poor is when your father visits your new apartment – the one you’re making it all on your own in – and tells you to move because you’re living “in a ghetto” as he drives home in his Mercedes.
    – Being poor means burning in shame because this is the most you could afford and you spent hours cleaning before he arrived.
    – Being rich to poor is being too ashamed to leave my name on this.

  116. That should read: “Being rich to poor is your dad telling you it’s strange you don’t have a car of your own when you are living with your partner (whose car isn’t “good” by his opinion either), when you are paying for college on your own and he has just bought your younger, non-gay sibling, a BMW.”

  117. This really brought back a lot of memories, some more recent than I’d like to have admitted. Some based on my own experiences:

    Being poor means teaching yourself to not notice feeling hungry.

    Being poor means people making fun of your weight and calling you “anorexic” when you’ve been unable to have more than one meal a day.

    Being poor means choosing a job with crappy pay, because its main “benefit” is a free meal each shift.

    Being poor is knowing what it looks like to see an abcess on your gums burst.

    Being poor is knowing you’re always under a microscope: Human Services, Housing Assistance, Social Security…but also, your friends, your family, and strangers who seem to think you’re lazy, unmotivated, or stupid for being in the situation you’re in.

    Being poor is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Being poor is scraping enough money to go home to your family for Christmas and not having any gifts for them.

    Being poor is biting into a piece of convenience store beef jerkey a month after the mail carrier lost your food stamps, and literally weeping because you never thought you could be more thankful for food.

    Being poor is allowing roommates into a one-bedroom apartment so you can make ends meet.

    Being poor is using your stamps to buy pints of milk in glass bottles, then sitting outside of the supermarket, drinking the milk, rinsing out the bottle, and trading it in for a dollar cash so you can afford the co-pay on your prescriptions.

    Being poor is seeing the look on the face of the employees of the supermarket, when they see and understand what you’re doing.

    Being poor is never being able to afford to see a doctor for monthly cramps so bad they make you miss work; spending month after month for years hoping they just go away; and then finally getting seen and told you’re going to be infertile for the rest of your life, and that you could have avoided this had you come in sooner.

    Being poor is sitting on a dusty brick sidewalk with a cheap recorder and a Goodwill hat, enduring snotty yuppie tourists, high school boys who make innuendos or say “get a day job”, police officers saying “You’re not doing anything illegal, but…”, and threats of physical violence from drunks, all in the hopes that someone will deign to put a dollar in.

    Being poor is rolling your eyes when people say “go better yourselves”, as though their abstract advice was really helpful.

  118. Being poor is knowing firsthand the terror Upton Sinclair summarized in “The Jungle” — feeling/being “…abandoned by God and by man.”

  119. Being poor is realizing that you will do just about anything necessary to feed your kids, including giving a blow job to a guy for $10.

    Being poor is also realizing that yes, you will sell drugs if it keeps you one step ahead.

  120. Several thoughts:

    Being poor is relative as can be seen by these posts. To some, it is running around campus trying to score free food, to others in the world, it is that nothing edible exists in a 30 mile radius around you.

    The commonality in being poor is that it is hard to be surrounded by those who have more and judge you for having less. It is that those who don’t struggle as you do act like you are living off the charity of others and they have absolutely earned everything on their own. It is that sense of entitlement people with more have that know that they will be saved in a hurricane and you don’t matter because you are a throw away.

    Derek from the UK, I think the fact that “car” is on this list really illustrates one of your points. Not only does the U.S. provide inferior health care and education for its poor, it provides inferior public transportation in most parts of the country. As a person who doesn’t drive due to visual impairments, it is one of my biggest challenges. The elderly, disabled, poor, and others who chose not to own a vehicle are really excluded from many parts of American life.
    If you live in the midwest, you could move to Boston for good public transportation (and pay a higher cost of living, moving expenses, etc.) or you can go out and buy one $500 car after another.

    Which brings me to another point. Being poor is VERY expensive. Saving money in a capitalist society is a privelige of the rich. Sure, you can do the thrift store thing and be frugal, but things like buying in bulk, paying without interest, buying instead of renting, etc. are not things that are easy to do with limited funds. Taking advantage of Sales and good deals often requires capital that the poor just don’t have. Rich people never seem to get how expensive it is to live poor.

    My addition:
    Being poor is trying to get your two preemie twins to breastfeed by pumping and putting them to breast EVERY TWO HOURS while getting NO SLEEP after a C-section for days because formula is too expensive. When they don’t gain weight, you break down and get on WIC and go to the store to buy your WIC approved formula and the clerk bitches you out for not breastfeeding and having to use WIC.

    That is a perfect example of what I mean. I, at least can get the formula…whereas in another part of the world, the babies may have died. But the judgement on me by others who may have more is still the same.

    Thanks, John. Good post.

  121. [deleted for possibily unintentional trollage]

    If you want to submit this again in a manner that doesn’t appear to the proprietor of the Website as if it’s being happy about someone else’s misfortune, by all means try again.

  122. Being Poor

    John Scalzi has written an excellent essay titled “Being Poor” that everyone should read. I can only assume he’s written in response to hearing one too many times someone else wonder why the poor people didn’t “just leave…

  123. Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

    Fifteen years ago, when I started in at a school, the packed that home room teachers got contained for each kid on opening day:
    1 schedule,
    1 emergency info form,
    1 student handbook,
    1 athletic dept. handbook
    1 insurance form (AD&D plus emergency med. for school-related activities)

    and for a class of 20, three or four free/reduced lunch forms. You were supposed to give these to the students who asked for them, and get more if they weren’t enough.

    No one understood why I threw a hissy fit and made sure that there was one form per kid, just like all the other paperwork.

    Sometimes things do get slightly better. We now have cafeteria swipe cards, and the free kids and paying kids both just swipe their cards. The difference is that the paying kids have to top off their card balances with cash periodically.

  124. A few more comparisons…

    – Being rich to poor is your father casually talking about a utility bill that is the cost of your rent.
    – Being rich to poor is your father casually talking about half your years wages that he made in a week’s time.
    – Being rich to poor is having perfect straight teeth from years of orthodontists but no money to afford that checkup to fill the cavities you’ve had for well over a year.

  125. Scalzi: I’m glad you got that comment out. It seemed extremely cruel to me and I was about to comment — and probably make it worse.

    If I may —

    It looked to me like quite a bit of dough. But somehow, before I could realize what a good feeling it is to have some cash, it was gone. Only those people who have lots of money learn to appreciate the real value of money, because they have time to find out. On the other hand, how can people who have no money, or very little, ever find out what money really means? It is in their hands so short a time that they have no chance to see what it means. Certain people, however, preach that only the poor know the worth of a cent. This difference in opinion is the cause of class distinction. [“Death Ship” by B. Traven; pg. 38]

    Being poor means carrying around quotes like these.

  126. I’m appalled at some of the people commenting who feel that empathy is not important. To accuse you of lying or saying this for effect? Real classy.

    Poor is living next to a crack house, being on a first name basis with the local prostitute, having murder weapons tossed in your back yard, and running from gangs.

    It’s having only 2 pairs of shoes, one with holes.

    No heat.

    Living in a house that’s literally falling apart. I used to get snow in my bedroom and water during thunderstorms.

    A car that barely runs and the tires slashed by druggies.

    By Katrina standards, however, my family was rich. We would’ve been able to evacuate. We had credit cards and family that would’ve helped us.

    There were people in New Orleans who didn’t have those resources and our bureaucracy forgot about them.

    America, the land of opportunity, so long as you aren’t poor.


  127. DementedMichelle:

    “To accuse you of lying or saying this for effect? Real classy.”

    No worries. I believe that issue is settled, and we’re discussing more useful things now.

  128. Being poor is hoping your bike doesnt break during your one hour cycle to work.

    Being poor is when you crash into the back of a nice car that you have to pay to fix because you cant afford new brakes.

    Being poor is walking for 3 hours to get to work because your bike broke.

    Being poor is coming up with a different excuse every day why your not going to lunch (& dont eat any).

    Being poor is being gratefull for having free (& nice) tap water in the job.

  129. Being poor is thinking about the man who propositioned you while you were walking home some time back, and wondering just what he wanted to do to you or have you do to him, and how much he might be willing to pay for that.

    Being poor is taking a stroll several times at the place and time of day that the man propositioned you, and feeling that mixture of shame, relief, and disappointment when no one stops.

    Being poor is wondering if, in case someone had stopped and it was someone you knew, you’d have gotten in the car anyway.

    Being poor is eating government commodity white rice with salt and pepper from packets that you kept from the last time you had fast food, and telling yourself that you actually prefer it that way.

    Being poor is thinking of job benefits not in terms of health care, vacation, or retirement plans, but in terms of leftover or past-expiration-date food.

    Being poor is being furious at the other poor guy who ate all the leftover pizza at the pizza place where you both work, because that was supposed to be your dinner, knowing that if you’d gotten there first you’d have done the same.

    Being poor is being furious at the manager of your rooming house for throwing away your bicycle because it was in such bad shape that he thought it had been abandoned there; surely no one would actually ride that thing.

    Being poor is being furious at the job interviewer who tells you that they won’t give you the nine-to-five office job because they don’t think that you can “adjust” from scrubbing out toilets on the graveyard shift.

    Being poor is spending your non-working time running between the grocery store where you cash checks to the bank where you deposit the cash to cover the previous checks that you cashed to buy bus tickets to another town so that you could interview for a better job than the one that you’ve got now.

    Being poor is when people tell you that they think that you’re wasting your time and effort trying to get a better job, and they think that they’re doing you a favor.

    Having been poor is weeping with joy and gratitude when you can afford an apartment with a kitchen and a bathroom of your own.

    Having been poor is being amazed when you make it to the next paycheck with ten dollars in your bank account from the last one.

    Having been poor is reading about thousands of people who used to have the comfortable middle-class existence that you have now, and have suddenly fallen through the cracks just as you once did, and really understanding for the first time what Satchel Paige said: “Don’t look back–something might be gaining on you.”

  130. Being poor is not having eyeglasses until age 13 when you have needed them since age 4 and your grasp of the basics, like mathmatics, is without foundation, thereby closing the glorious door of science forever

    Being poor is at age 14, using your entire first real paycheck to buy clothing for your younger siblings

    Being poor is from age 14 on walking home three miles in the dark everyday after working after school because your family can’t survive without your paycheck

    Being poor is loathing powdered milk, grape jelly and canned spam to the point of nausua because they remind you so strongly of government surplus ‘foods’.

    Being poor is making absolutely sure that you serve yourself last at all meals so that the younger kids can get their full share and so that you can be sure that your Mother gets to eat something as well

    Being poor is watching your Mother die a slow agonizing death from cancer at home because your state doesn’t provide nursing home or hospice care for the indigent patient.

    Being poor is not being able to escape watching your Mother die for even a minute because you don’t have a TV or a car or the price of a matinee movie ticket. Or money to hire someone to watch the young kids you are now responsible for.

    Being poor is having, at age 18, to bath and clean your mother like an infant because the cancer has robbed her of her arms

    Being poor is something you are inside forever.

  131. Here are a few from my parents, who spent their lives working to get out of poverty for my sake.

    Being poor, is having to share a bed with your three sisters in a house thats covered by tin and hoping it doesnt rain.

    Being poor is being scared to take out the trash for fear of rats in the alley.

    Being poor is hoping there’s not another drought so you have food to eat from the farm.

    Being poor is rushing home so you can do your homework before nightime comes so you dont have to do it by candlelight instead.

    Being poor is riding on a bike with your father for three miles to school.

    Being poor is taking 5 years to finish high school because you have to work to pay for your private schooling.

    Being poor is taking 10 years to go and complete college, because your parents died when you were 16 and you have no one to help pay for college, so you work.

    Being poor is recycling the tea bag over and over.

    Being poor is working a year so you can afford to come to america and go to school so you can get a good job and help your family back home.

    Being poor is sharing a chocolate bar between your three sisters and brother for christmas.

    (Thanks Mom and Dad…ill never forget)

  132. “Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.”

    This, of course, is the main problem. I once read a blog posting from someone I knew (I’d link straight to it, but unfortunately it’s in a foreign language) who had grown up in a semi-slum and is now a doctoral student of science in a good university. He wondered why he ended up so well when many people that he knew and grew up with are now in prisons, homeless or dead.

    Having thought about what those losers had in common, this otherwise quite left-liberal man distilled his answer in three words: “Don’t fucking care”, DFC. In every little choice that those other guys did, it was always some form of DFC. School is boring, but DFC. Shouldn’t use drugs, but DFC. Must stay in school [in a country where all schools are free and the government actually pays you a monthly subsidy to go to school] to eventually get a job, but DFC. These choices were not always big things on their own, but they added up.

    For another perspective on the same thing, Fred Reed has a column “On Poverty“. I’d recommend this especially for those commenters who think that getting your books from the public library is somehow bad.

    All that said, I wonder if I am alone in seeing a slight dissonance between all this overwhelming sympathy for the poor losers of this world and the blog’s tagline “Taunting the Tauntable”.

  133. Being poor is living in a fifth wheel trailer on a relatives land, hidden far in the back where the police and other people who could make trouble can’t see you.

    Being poor is building an addition onto the fifth-wheel trailer out of plywood and aluminum that looks like something only slightly better than a slum shack in a third-world nation.

    Being poor is hanging a sleeping back with nails over the whole that used to be the front door to your house.

    Being poor is when your mom has two college degrees, but flips hamburgers for 16 years, because she doesn’t want to have any medical coverage lapses until her children are all grown up and on their own.

    Being poor is never telling your girlfriend that the house she meets you in front of is two blocks from where you actually live, because you never want her to know that you live in a trailer.

    Being poor is being seven years old and confronted at gunpoint by a dozen IRS/FBI/Police agents in a parking lot.

    Being poor is when those agents are pointing guns at you because your step-dad/mom’s long-time boyfriend/father of your siblings has been evading taxes and they are confiscating his truck that you and your mom and siblings are getting groceries in that day.

    Being poor is having to call family members to come pick you up because the FBI/IRS/Police took the vehical and left you on the street.

    Being poor is initially being frightened becuase you thought all of that firepower was because you were throwing sacks of garbage from your home into the dumpster behind a Baskin Robbins and being glad that it was only due to tax evasion.

    Being poor is growing up with ill-fitting clothes and only one pair of shoes.

    Being poor is the drama in your household that arises when you don’t want to go to school because the crotch or thighs of your pants have worn through and you don’t have anything else to wear.

    Being poor is your only pair of shoes losing their soles entirely and not wanting to go to school.

    Being poor is sitting at home because you can’t afford to participate in sports or after school activities.

    Being poor is memorizing all of the bus lines and schedules.

    Being poor is lying to the bus driver about losing your ticket so you can get a free ride.

    Being poor is standing in line with your mom while she tears food stamps out of a booklet.

    Being poor is standing with your girlfriend while she tears food stamps out of a booklet so she can feed her child, because her ex boyfriend will not.

    Being poor is putting yourself in dangerous situations to survive.

    Being poor is being used and abused and nobody caring or taking you seriously, because you put yourself in dangerous situations.

    Being poor is hooking up with someone who gives you shelter because you give them blowjobs.

    Being poor is being used by people who think you are subhuman.

    Being poor is “falling in love” with another junkie, because you don’t want to be alone and at least the junkie treats you like a human being.

    Being poor is paying for bus tickets with pennies and nickels.

    Being poor is knowing you are never going to go to college.

    Being poor is having to believe all the false platitudes that make us feel better by suggesting it’s what’s in your heart that matters or that money doesn’t make you happy.

    Being poor is knowing what the labeling on government food looks like.

    Being poor is getting free lunch tickets.

    Being poor is having a car door that won’t open.

    Being poor is having buzzcuts at home your entire childhood.

    Being poor is looking forward to McDonald’s or Wendy’s as your family night out.

    Being poor is overclaiming on your W2 and wondering how to make it up when tax time comes.

    Being poor is substituting your dreams with traditional things that you’re told you’re supposed to be happy with, like having a kid.

    Being poor is living in a bedroom smaller than your bathroom.

    Being poor is digging your own septic tank and running it to the bathroom in the extension you’ve built on to the trailer you live in on a family member’s property.

    Being poor is being ten years old and going behind the house to readjust the sewage pipe so that the sewage flows out and into the septic tank, trying not to fall into the massive overflowing pool of sewage that is under your house and the pipe, where it has leaked out and gathered.

    Being poor is having a step-dad who milks workman’s comp, while making you (at eight through twelve) help him cut, chop, stack and deliver firewood for a living.

    Being poor is being six years old in the front of your step-dad’s truck while his buddy goes into the store to distract the employees with complex questions and your step-dad steals some of their expensive lawnmowers and hardware from outside the store on display and puts them in the back of the truck and then you all drive away – and you aren’t quite sure what just happened, but you’re pretty sure it was a bad thing.

    Being poor is having a step-dad who goes hunting by shooting cows on a private farmer’s land at night and then eating the horrible, chewy, almost inedible meat for the next six months because the illiterate bastard didn’t know that you shouldn’t eat dairy cows.

    Being poor is being alone for the rest of your life because you were too poor as a child to be out in public or associate with anyone else out of embarassment and you never learned how to make friends or be normal.

    Being poor is cooking for yourself at ten years old because mom is always at work.

    Being poor is making a meal out of microwaving a piece of white bread with barbecue sauce spread on it.

    Being poor is collecting cans for deposit.

    Being poor is being surprised when you find out, well into adulthood, that most people go to the dentist every six months.

    Being poor is not knowing how to respond when the doctor asks “when was the last time you had a checkup?”.

    Being poor is not going to job interviews, because you are embarassed about the way you look.

    Being poor is asking someone what time it is and seeing the concern in their face as you approach, because they think you’re going to ask them for money.

    Being poor is knowing that no amount of ambition or dedication can ever make up for being born into the wrong family.

  134. This entry on being poor is a great deal of how I live my life currently.

    Being Poor is being happy that they accept your mental illness because it means you get another $200 a month. Corollary… Living in Poverty is one of the reasons you have this mental illness, your daily struggle having an adverse effect on your sanity, rendering you incapable to socialize very well let alone actually work for a living.

  135. “I wonder if I am alone in seeing a slight dissonance between all this overwhelming sympathy for the poor losers of this world and the blog’s tagline ‘Taunting the Tauntable.'”

    There’s dissonance only if you think the proprietor is likely to consider being poor a tauntable offense in itself (he doesn’t).

  136. My parents fought their way out of poverty, and some of our relatives and my friends are still there…

    Being poor is arguing about the 25 cent bus fare hike that happened a week ago, hoping that the driver will believe that you didn’t know about the new tickets and will take your old ones.

    Being poor is having a kid who is “under 2” right up until they are four, and kids who “under 12” for as long as you can get them to lie about it, so you can get free or discounted bus rides for them.

    Being poor is discovering the walk-in clinic isn’t walk-in any more, and the next nearest one isn’t either, and by the time you bus to the next, NEXT nearest one, they’re not accepting any more walk-ins for the day.

    Being poor is having the receptionist at the clinic cluck at you for not coming in earlier.

    Being poor is having to walk back.

    Being poor is telling yourself that you’re just taking a “year off” to earn money for college, because your A- average wasn’t enough to get that scholarship.

    Being poor is the day when you finally admit to yourself you’re never going to actually go to college, no matter how smart you are.

    Being poor is being the kid who had that roach escape from their bag.

    Being poor is knowing what being “too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash” and having to deal with that thin, worn out pride that your mom has to make sure you have soap even when you don’t have much food, because she’s better than the other poor people.

    Being poor means you know there’s social classes and distinctions even in poverty.

    Being poor is working really hard to use an antenna when everyone else you know has cable.

    Being poor is dreaming, every night, of growing up and being rich and buying your family a new car and real Nike shoes and give your mom a vacation and a nice dress…

    Being poor is relying on the Salvation Army even though your dad says that they can just shove all that salvation crap when you come home and your mom yells at him.

    Being poor is everyone in your family having been smoking since they were a teenager but no one ever really being able to afford cigarettes.

    Being poor is your parents really, really believing education is the answer, and thinking that going to university will make you set for life.

    Being one generation removed is seeing your parents wince whenever you mention being short of money, even though you mean “for getting a new computer” not “for making the rent this month”…

  137. Ilkka, since you mentioned: “those commenters who think that getting your books from the public library is somehow bad” and I don’t know if anyone else mentioned library use except me, I’d like to clarify what I meant.

    I was *not* implying that using the library was a bad thing. Libraries are fantastic resources. I was referring to the fact that at a certain level of poverty ‘buying’ a book is _never_ an option. Those funds could always be put to better use, like eating for example. Thank god for libraries. But how many times, in the past, did I really, really, really want that book for my own?

    I think, most people here were, with all honesty, stating what it felt like, or feels like to be poor; how nominal life gets, and how limited the choices and resources. Yes, there are peeps who *could* be blamed for their reduced circumstances–and even of taking (dis)advantage of certain benefits–but I’m assuming they’re not who Scalzi was referring to in his post. There’s been a bit of reminiscencing here, maybe a little confession, but for the most part, thank goodness, very little judgement passed. Unfortunately those few finger-pointing posts stand out like sore thumbs.

  138. Being poor is never having seconds helpings not matter how mean the dish. Any leftovers are for tomorrow’s meal(s), re your careful budget.

  139. Ilkka – I absolutely cannot read that essay you linked to. It’s appalling, smarmy and smug.

    John – thank you again for posting this. I’ve been thinking about it all day and I have realized that I didn’t really know how much my current thinking is still influenced by all of this. I posted it at a site I moderate and I’m going to show it to my oldest son so he finally understands why I give him that look when he does our shopping and buys name brand groceries.

  140. Being poor is the sour smell of the welfare office.

    Being poor is having to move in with your mom because you’re a single parent trying to get disability.

    Being poor is constantly, constantly being run down by people because you have applied for disability – as if you are a slacker, weak, lazy, and somehow criminal – even though you have a serious disease that prevents you from working.

    Being poor is feeling a sick ache in the pit of your stomach when you find out that your mother has been laid off and no one in the house is working.

    Being poor is wondering just what else you can sell on eBay.

    Being poor is considering getting rid of your pets because they are luxury items.

    Being poor is trying to hide the fact that you’re using the food stamp card.

    Being poor is staying awake late every night wondering how you can possibly make life richer for your son, your mother, yourself.

    Being poor is wishing there was some way you could make others understand that you are not lazy, ignorant, careless, or contagious.

    Thank you for this post.

  141. WOW!!! I been here all day, first I read your post then I read the huge amount of feed back thats come in throughout the day & I have been impressed by the empathy & the guts of everyone to put your lives up here for all to see. So now it is my turn…
    Being poor means having my kids ask where are we going to go if we don’t get a house mommy?
    Being poor means going to the church in your local community for help & having them never show back up to help because there was too much to do & they don’t approve of you not attending church.
    Being poor is living with 4 kids on $327.00 a month for over a year.(that $$$ is child support not welfare)
    Being poor is listining to the local D.A. lady you asked to help you collect child support
    ,tell you to go out & get a job & stop relying on the child support!!! All the while your the only parent being a parent.
    Being poor is living in a community of 810 people
    with 2 available jobs & half the girls in town are applying for the position your praying to get.
    Being poor is waking up to find a 30 notice tacked to your door & praying for the local job so you can have some money to look for a place to live with your 4 kids.
    Being poor is asking for help from your well to do sibling for the umteenth time & praying he really knows how hard you’ve tried not to call & ask for help.
    Being poor means living in a house for 3 years with no running water or electrcity because it’s all you can afford.
    Being poor means not having a car to go the 40 miles to the nearest town to try to find work.
    I could really go on & on but being poor also means trying not to dwell on the negitive so you can keep your head above water.
    I love you John for writing this today & I love you for never turning me away. Heather

    [Ed. note — For those of you who don’t know, this is my sister – J.Scalzi]

  142. Being poor is knowing the smell of rotting chicken from the sale shelves of the supermarket.

    I, too, found Ilkka’s link impossibly smug. The “poor” who don’t go to the free concerts and libraries aren’t necessarily all zoned out in front of the TV. They’re probably standing in some endless line in a government office being told that their XYZPD-Q13 form was filled out wrong, and that they won’t get any food stamps this month. Or they’re unable to afford the transportation to these marvellous cultural events, or they’re too busy caring for children and trying to get them to the supermarkets where they can buy that non-McDonald’s food at reasonable prices.

    Several comments have mentioned the time it takes to get anything done without spending money. My parents formulated this in the mixed fruit jelly years as the “time-money continuum.” You can spend time to save money, or spend money to save time. The commenters who look only at the financial costs of things so often forget the time expenditure required to get those low prices.

    The other theme that strikes me, one that I notice because I am no longer subject to it (I live in the UK now), is the suffering caused by being unable to afford medical care. This, in my view, is the worst indictment of the current American system. A nation that put a man on the moon cannot care for its citizens’ health.

  143. Being poor means looking at the recent public disasters and our gov’t’s poor response to them — and not being much surprised, because as a child of a deceased vet, you’ve already seen firsthand just how bad the apparatus actually is.

    Being poor means hoping the *next* government check will have your name spelled correctly, so you can — (each person can add their personal choice).

    >>>[Ed. note — For those of you who don’t know, this is my sister – J.Scalzi]


  144. Great! Let’s build a world where everybody has to wear the same clothes (so you’ll never be embarassed when talking to girls) where nobody has a dime more than anybody else and where nobody has to care what anything costs.

    I think it’s been tried before, though.

  145. >>>Great! Let’s build a world where everybody has to wear the same clothes (so you’ll never be embarassed when talking to girls) where nobody has a dime more than anybody else and where nobody has to care what anything costs.

    Isn’t that what’s promised in virtually every religious text? Or do you expect to carry a wallet in the afterlife too?

  146. John Sabotta:

    “Great! Let’s build a world where everybody has to wear the same clothes (so you’ll never be embarassed when talking to girls) where nobody has a dime more than anybody else and where nobody has to care what anything costs.”

    See, now, the funny thing here is, as far as I can tell, nobody’s suggesting the above as a solution or something that should be done (and certainly not the proprietor). That you look at this list and apparently see it as a call for such says more about you than the rest of the people posting here.

    I don’t see this particular strawman as relevant to what people are discussing here in a general sense, so I hope we won’t get sidetracked by it.

  147. Sing it John.

    I grew up in a less than stellar economic environment. Money saved by hunting of all things helped pay for my books.

    Patient waits in ER’s are based on acuity. The dying go before the stable ill. But then again, if there was adequate health care funding, people wouldn’t need to use the ER as a clinic. And you know damm well hospitals aren’t forth coming regarding Hill Burton either:

    The latest move for corporate medicine in ER’s is to triage low acuity patients to a quick medical screen. If the patient is deemed non acute and in no danger they are sent to a “financial counselor.” This person can then ask for money up front or provide references to overcrowded and under funded free clinics.

    Yes ER’s are overcrowded. Why is that? Because the poor don’t have access to adequate healthcare.
    I have ranted about people going to the ER for stupid things and entitlement attitudes. But for the bottom rung of the economic ladder there is no alternative, and the rich are even trying to take that away.

    You and I have had issues before but you’re on target here.

  148. Being poor means when your six and your dad is gone you wake to find your mom took your piggy bank to buy food for your infant sister.

    Being poor means that the saying “having a rainbow in the cabinet” is from all of the yello and rainbow labeled generic food containers in there.

    Being poor means the good memeroies of your mom making so many of your cloths and toys as a youth has a new meaning.

    Being poor means when the phone rings you want to cry and run into the other room..then do.

  149. Being poor is turning off the ringer on the phone to avoid the bill collectors — and then calling the temp agency only to find out you missed calls for work from them.

    Being poor is losing the phone — and hoping that the payphone you regularly use isn’t vandalized.

  150. Being informed is knowing which wires on a payphone to disconnect to turn off the coin accept but leave a dialtone, so you can go back later, reconnect them to release the coins and steal the pocket change of strangers. Sorry, Mike.

    Being poor is mapping a daily payphone route.

  151. all I can really say about being poor is about what my man the world middleweight champion Ricky Hatton said about being punched in the head.

    “it’s over-rated”

  152. The way that I see it, the middle class in this country (especially in more *wealthy* states, or where wealth is needed to live there, ie: less rural states like in the Northeast where I am) are more and more becoming *poor*…

    I grew up in a suburb of NYC, and back in the day (30+ years ago) we were all *poor*…we all had only 7 channels on our black and white tv’s, we played stickball in the street, we all got 1 pair of sneakers to last through the fall…I had parents who scrimped and saved to send me to Catholic school, because that was their priority, but their home only cost $16,000 in 1966…Mom made all of our clothes herself…Dad drove the 1960 Bonneville 100+ miles daily to find work and worked hours of overtime so that the 3 of us could have a little something else…I was the first in my family to graduate college, thanks to hard work and the support of my parents (and a little financial aid based on my good grades)…

    However, in today’s world…I do have medical coverage thank goodness (I’m a nurse), I have 2 cars (8 year old and 15 year old) but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with gas prices, I do use the public library frequently for the kids…but I had to choose this summer whether to get a new clothes dryer or fix my air conditioning (chose the latter and I’ve been hanging my clothing to dry)…we do live paycheck to paycheck, I’m not counting on being able to retire on Social Security at even 75 or 80 years old…I could go on and on and I hope that I’ve made my point…

  153. >>>Being informed is knowing which wires on a payphone to disconnect to turn off the coin accept but leave a dialtone, so you can go back later, reconnect them to release the coins and steal the pocket change of strangers. Sorry, Mike.

    NYC payphones are virtually armored, so I’d be surprised if you could that here.

    I was going to say something about theft — but then I remembered all those tasty office supplies of past years (an envelope here, a pen there, free Xerox; retail, not wholesale).

  154. Being poor is being fired *solely* for becoming a homeless teenager.

    Being poor is being banned from the library because you accidentally fell asleep reading while waiting for your 4th double shift in a row to start, a day before being fired by the manager whose 4 shifts you worked.

    Being poor is waking up in a parking lot on your 18th birthday. You weren’t sleeping in a car, you were sleeping *between* them. You woke up and headed to the library to read before work.

  155. Thank you for this–things got better for us after a while and it’s easy to forget.

    Being poor is being grateful for being one of the older kids in the clothes rotation we had going among the families in my dad’s army unit. I was usually 3rd in line for hand-me-downs, but my sister had to wait till the castoffs cycled through another family before it was her turn. But the real poor were the folks who got them after her.

  156. Thank you, John.
    Should be sent to every freaking politician who has no clue what it means.

    Being poor means tearing the moldy edges off the stale bread and, if you’re lucky, having mustard to spread on top for flavor.

    Having been poor means that, as an adult, your deficient diet as a child makes your body prey to everything.

    Being poor means sitting in a mall for 18 hours a day because it’s an ‘ozone action day’ and you have asthma.

    Being poor means wondering what you did wrong by being born.

    Being poor means wrapping your feet in plastic bags to go out in the snow.

    Being poor means smelling like it.

    Being poor means trying to make a joke as you ask to borrow money.

    Being poor is when the sugar packet you found somewhere is the breakfast of champions.

  157. a couple of my own: I’m in Canada btw and supposedly we’ve got free medical care and a bunch of other things.)

    being poor means learning basic medicine from your family because a couple studied medicine because you KNOW you can’t afford to go to the walk-in clinic. And then finding out when you get too sick to do anything else that they’ve stopped billing everyone a basic fee who walks in *phew* that’s how I survived the last month. (not kidding – I caught something that could have killed me… barring a $10 medicine, which my family got me)

    being poor means learning how to fix EVERYTHING because you’ll never replace it. One benefit is my last job was because of learning this. (my mom was a nurse and my dad when he went through the army was a radio technician. I learned lots)

    being poor means losing university because you can’t afford the new tax… and that means you don’t eat for 4 months. This is the final thing that threw me over the edge and I dropped out of university – they introduced GST and the tax cost me my food budget. (I got a grant to go because of my marks)

    being poor means being grateful the car you’ve got is cheaper to drive than taking the bus. And knowing how to fix it, even when really really serious things break. (I’ve got to do the driveshaft now. I just did another repair to the differential. I’m hoping that nothing else goes soon because I had to borrow to get the parts)

    and growing up: being poor is: Growing all your own food. Not having power or any other service you can’t make of the land you live on. Seeing your family custom make tools from wood that grows there. Scraping through by selling most of the food you grow. And trading with other people in similar conditions so that everyone’s got a little more variety. Living in a house your folks built because living on a land with no houses was much much cheaper than anything else.

    Being poor is never being able to replace anything. If you leave what you own behind, you’ll have nothing.

    Being poor is having too much pride to admit it and to do anything you can to not have that as part of your identity.

  158. Stouthunter writes:

    “You and I have had issues before but you’re on target here.”

    Yup. People can disagree on some things and see eye to eye on others.

  159. Being Poor

    Whatever meditation on being poor:

    Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

    Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

    Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they&#8…

  160. John Scalzi: I sure like the way you handle comments and defuse flamewars. You’re a class act. (What is it about your readership that is able to contribute so many details about being poor?)

  161. Being poor… is not something I can say about myself anymore despite the tuition bill and the rising cost of gas. Having reliable transportation, making rent every month, and buying (some) name brand groceries completely disqualifies me.

    Being poor means finding the strength to continue living despite all that being poor entails.

    Thank you, John.

  162. Noumenon writes:

    “I sure like the way you handle comments and defuse flamewars. You’re a class act.”

    Well, you know. There are times when a good healthy flame war in a comment thread is fun. But I don’t think it would be appropriate for the tone that’s being set here.

    “What is it about your readership that is able to contribute so many details about being poor?”

    There are a lot of people who are or were poor in this country; it’d be surprising if someone of them weren’t online and reading blogs/journals (including mine). I will say that it’s always seemed to me that the readership here is pretty diverse, and it’s rare that I write on a subject that one of my readers isn’t knowledgeable about. As I do subscribe to the theory that one’s readership is important to the overall quality of a site, I naturally feel extremely fortunate. So to my readers: Thanks. You’re making me look good. Or better, anyway.

  163. — Being Poor means your mom trying to convince you that Fabric Softener is Cream Rinse because she can’t tug the comb through your tangled hair without it.

    — Being Poor means asking your mom for food for Christmas and crying when she gives you a milk crate stuffed with name-brand dry goods.

    — Being Poor means making the milk crate last until February.

    — Being Poor means picking up the telephone and hearing the static buzz of disconnect — for the third time that year.

    — Being Poor means hearing the oil furnace gutter to a halt in the middle of the night.

    — Being Poor means blankets staplegunned over the plastic wrap on your bedroom window.

    — Being Poor means pining for the twenty-meal-a-week plan you had while you were still in college, which you only got because you busted your ass to get (and keep) every scholarship and grant you heard about.

    — Being Poor means knowing how to wire your muffler back on with a coathanger and a $2.00 part from the hardware store.

    — Being Poor means knowing how to construct furniture out of boards and cinderblocks so that it doesn’t look scabby.


    — Being Rich means you finally get to swap your milk crates for real furniture.

    — Being Rich means you get to stop buying the 25-cent mac and cheese — in favor of canned tuna.

    — Being Rich means all the bills are paid and you still get to order pizza that week — *and* you tip the driver generously because that poor dude is you.

    — Being Rich means you get to own things not previously owned by other people. Sometimes.

    — Being Rich means not flinching at your friends’ wedding invitations because you can finally afford to give them presents.

    — Being Rich means you don’t spend every other night in a cold sweat, wondering how the hell you’re going to make it to the next paycheck.


    — Having Been Poor means you still shop at thrift stores, even when your mom yells at you.

    — Having Been Poor means you refuse to buy a car factory-new as opposed to new-to-you, just on principle.

    — Having Been Poor means paying off the last of your debt makes you happier than you’ve been in years. Dancing is not optional.

    — Having Been Poor means mocking people who value their brand-name anything over a good deal, especially something on sale for half-off.

    God, that was cathartic. John Scalzi, I luuuuuurve you.

  164. Being poor means never owning a stuffed animal that wasn’t handmade.

    Being poor means that after the flood, the macaroni was ruined, but the sealed cheese powder packets were safe, so

    they became cooking ingredients.

    Being poor means giving the money from your paper route to your mom so she can buy milk.

    Being poor means knowing what Spam soup tastes like. With several different broths. (ramen flavor packet or packet o’ cheese – different noodles, but the choice is yours!)

    Being poor means working a fast-food job while in school, and volunteering to take out the trash, because it means

    you can hide the perfectly-fine-but-timed-out sandwiches off to the side when you do,and come back for them later.

    Being poor means paying your neighbor a fee to run an extension cord to an outlet in his back room.

    Being poor is owning a telephone with bare-wire connections rather than a standard jack, and knowing how to connect it to the shaved wires of your neighbors’ phone line and talk on their lines late at night, or the voice lines of other neighbors’ DSL to get a ride to work. (thank god for the central switchbox)

    Being poor is learning how to time this conversation according to your neighbor’s auto-reconnect settings.

    Being poor is physically pushing the lever-locked electrical connectors back to “connected” with a broom-handle.

  165. Being poor is hanging out at airport gates to collect returnable carts (25 cents each) from departing passengers, then saving one to poach skycap customers.

  166. For richer or poorer

    I find that a lot of people do not understand what it truly means to be rich. From googley, on Ask Metafilter: 1) Ability to pay others to perform menial tasks. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, driving, managing money, lawyering, etc. etc. Almost anything …

  167. Being poor is knowing exactly when the bakery sets out their day-old breads.

    Being poor is knowing just how much edible packaged food grocery stores throw out, and the best times to find it.

    Being poor is signing up for every birthday freebie you can find- twice.

    Being poor is scavenging for dropped produce after the farmer’s market.

    Being poor is waking up early to sneak the coupons out of your neighbor’s Sunday paper.

  168. Being poor means that what ever you do to “help yourself” some smug fuck still regards you as a “welfare cheat”.

  169. Being poor is…

    Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

    Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

    Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

    Being poor is mak…

  170. Being poor is…

    Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

    Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

    Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

    Being poor is mak…

  171. Being poor is knowing where the blind spots for the security cameras in the drugstore are, so you can shoplift enough food to survive.

    Being poor is “dropping by” your more well-off friends’ homes around supper time, hoping you’ll be invited to eat.

    Being poor is having calves the size of a thoroughbred’s, from walking everywhere.

    Being poor is considering a cab ride to be the height of decadence.

    Being poor is being afraid to go down into the basement of your apartment complex to use the washing machine, because of all the rapes there.

    Being poor is having to change the roach motels in your kitchen on a daily basis.

    Being poor is not noticing the mingled smell of lysol and piss anymore.

    Being poor is hoping the leak in your roof doesn’t cause the ceiling’s drywall to collapse, because you’ll never afford the repair bill.

    Being poor is living with sheet plastic taped over the hole, when the ceiling does collapse.

    Being poor is hell, anyway you slice it.

  172. Being Poor

    When you have a few minutes, take the time and go read John Scalzi’s post called “Being Poor”. Make sure you take the time to read it and make sure you get to the end. It’s a simple and brilliant…

  173. Being poor is begging your child to let you give a prize they won to their newly married friends

    Being poor means your best friend drove herself to hospital while miscarrying so she didn’t ruin their budget wth an ambulance bill (even though the hospital itself was covered)

    Getting out of being poor means I have holiday time, so when my best friend’s husband ends up in hospital I can take time to babysit their kid.

    Being poor means I didn’t buy a book until i was fifteen.

    Being poor means my car that should have been written off is now my brother’s because I own my dead uncle’s car.

    Being poor is having two family members die in twelve months doing their job and have the rest of them still go out and do the same job because it’s all they’ve done since they were fourteen. Fishing if you’re curious.

    Being poor means your Da nearly puts himself in hospital every year because his work has nearly killed him but he has to do it otherwise the debt will get him.

    As a child knowing how much food costs.

    Being poor is debt discussions are par for the course.

    Being poor is eating whatever Da can bring home.

    Being poor is eating whatever your father shoots in the bush.

    Being poor is putting $5 of petrol in the car, even though it’s dear because you need it to get home and that’s all the money you’ve got.

  174. Having thought about what those losers had in common, this otherwise quite left-liberal man distilled his answer in three words: “Don’t fucking care”

    More accurately, Why Would It Fucking Matter? When you’re poor, you know that your schools suck, that you don’t have family connections to get you into good schools or good jobs, and even if you did pull yourself up the ladder, you’d probably get shot or sick or have to quit to help family anyway. So why bust your ass slaving away for a high-school degree not worth the paper it’s printed on?

  175. Being poor means:

    Having your dad stop his bus (with all the passengers watching), so he can pick up food that fell off the delivery truck unnoticed and bring it home to his family for a treat. And it was!

    Using fishing line to sew up the holes in the soles of your one pair of shoes (because regular thread didn’t hold up to all the walking you had to do).

    Feeling loved that your Christmas present was barbie doll clothes which your mom sewed from scraps left over after making your clothes. Not many kids had matching outfits with their dolls.

    Thinking that camping trips (to free campsites) were because your parents liked camping; and not realizing until later that it was a way to provide food (by fishing and hunting) for you.

    and finally, being poor means:

    Realizing that having to depend on others (especially family) to help you in times of need can be a blessing;

    and it means you know how much any help you can provide to others will mean to them.

  176. Being poor is when your spouse and you both work and you still qualify for food stamps

    Being poor is thinking of Wednesdays as date night because you and your spouse will walk downtown to sell enough CD’s to buy ten 49 cent cheeseburgers because you haven’t eaten since the last Wednesday

    Being poor is telling your kid they have to get good at a sport because they can only go to college with a scholarship

    Being poor is when your Christmas savings is $11.39

    Being poor is putting $14.00 worth of clothes on layaway and not being able to get them out

    Being poor is nicking enough money from the cashdrawer at your night job to buy a single pop tart and a school-sized milk for your kid’s breakfast

    Being poor is begging your well-off father for $6.00 to pay your kid’s school lunch fees because it is the only hot food your child gets all day and your dad told you he would disown you if you got free lunches for him, and you haven’t gotten paid at your job yet, and your dad refuses you that small amount.

    Being poor means you always feel guilty-for stealing to survive, for your hungry kids, for not leaving, for bad daycare, for home haircuts, for slim Christmases, for everything all the time

  177. Being poor is hearing your son say “I’m going to get out of this pit, Mom.” and praying that he really will because it doesn’t seem possible from where you stand.

    Being rich is climbing out of the pit, even if ever so slightly to see that your son has succeeded.

    There’s a part of poor that lives in the mind and heart for ever.

    Let me tell you this though: poverty is also a state of mind and you can let it bury you or you can stand up and make it through.

    Thanks for sharing today, son. I love you

  178. from my mother’s upbringing: poor means you eat what you can grow. it means the house has no electricity or running water (no toilet, no sink). it means two beds in the one room house – one for males, one for females. it means you live in a tar-paper shack, literally a wood frame covered with real tar paper. it means when the temperature drops to 30 below, you better have chopped some wood for the fire. and yes this was in north america in the 20th century.

  179. just as an amendment –

    you are NOT poor if you have cable TV

    you are NOT poor if you own a video game console

  180. Grumpy:

    “you are NOT poor if you have cable TV

    you are NOT poor if you own a video game console”

    I understand the sentiment here, but I have to disagree; it’s entirely possible to be poor and have these things. It’s just that being poor, they take up a larger (and possibly inadvisible) portion of your income.

    Having said that, basic cable costs less per month than five packs of cigarettes (fewer depending where you live), and I don’t think anyone realistically suggests that if you can afford to smoke, you are not poor (indeed, if I recall correctly, there’s correlation between smoking and low incomes). And naturally, given the choice between the two, I’d personally prefer people watch cable TV rather than smoke. It’s marginally healthier.

  181. Being poor is knowing what NSF means without even thinking about it.

    Being poor is knowing which houses throw out the best food.

    Being poor is hitching a ride with the bread delivery truck as one shift ends to get to your next job.

    Being poor is knowing exactly how much food you can fit into your pockets without arousing suspicion.

    Being poor is collecting the dryer lint at the laundromat because it burns better.

    Being poor is praying for “free samples” day.

    Being poor is eating dog food and thinking “I’ve had worse”.

  182. Having been poor (even though not as poor as some of the posters have described) means always having a secret deep stomach-wrenching fear that something could happen to tear away the middle class life and knowing that you are now too old to be able to struggle back up again.

  183. Brian writes:

    “a great response to this post.”

    If “great” can be defined as “blandly contemptuous snark,” yes. I wasn’t impressed with either the form or the content; as a fisking it rates in the “D+” range. Your mileage may vary.

    However, I do naturally encourage people to visit him and take measure of his knowledge of and compassion for the day-to-day life of the poor in this country. I do think the entry is revealing, although probably not in the manner he expects.

    I would ask that if people choose to respond to it, there do it over there rather than here as it would be the more appropriate venue (I’m slipping this in after one response got by me).

  184. Being barely middle class is loaning my poor boyfriend money I barely have in hopes that he can get through college, and looking for a second part-time job I don’t have time for, and counting the months (9) until I will be done with school for a few years and be able to get a decent full-time job so he can afford health care. Maybe. If the market’s good.

    Being barely middle class is worrying about money and feeling guilty because there are others far worse off and resenting the spoiled rich brats I go to class with for casually spending hundreds of dollars on skiing and alcohol a month.

    I’ve never met anyone who brushed his teeth as much as my boyfriend, but when you can’t afford yearly cleanings, it doesn’t always keep you from getting cavities. He’s afraid he’ll need a root canal now, and where’s the money for that, when his financial aid hasn’t come through and his last temp job fired him for being dyslexic? For that matter, no amount of brushing keeps wisdom teeth from impacting, or magically straightens horribly misgrowing teeth, or removes ankylosed baby teeth. Not all bad teeth are cavity-caused.

    I’ve never been poor, but I’ve known enough poor people (and not just in the U.S.) to empathize, if not truly understand.

    The part that scares me is that people read this thread and still say, “Well, why don’t they just stop being poor?” Have they ever tried going to college and working full-time and supporting a family and then finishing the degree to find that hey, you can’t get a family-supporting job in this economy without a Master’s in most fields? Have they ever even spoken at length with someone who wasn’t born to money?

  185. growing up poor means never ever having store- bought clothes,
    until you got a parttime job, as a teenager, and then
    going to value village for all yr clothes secondhand.

    having been poor means always knowing exactly to the penny
    how much cash you have in your wallet, and being able to look at a shopping cart of groceries and know to within ten cents what they add up to.

    having been poor means that forever you are nervous about
    running out of money even though you know after twenty yrs
    of work you own your own car , a house, and have a savings account and always you are grateful that you live in a house
    in a neighbourhood where you dont as a matter of course get mugged after dark.

    and it means you always know forever how to fix your toaster,
    install an extra phone jack, jump start your car, siphon a gas tank and
    repair the sink and toilet.

    and it means you can understand perfectly and awfully
    why some people just could not leave new orleans.

    and knowing makes you weep.

  186. Brian writes “a great response to this post.” Well I don’t think so…

    Being low class is acting like you know somthing when you have no clue.

    Maybe you were lucky enough to have everything in your life go wonderful but that does not happen for alot of us.

    Being poor means having to listen to rich,snooty people talk crap even though you know you’ve done the best whith what you’ve got.

    Have a nice night Brian & pray that nothing ever happens to take away your pretty little world.

  187. Growing up poor means that even after you’ve earned two college degrees (on scholarship) and finally gotten a good job (on merit), you don’t trust and still don’t feel comfortable around middle-class and rich people because these are the people who used to make fun of your people.

    Growing up poor means having to listen to people who never experienced poverty and don’t know any poor people ranting about what poor people “should” do.

    Growing up poor means that you’re always looking over your shoulder because even if you’re now successful, you also know that it could be taken away in a minute with a catastrophic illness or accident. You can get back into the cycle of late fees and charges due to simple car repair issues.

    Growing up poor and making it in the middle-class world means that people will make white trash and trailer jokes around you not realizing that your mom and many of your relatives still live in trailers.

    Growing up poor can give you skills that kids from middle class families don’t have. You can grow your own food and have few moral qualms about hunting animals to eat. You know how to fish.You know which wild plants are edible and how to prepare them. You can sew, knit and crochet–not because these were hobbies, but because anything you could make, grow, or harvest wild was one less thing you had to buy.

    Growing up poor is having compassion for other poor people who did not have the same opportunities or who do not possess the same talents that got you out of poverty (I am a singer and my voice “bought” my education for me).

    Growing up poor means that the loans you took to pay for living expenses in college made it difficult to actually pay for living expenses AFTER college because even with a college education, a good-paying steady job in your field wasn’t immediately available—and you get yourself further in debt because you have to play “check roulette” with creditors and bounce a few.

    Growing up poor means that your credit rating is shot because it took you so long to pay off that student loan because you were not able to make regular monthly payments.

    The statements about how growing up poor means that you don’t know how to deal with money all ring true for me. If you’ve never had any, it’s difficult to know what to do with it once you *do* get some. My tendency is to spend it right away because who knows when you’ll get more?

    Growing up poor means that because of the financial stress of your youth and now only being able to get by despite a decent job, you tell your kids that if they want to go to college, they must do it on their own through merit or by working to put themselves through. It also means that you have no problem encouraging your children to join the military if that’s what it takes.

    Growing up poor means that you consider yourself rich because even if you struggle to make those house and car payments, you actually know people without either a house OR a car and appreciate your own modest living arrangements so much more.

    We now have all the trappings of a middle-class life, but even for middle-class people, we struggle to keep one car on the road, keep up the house payment, feed the family and buy the “right” clothes to fit in at our middle-class jobs. We live paycheck to paycheck (and since I am a musician in addition to teaching part-time at a college, we live from gig to gig). Many people who call themselves middle-class are actually rich in our eyes. They may have two cars or even two houses and still call themselves middle class! To us, that’s unbelievably wealthy!

  188. Being poor is why did you have kids if you can’t afford to raise them in a good environment?

  189. Being Poor means washing laundry in a bucket for 20 years so your kids didn’t have to “look” poor.

    Being Poor means jumping for joy when a lady at the free clinic hears about your washing ordeal & offers to give you an old washer she has put away in storage.

    Being Poor means being grateful when your 20 year old daughter loans you her first car for a couple months so you can get back & forth to the dr’s.

    And Cookie you hit it on the head with your last post. Peace

  190. Not as poor as many, but poor enough to know:
    Losing a job after the night bus was cancelled, even though I was prepared to walk home 3.5 miles, and did walk to work and home on weekends when the bus didn’t run.

    New job, continuing to sell plasma to eat until the first paycheck came in.

    Living on split pea soup and homemade bread and black coffee for two weeks, because that’s what I had ingredients for.

  191. Jonathan writes:

    “Being poor is why did you have kids if you can’t afford to raise them in a good environment?”

    What is this, Jeopardy? Not every comment has to be in the form of “Being poor is…,” particularly when it results in tortured grammar.

    Jonathan, first entertain the notion that people may have had children and then found themselves in poverty; ask single mothers about that, or a family where the main breadwinner loses a job. Life is like that sometimes.

    Second, not all financially poor environments are bad ones: A family that doesn’t have a lot of money but has a good support structure within the family could be a perfectly fine environment to grow up in. Conversely not every well-off child grows up in a good environment. As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of different ways to be poor in the US. In this thread we’ve heard from people who grew up poor but who also had parents who raised their children conscientiously, and of course I like to think my mom did likewise.

    I do think people have to carefully consider their financial situation before having kids. But being poor isn’t a disqualifcation from breeding in itself. In my opinion.

    I do want to be careful about turning this into a thread about the morality of doing “X” when one is poor, where “X” is whatever it is someone doesn’t necessarily think poor people should be doing. If we can have this discussion at a civilized volume, great, otherwise let’s not.

  192. Being poor means not having as much money as others do, that’s it. What’s the point of this article? I’m poor, but I don’t need people to read this and feel sorry for me. I’m poor, but I don’t need to read this and feel sorry for myself.

  193. Being poor is feeling guilty for “only” working 52 hours this week because it’s your birthday and you want to take your first weekend off in a month.

  194. Being poor is having turkey loaf from the local food bank for Christmas dinner.

    Being poor is having your stepfather steal birthday money from your grandmother, to buy beer.

    Being poor is knowing that your mother wouldn’t have done anything if you stepfather had raped you.

    Being poor is knowing that the scars on your soul never truly heal.

    Not being poor is always worrying about when/if you’ll be poor again.

    Being rich is having a spouse who wasn’t poor, not care that you were.

    I am rich, now, and someday I’ll even learn to stop worrying about being poor.

  195. Being poor is having the layout of Value Village memorized.

    Being poor is getting called out of class one day to have first pick of the clothes the rest of the school donated in a second-hand clothing drive.

    Being poor is spending a school year wearing the Levi’s that your recently dead uncle owned, because your parents couldn’t afford to buy you new jeans of your own.

    Being poor is waiting in a room with a lot of other poor people, filling out forms to get a grant to pay your heating bill, and being told not to read ahead because they assume you are too stupid to read and fill out the forms on your own without help from a social worker.

    Being poor is sharing a roach-infested studio apartment with a roommate. Sleeping on the floor with a sleeping bag while the roommate sleeps on a couch. Plugging your $5 tv (yes, $5 from a hippie who was selling all of his worldly goods), old clock radio, and beat-up old lamp into the one single outlet in the room, since the apartment wasn’t exactly up to code. And even then, having trouble finding the rent money. Waking up in the morning to find a homeless guy on the step and realizing that at least you are better off than that.

    Being poor is turning down a college scholarship because the college wanted the parents to contribute $800 for the year (!) and it might as well have been $80,000. (Later I found out that if we had just called the school and explained, they would have found a way for me to attend. But how were we to know? I was the first person in my family to attend college.)

    Being poor is taking only $5 out of the ATM, and freaking out when the ATM only lets you take out $20 bills… because you never have that much in there.

    Being poor is putting off laundry as much as possible because it just takes quarters you don’t have.

    Being poor is only buying items in the grocery store that are less than $1 (I would probably have to make it $2 now, since so many things cost more than they did when I was in this situation), with the exception of milk.

    Being poor is saving the special plate from Pizza Haven’s “all you can eat Wednesdays” to reuse the next week (they used the plates to see who had paid; we would keep them clean by covering them with a napkin instead of putting the pizza directly on the plate).

    Being poor is going to the mall and going to Hickory Farms to eat a bit of all the samples. This would be dinner. (Nowdays Costco would do the trick… but you have to pay for a membership.)

    Being poor is not being able to go to Costco except with a friend who can afford the membership.

    Being poor is not having a phone installed because there is just no way you can afford the deposit and installation fee. So you use the pay phone just outside your building. You schedule times for people to call you there and you hope they really will. Then the phone company turns off the incoming call ability because of “drug dealers,” and you are screwed.

    I am lucky to not be poor any more. I still have extreme trouble paying full price for new clothes, etc. I just can’t imagine it.

    (Hi John, long time no chat.)

  196. Being poor is fighting with soldiers to keep your sewing machine so you can make enough money to keep your kids fed.

    Being poor is drinking as much water as you can hold to keep your stomach from feeling empty.

    Being poor is getting meat once a year.

    All of this happened to my family, and I am forever grateful to this country that at some point there was enough opportunity for my parents to keep me from being poor. It does not, however, excuse it from treating the poor the way it does.

  197. Being poor is having arseholes think it’s ‘low class’

    Being poor is not having the money for birth control

    Being poor is missing school because your best friend is pregnant and needs you to help her out

    Being poor is not having the knowledge you can rely on someone else to help.

  198. wow. that really hit the nail on the head. From the original list there at the top, i’ve been through almost every single one of those at one time or another (most of them in the last few years – when I lived in new orleans – uptown).

    Being poor is making pankakes and waffles with that really old musty smelling mix.

    Being poor is waking up in 6 inches of water because your appartment is in a basement and you sleep on the floor, and you just sold all your furniture to pay rent/bills/food.

    Being poor is wishing you will get hit by a bus on the way to work to stop the pain of living.

    Being poor is hopeing you can make it this time around.

    Being poor in America is realizing that while things could get worse, they wont, because you have already hit rock bottom.

  199. Melanie: In some misty Platonic realm, populated with the ideal Forms of everything, there is an essay entitled “Read This, You Stupid Rich S.O.Bs, Or, Better Yet, Have This Stapled To Your Perfumed, SUV-Encased Buttocks”, and this essay has found its way here.

    This is the kind of attitude that I find obnoxious and equally ignorant as saying, “If they don’t like it, why don’t they stop being poor?” My parents worked their butts off to let me have a better life than they did. Reading these lists of what it means to be poor has really opened a window into a world my parents knew, but that is completely unfathomable to me. Should I somehow be ashamed that they always wanted the best for me, and that now I may be considered one of those people who has a pair of “perfumed, SUV-encased buttocks?” Should I insult them by saying that I wish they could have had more leisure time for themselves when they made the choice to work very hard to allow their child to have a better life? Of couse I wish they could have, but I am immensely grateful for all that they have done for me.

    I am so thankful that my parents always pushed me to do well in school, and for knowing how incredibly proud my dad is when I show him my “fancy private college” transcripts because I have succeeded where he could not because of dyslexia that his family couldn’t afford to have treated, or even identified as being the problem. I never realized how well off I was until I read a series in the New York Times about class in the US, and now I realize my immense fortune when it comes to having parents that somehow managed to break the cycle and spoil me. I may have an affection for cashmere sweaters, but please, I am not a “Stupid Rich S.O.B.” and I am hardly an exception in this area.

  200. being poor is getting the experience and skills to do things that will help you all your life. Being poor can build compassion. Being poor is not a sin. Working hard and doing everything right and still getting crushed is the sin.
    The Finnish guy has no conception of poverty, the DFC thing is a by product of socialism-he should look at this list as a cautionary tale. He should count himself lucky that the floor is high where he is, because the ceiling is low here.

  201. I was brought up middle class. I fell into the clutches of an abusive man who kept me from leaving the house until I got pregnant, then made me look for work while he followed me around all day to make sure I didn’t run away or go to the cops, then when I did finally get a job working at the convenience store, he quit his security guard job and made me support him. I finally got the chance to leave him and go to a battered women’s shelter, where the social workers took my son away because I was so depressed I couldn’t function, then kicked me out on the street because welfare housing only took women with kids. I’m deeply ashamed of this and I’m only telling you about it because I’m not poor anymore.

    At least I don’t think I am. What is poor, a state of mind? I have a good job. I pay my way 100%. I even support my guy while he gets his degree, mostly because it thrills me to see someone with talent get to use it (nobody would do this for me). But I have no credit because I’m scared of having credit cards or buying anything on time payments, because I can’t assume I’ll always be able to make those payments. Some kid broke a window in my (paid for cheap used) car and I bought the thickest plastic and special clear duct tape and was proud of the neat, useful repair. I didn’t fix it when I had the money because I bought something to keep in the disaster preparation kit instead.

    I earned a promotion a month ago, finally escaping the secretarial rut to work in IT. The job came with a 12K per year raise and I got scared because I finally had something good to lose or get taken away.

    Having been poor means you’re scared stiff for the rest of your life, every day, every day.

  202. Being poor is watching those “chistian childrens organizations” on TV and wishing that you had it that good.

    Being poor is scraping together all the change in the couches to buy food because your dead-end job doesnt pay enough to cover edibles, and you would prefer that to letting your rich parents/family know you are a worthless broke bum (or just to avoid hearing that hearbreaing disappointment in their voices when you can afford to talk to them).

    Its funny (in a sick depraved way) that being poor is America is like being rich in another country, except that in another country you would be better off… people that have been poor know how it is, and people who are struggling know how it is. The successful and the rich just dont care how it is, they dont see you on the side of the road, or if they do, they just stare right through you, with as much expression on thier faces as if they were looking at a brick wall.

  203. I don’t give you money when I see you on the streets because I used to be you and I hate myself for it and I hate you for reminding me of it. I would be abetter person if I hadn’t been through what I had been through, and I’m sorry.

  204. Being poor is living with the consequences your mistakes, and the mistakes you didn’t even make – the cockroaches from the neighboring apartment, the war you didn’t start but your kids are fighting, the evacuation plans that don’t include you.

    Being middle class means living with the consequences of your own mistakes. Being formerly poor means that you’re scared of where those consequences could lead.

    By extension, I think being rich means that you don’t even live with the consequences your own mistakes.

    My son thinks “Mama fixes things” is some kind of superpower, like flying or spinning spiderwebs, rather than the product a family that fixed things it couldn’t replace. I want him to know how to do these things – just in case – without the ache of having to, because the choices are worse.

    (And being low-class is using facile judgements and easy answers as a substitute for empathy and understanding.)

  205. “There’s dissonance only if you think the proprietor is likely to consider being poor a tauntable offense in itself (he doesn’t).”

    That is one opinion, yes.

    But someone else might think that the total inability to control your life, hold onto a job or obtain even the barest shelter is itself a several orders of magnitude bigger sign of loserdom than, say, having an incorrect opinion on some rather abstract political or social question while being a self-supporting and productive member of society in general.

    Not everyone shares your enlightened views on what constitutes tauntability, so I would claim that explicitly advocating taunting losers is a somewhat dangerous policy. Suppose someone actually started taunting poor people for generally being stupid losers. What would you ever say to that?

  206. Being poor is being fat because the only foods you can afford are full of starch and empty calories, and then having smug middle-class people assume that you’re “leaching off the government” to buy bonbons and filet mignon.

    Being poor is getting looked at like dogshit on a shoe because you’re paying for your groceries with food stamps.

    Being poor is learning how to alter your car’s inspection sticker so the cops won’t stop you for an inspection violation–and because you know your car won’t pass the annual $6 safety inspection that you can’t afford anyway, let alone the $500 worth of repairs you need to replace your nearly-bald tires to make your car safe and roadworthy. But you need that car, no matter how much of a junker it is, because it’s your only way to get anywhere since you live in a rural area and there’s no public transportation system.

    Being poor is staying on AFDC and Medicaid so your daughter, who needs $30,000 worth of surgery to correct a spinal curvature, will actually be able to get it before she becomes paralyzed.

    Being poor is getting scathing looks from your college-prep classmates because you’re not wearing the right clothes and don’t have the right haircut.

    Being poor, teenage and female is knowing that everyone assumes you’re not going to do anything with your life except get pregnant and pop out more welfare-bum sprogs–despite evidence to the contrary such as repeated appearances on the honor roll, applications (and acceptance letters) to high-class colleges, and the like.

    Being poor is going off antidepressants because you can’t afford them now that you no longer have health insurance….and then getting so depressed you’re not functional enough to do anything to make your life better.

    Being poor is watching your mother’s teeth rot out of her head and knowing there’s not a damn thing you can do to help her….until she winds up in the ER and almost dies from a systemic infection caused by multiple abscesses, and can FINALLY access some of the state resources she needs to get herself taken care of.

  207. Being Really Poor

    Peter Griffin scoffs at John’s Scalzi’s original list on <i>Being Poor</i> by making his own list of – Being Really Poor. He says, "And for the first time, I find myself genuinely upset with how little people in the USA kn…

  208. Not being poor any longer means having this list break my heart when I look back and realise exactly how hard my single mother worked to support my two brothers and I. She’s worked hard for over 20 years to make sure her sons and now her daughter can have a good life. She’s just remarried and I’ll be damned if I do anything but feel happy that she’s found a good man to be with, she deserves at least that much for all she’s done.

    Being poor means you begrudge your younger brother his smaller size requiring new clothes, because you get your older brother’s old clothes, at least until you manage to outgrow him. :)

    Being poor means often making your own dinner, because your mother works the late shift and doesn’t have enough time to make you a proper meal.

    Having been poor means you like to splash out and treat yourself when you have a bit of money, but you still feel guilty for buying something you don’t really need, even if you can afford something nice from time to time.

    Thank you all for your willingness to expose a little bit of your lives, to share a piece of the pain that so many of us have felt.

  209. This one is for Scalzi, who I’m sure already figured it out from my first post:

    Being poor is being very suspicious of people who write about being poor — especially on the Internet during an emergency when our own goddammed government has left thousands of our fellow citizens to die.

    And if I may comment on some past ones:

    >>>Being poor is considering a cab ride to be the height of decadence.

    — God, yes!

    >>>Being poor means you always feel guilty-for stealing to survive, for your hungry kids, for not leaving, for bad daycare, for home haircuts, for slim Christmases, for everything all the time

    — while the CEOs smirk during their endless perp walks, having sent them employees’ pension funds down the drain (as Enron did)!

    >>>Growing up poor means that even after you’ve earned two college degrees (on scholarship) and finally gotten a good job (on merit), you don’t trust and still don’t feel comfortable around middle-class and rich people because these are the people who used to make fun of your people.

    — yes. I can’t stand suits and won’t wear one. They are the symbol of The Enemy.

    >>>Being poor is turning down a college scholarship because the college wanted the parents to contribute $800 for the year (!) and it might as well have been $80,000. (Later I found out that if we had just called the school and explained, they would have found a way for me to attend. But how were we to know? I was the first person in my family to attend college.)

    — being poor is the humiliation of that one sentence: “But how were we to know?” — again and again and again.

    >>>Working hard and doing everything right and still getting crushed is the sin.

    — The Ultimate Sin. It reminds me of the unforgettable Ted Rall comic, a guy endlessly repeats in several panels as he goes about his life, “Don’t fail, don’t fail, don’t fail…” only to be shown in the final panel homeless on the street begging, with “Oopsie!” as his final thought.

    >>>Having been poor means you’re scared stiff for the rest of your life, every day, every day.

    Especially when someone knocks on your door unexpectedly or your phone rings and you haven’t gievn your number out to many people.

    Thank you, Saclzi, for this. It’s bookmarked.

  210. What can i say. A true insight into many people’s reality, from someone who know’s the truth.

  211. All of the above are only appropriate if you live in the western world.

    Try, ‘Being Poor means that there is a good chance your child will die before the age of 3 because of a) no clean water; b) the continent-wide AIDS epidemic; c) malnutrition; or d) because its mother is likely to be raped & murdered by militia serving as the local government’.

  212. To know exactly how much everything costs

    As usual, I got this from (social bookmarking) site. At first, I just did my regular trigger-happy clicking when later this post got me stunned. Furthermore, after reading one of the comments, I realized it’s somehow related to/ins…

  213. Being poor is working full time and going to night classes, with a dangerous medical condition that requires rest, because otherwise you’ll NEVER be able to pay for medical care.

    Being poor is wearing children’s clothing purchased from Goodwill because it’s cheaper than the adult stuff.

    Being poor is crying when you get a ticket for an expired car tag because you can’t afford to renew it and you can’t afford the ticket, either, but you have to drive or you lose your job and starve.

    Being poor is politely refusing your richer relative’s offer to take you out for a manicure, because you really don’t need $25 fingernails, but $25 sure would help you pay the electric bill.

  214. I don’t know if I really count as being poor compared to some of these (Being poor is feeling guilty because you’re not “poor enough” to deserve help?), but here are a few of mine:

    Being poor is taking your father’s passive-aggressive shit yet again because the rent is an insurmountable obstacle to moving out on your own.

    Being poor is hearing people recommend a douala when the father of your child decides he wants nothing to do with the pregnancy, and laughing hollowly because there’s not enough money for all the baby things you need anyway.

    Being poor is wondering what you can sell to stop the credit card company taking you to court and seriously considering offering your baby for paid adoption when it’s born.

    Being poor is bursting into tears because you’ve just learned you don’t check the right boxes to get free milk despite being poor and pregnant.

    Being poor is donating ten bucks to the Katrina relief efforts because they need it more, then keeping this secret lest your family give you grief – those ten bucks could have gone towards the credit card.

  215. -Being poor is loathing Christmas, because you know the next day everyone is going to ask what you get.

    -Being poor is checking out lots of movies and books from the library on Christmas eve so you can have something to do on Christmas because you know your family can’t afford presents this year.

    -Being poor is riding the bus that takes an hour + 30 minute walk to get home but it would only take twenty minutes in a car.

    -Being poor is going months without water and electricity and having to spend lots of time over (Relative’s) house so you can get a shower every three days.

    -Being poor is being sad that your VCR broke when everyone else has a dvd player.

    -Being poor is being amazed that your boyfriend’s family doesn’t know how much apple juice costs at sainsbury’s (UK Supermarket) when you know exactly how much it costs at home and when it will be on sale

    -Being poor is knowing exactly how much is in your bank at any amount of time to the penny.

    -Being poor means cheering when you got a free tide pen in the mail from a sweepstakes you won.

    -Being poor is listening to Dave Ramsey every day and hoping he’ll answer your question.

    -Being poor means you get angry when people ask you why you don’t have (new technology item) and say that your (old technology item) is old and outdated.

    -Being poor is celebrating that you got four porkchops on sale for cheap a while back

    -Being poor is remembering hiding while your mother said loudly, “we’re using FOOD STAMPS.”

    -Being poor is when you’re glad your dad works at hotel, so you can go swimming and go to the work out room for free

    -Being poor is when you’re glad you got that restaurant job because you can take home all the throw-outs and old food for free at night.

    -Being poor means working 2 jobs and going to school full time – even if one job is just a couple of hours a week

    -Being poor means you’re glad that you are back in college and can get cheap rides on the bus.

  216. It’s an even better indicator of not brushing or flossing. Bad teeth are not about poverty: it’s about bad memes.

    Memes? Beliefs cause tooth decay? Are you really trying to say that the problem is that those dirty poor people don’t brush their teeth? Are you out of your goddammned mind?

    Being poor is never smiling for pictures or when meeting people because your teeth are rotting slowly and you know that people will assume you’re stupid, ignorant, or a hick even though it’s just that you don’t have $3000 lying around to get your teeth repaired.

    Being poor is knowing your teeth are decaying from a course of tetracycline when you were 13, and that all the flossing and brushing in the world aren’t helping, hoping that abscesses won’t form while you’re between jobs, and then having to spend $18,000 to repair the infections and damage, knowing you won’t pay off the credit card before you retire.

  217. Some dude:

    “You Americans have no idea what being poor means.”

    Actually, Americans have a perfect idea of what it means to be poor in the US. I think it’s entirely non-controversial that being poor in the US (or anywhere in the first world) is a different experience than being poor in the third world. Let’s not start a “poorer than thou” sort of competition. That would be silly.

  218. Being poor is getting a pillow for your Christmas present as a kid.

    Being poor is feeling mortified when your best friend’s sister is the cashier at the grocery store and she will find out your mom is paying with food stamps.

    Being poor is having your mom walk you to school a mile each way, pulling your youngest sister on a sled in the winter because you don’t have a car.

    Being poor is getting made fun of at school once mom purchases an old junker of a car.

  219. Being poor means that February is a tricky month: you get the same amount of foodstamps for only 28 days, but you have to pay the same amount of rent with only 28 days of work, too.

    Being poor means you have memorized the exact brands and sizes of food you can get with your WIC vouchers.

    Being poor means you know which stores will quietly accept foodstamps for non-food essentials: toilet paper, clothes, cleaning supplies, cooking supplies.

    Being poor means that wildcrafting and foraging for food is not a weekend hobby or novelty.

    Being poor means that you don’t care when someone scratches or dents your disposable car.

    Being poor means you’ve slept on the floor for five years and tell people you prefer it that way so they’ll stop being appalled.

    Being poor means the social worker pressures you to get back with an abusive husband or to find a boyfriend ASAP so that he can pay for things instead of everyone’s precious tax dollars.

    Being poor means having that one can of Spaghetti-O’s in your cabinet and nothing else, and going hungry instead of eating it because you can’t bear the thought of really and truly having no food.

    Being poor means that you dream of finally making five figures a year, a whole $10,000, and aren’t sure what you’d do with all that money.

    Being poor means that you never get to spend your birthday money on a present for yourself.

    Being poor means that if you are on foodstamps, you are legally obligated in the state of West Virginia, to report that $25 birthday money to a social worker as an increase in your income, and it will be counted against your foodstamp benefits. Your date of birth is on all your forms, and they will ask you that month if you got any monetary gifts.

  220. Let’s not start a “poorer than thou” sort of competition. That would be silly.

    It’s funny how rarely you hear that kind of “Poor? You people are SPOILED!” competition from people who have, in fact, been in the sort of hellacious poverty found in developing countries.

  221. Possibly, but let’s not go down that path in this comment thread. I just put up a new entry in which I comment on the “poorer than thou” thing among other things — if people want to talk about that, let’s put it there instead of here.

  222. There was one thing I wanted to add but could not quite put my finger on yesterday: Even though I have had my share of financial difficulties, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had a loving family and wonderful friends who continue to support me and love me, whether I am “po'” or not.

    I suppose no matter how little I have, have had, or will have in the future, that is the thing that keeps me going and the thing that makes my life fulfilling.

    I may never have a three-story Victorian and a closetful of Prada, and I am certainly more familiar with Ramen noodles than I would like to be; but I’ve got some damn good people in my life.


  223. Fair enough, John.

    Trance, you are truly blessed. I know lawyers who do (or at least have in the past) work with what we call “poverty law” full-time–and one of the most depressing things they find is what a friend of mine refers to “crabs in a bucket.” Somebody will try to pull themselves out of the pit, and friends and even family will do their damnest to make sure they fall right back in.

    Poor is not having family who can send you an emergency rent check, friends who can spring for dinner, acquaintances who know somebody who knows somebody who can recommend you for a better job.

    Poor is knowing you aren’t going to get that better job because your shoes are worn out and your “interview clothes” are cheap and faded, and you know the interviewer can see that too.

    Poor is having to weigh taking time off work to find and try to get a better job vs. the pay you will most certainly lose in the process, because the better job is iffy but the need for those hours of work is absolute.

  224. Maybe this comment is tangential to your post, but …most people make foolish mistakes with money. Many people buy things they cannot afford, or should not spend their money on. The difference is, that the better off you are economically, the sooner your finances recover, and nobody notices. If you are poor, those bad choices are more glaring.

  225. Being poor is going to the grocery store on a saturday when all of the food samples are being passed out, and your mom telling you to eat up, because that’s your meal for the day.

    Being poor is chipping in so one person can go to the all-you-can eat buffet with the biggest purse you can find, and that person fills it up so everyone else can eat.

    Being poor is having your school class collect items for the poor children in africa, and you can’t contribute because you don’t even HAVE the necessities they’re collecting.

    Being poor is your class collecting stuff for a food bank, and you’re wondering how you can sneak some of those canned goods home.

    Being poor means that everyone knows when you can’t afford to go on the field trip, and so the class takes up a collection so you can go.

    Being poor means shopping for birthday presents–hell, EVERYTHING– at the dollar store.

    Being poor means not eating on the weekends.

    Being poor means your friends aren’t allowed to come over to your house.

    Being poor is trying not to look too eager when the kids at the lunch table say, “Who wants the rest of my sandwich?”

    Being poor means being pitied and feeling embarrassed all the time.

    Being poor means being in debt for 2 years after writing a bad check for $30.

    Being poor is trading your government issued lunch tickets to other kids for the cash equivelant so you can buy books.

  226. I don’t think that’s tangential at all, Mark. Poor people are foolish with their money roughly in the same proportion as everyone else, I suspect, but the effects of it are greater. Let’s also acknowledge, as I said upthread, someone who is poor can be doing all the right things to escape poverty and have it all get blown away from a single incident that takes out an unsupportable chunk of their finances. And being poor, what’s “unsupportable” can be a pathetically small sum. Having no cushion means you fall hard when you try to climb up, and the rung you grab crumbles in your hand.

    This is not to say the poor should stop trying to better their situation. It is saying that people who say “well, they should just do ‘X’ or ‘Y’ and then they wouldn’t be poor,” should understand that many of the poor are doing ‘X’ and ‘Y’ and are still at a huge risk of failure, often through no fault of their own.

  227. I had no idea. Here in the UK we tend to think all Americans are rich – but
    Living in Britain means hospital treatment is free, for everyone.
    Living in Britain means ambulances are free, for everyone.
    Living in Britain means dental treatment is free, for everyone.
    Living in Britain means prescription drugs are free to those on welfare and a maximum of £6.50 for everyone else (that’s under $5)
    Living in Britain means a free pint of milk every day for every child in britain until they’re two (till five if their parent(s) are on welfare)
    Living in Britain means you might be poor, you might have to go to bed hungry, you might not have a bed – but you will always be able to see a dentist, a doctor, a psychiatrist. And they’ll be the same hospital, the same standard of treatment as everyone else.

    I have never been so grateful for the national health service – and more appalled that the richest country on Earth can not achieve such simple goals for its citizens.

  228. Being poor means believing in the lottery, rags-to-riches tales, get-rich-now schemes, Hoop Dreams, etc. – the societal mechanisms that foster unrealistic hopes, and keep the lower classes docile enough to refrain from organizing an all-out class struggle.

  229. Something is rotten in the State of Denmark

    It is tempting to see this vs. this as a race issue, and I think it partially is. But it would be foolish to say that the problem is just racism.
    It’s a class issue. That the poor happen to be mostly black is institutional, but if they were w…

  230. Thank you for reminding me of my childhood, and of my first home away from my parents home. This reminded me that I may not necessarily have come so far away that I cannot relate to this, but that yes, I have moved further along. This list needs to be emailed to the White House. Maybe someone there will read it, and feel ashamed that anyone in the United States could relate to these statements.

  231. >>>rags-to-riches tales

    Well, I must defend Horatio Alger. His tales were lessons that were fully applicable — *to his time*. Most everyone was still at the Starting Line back when he wrote those, and society hadn’t been credentialized, specialized, etc. “Pluck” meant something then; it could be your ticket out. Today, “pluck” means not only being a pain in the ass to those over you, it also marks you as a threat and competitor for *their* job and livelihood. I will stop here.

  232. Being poor is getting a 25 cent tip from two guys in $2500 business suits for a $50 meal.

    Being formerly poor is leaving a $20 tip for a $50 meal, because you know that for your waitress, every bit counts and when you go home at night from a day at the office, her body is aching and exhausted and she has to do it again the next morning.

    Being poor is never having spending money and never getting an allowance as a child.

    Being formerly poor is sneaking extra spending cash into your much younger sibling’s hands while mom isn’t looking during your visit home, so that they can go enjoy themselves.

    Being poor is digging through your mom’s purse when she isn’t looking, trying to scrape up enough loose change so you can go see a $3.00 movie with your friends after school, instead of making up yet another lame excuse about why you can’t go with them.

    Being formerly poor is slipping $100 into your mother’s purse when she isn’t looking and you’re visiting your family.

    I love every ounce of hard work and sacrifice my single mother of three went through for us and still does. I can only hope that through my adulthood I can continue to try repaying those sacrifices.

  233. Poor is many different things for many different people. It is relative to those within the society and community that you live.

    But Mother Theresa nailed it when she said “Loneliness is the worst form of poverty.”

    Poor is feeling that no one is willing to touch you and not knowing the touch of anyone for months at a time.

    Poor is the feeling that you are no longer useful to anyone, that you are a burden on others.

    Poor is being treated with suspicion when you’ve done nothing wrong.

    Poor is being jacked around by government agencies or employers illegally, but not having an attorney to seek any measure of justice.

    Poor is taking any job you think you can do, no matter how much you hate the job because you don’t have the luxury of time to look for the job you’d enjoy.

    Poor is dropping out of college repeatedly despite a high GPA, because you can’t afford to continue and have a family to support.

    Poor is putting your mail in a drawer and reading it once a month to determine which of the essential bills you can pay.

    Poor is never opening the school loan mail at all.

    Poor is only intolerable when you lose the spirit that says “I’ll get through this and succeed.”

    Poor is dealing with post-divorce child visitation obstacles imposed by an ex-spouse, again, without access to legal remedy.

    Poor is when you quit dating because you feel you have no material comfort any potential partner might enjoy.

    Poor is driving without car insurance.

    Poor is that rare moment of joy when you discover a new job actually offers benefits or paid holidays and sick leave.

    Poor is choosing not to vote because no-one represents your interests at all.

    Poorest is losing one’s health.

    Thanks for your thoughtful essay, John.

  234. “By extension, I think being rich means that you don’t even live with the consequences your own mistakes.”

    Being rich means knowing you can never say or do enough to erase the part your ancestors played in the institutions that still keep large segments of the American population impoverished today.

  235. Another book excerpt, if I may —

    “There’s a switch, an EFS switch,” she says, getting impatient, or annoyed at being treated like a charity case. Then I see a tiny switch at the bottom of the credit card machine marked “EFS.” I click the switch, and I’m amazed when a receipt prints up. She signs a copy and walks off. limping under the weight of three gallons of milk which she appears to be carrying home through the cold. It must be for a family’s breakfast. I look at the receipt, and it says, “Electronic Food Stamps, Inc,”

    Electronic Food Stamps, Incorporated. Not Electronic Food Stamps, but Electronic Food Stamps, Incorporated. This is a business. Somebody’s making money designing ways to get government aid to people who have been tossed aside. Some money grubbing software designer has a government contract because we all lost our jobs.

    That’s the biggest insult of all, that we are being fed off. The destruction of my life, my town, represents a business opportunity to someone else. Nine months ago, this woman walking through the cold was probably a factory employee, or perhaps the wife of one, and her children had health insurance and she had a car and she bought milk in the daytime, with money. I am suddenly filled with the urge to find the fucker who owns this EFS company and shoot him right in the fucking face. I feel that someone owes me an explantion, not a corporate public relations-type explanation, but a down-on-your-knees-begging-for-your-life explanation, which is the only kind worth listening to.

    But he’s not the only one. From now on, I have to make a list of people who need to be shot in the face. There needs to be a real bloodbath, to equal the financial and emotional one which has just been drawn for all of us. [Since The Layoffs – A Novel by Iain Levison; Copyright © 2003 by Iain Levison; pgs. 20-21]

  236. Being poor is wondering how you will find another job when yours is shipped overseas.

    Being rich is wondering how many more millions your annual bonus will be if you ship another 20% of your company’s jobs overseas.

  237. Quoth Anonymous:

    Being rich means knowing you can never say or do enough to erase the part your ancestors played in the institutions that still keep large segments of the American population impoverished today.

    If only they did know.

    This thread keeps bringing back memories.

    Poor is hitchhiking in the rain, with two children and a dog, because this time the car can’t be fixed by the side of the road. And bless the couple in the mobile home that picked us up, took us home, fed us, lent us money for the Greyhound, and cared for the dog till we could come get her.

    Formerly poor is picking up the hitchhiking mother and 6 year old daughter and taking them to their destination, because their car couldn’t be fixed by the side of the road. It’s slipping all our ready cash into her purse when she isn’t looking while we feed them lunch. It’s the hug we give her when we part, and the smiles we share as we picture her opening that purse when we’ve left.

  238. Sunday Night Bits

    Via Donncha: This is what it’s like being poor. Nothing pisses me off more than people who try and think they were affected by poverty because they had to go without. Some people never had the with to know what…

  239. Sunday Night Bits

    Via Donncha: This is what it’s like being poor. Nothing pisses me off more than people who try and think they were affected by poverty because they had to go without. Some people never had the with to know what…

  240. John, sounds a lot like my childhood and young adulthood.

    But I’m not poor anymore, and I take it you aren’t either, since poor people don’t have blogs and stuff.

    Instead of posting a semi-romanticized, heart-wrenching litany of the things poor people have to put up with when they’re too lazy and/or dumb to get their acts together like we did, why not write another post telling poor people how you went from poor to not-poor.

    Much more helpful than all the guilty white liberal, pseudo-Russell Banks stuff, what?

  241. links for 2005-09-05

    Wikipedia: Fredric Wertham “Many of his other conjectures, particularly about hidden sexual themes (e.g. images of female nudity concealed in drawings of muscles and tree bark, or Batman and Robin as homosexual lovers), were met with derision wi…

  242. Being rich is reading this, and weeping because you didn’t realize people lived like this, and even though your family wasn’t wealthy, there was always food on the table, clothes to wear, and your parents scraped up the money for a frugal vacation every year.

    Being rich is still being able to afford the state college, where you got a very good education at about 1/3 the cost of a private school.

    Being rich is going back to school, where you are not very well paid, but you can live on your income, and you have a bunch still in the bank account from when you had the very well-paid job.

    Being rich is knowing you already have the college degree in a well-paid field, and if you really had to you could bust your ass and get a job instead of going to school for the grad degree. Which will enable you to make even better money.

    Being rich is reading what was written in the other posts, and realizing how lucky you are (and yes, it is luck. Being born into a family that has enough money to cushion the ups-and-downs of life is luck. Being born in a place where the school system doesn’t suck is luck. Some of what you have is because you earned it, but some of it is sheer chance. And it can all be taken away: one death, one divorce, one natural catastrophe. One company relocation to China. One major health problem.)

    Reading this, I realize how rich I am. I am not wealthy; my income is under $20,000 a year, but the city I live in is relatively cheap, and I still have a cushion from the good job before I went back to school, I have health insurance, and a car I bought brand new in 1999 while I was working, and I have family and friends and a boyfriend who would take care of me if something awful happened. And I would take care of them.

    Being rich is reading the post and comments above, and deciding to volunteer, because no one should have to live that poor, and maybe you can go teach a kid or an adult to read or do some math, and make a little difference somehow.

  243. Millennium Park at Night II

    I was surpised at the number of people hanging out, chatting and relaxing in Millennium Park this late June evening. Chicago, unlike most places in America, is a _city_, vibrant and alive.

  244. I can sympathize with not starting off in life with the same luxuries that others may be born into.

    And I realize that people only know what they have been taught.

    But, what defines the some of the horrific situations in New Orleans is not founded on money. It is founded on character.

    And so, I retort:

    Being Poor doesn’t mean you shoot at the very people that are trying to help you.

    Being Poor doesn’t excuse you from following direction, simply because you weren’t creative enough to find alternate solutions.

    Being Poor doesn’t give you a carte blanche to rape and beat your neighbors, acting as though you were completely unfamiliar with a civilized community.

    But, apparently, Being Poor does give you the ultimate excuse. It seems you can use it for everything.

  245. “Being Poor does give you the ultimate excuse.”

    Oddly enough, I don’t see anyone suggesting the people who have engaged in criminal behavior in New Orleans should be let off the hook because they’re poor. And considering the people who these criminals preyed upon were poor themselves and people who had come in to help those who stayed in New Orleans, I don’t think many of them would have said these criminals being poor would be an excuse, either.

    You’re trying to pick a fight here that I suspect no one else is interested in having, StaceKir. So let’s not.

  246. Kathy Shaidle writes:

    “Instead of posting a semi-romanticized, heart-wrenching litany of the things poor people have to put up with when they’re too lazy and/or dumb to get their acts together like we did, why not write another post telling poor people how you went from poor to not-poor.”

    Ms. Shaidle, as you may or may not know, I live in a small Ohio town, most of whose inhabitants can be described as the rural poor: They work on farms and they work as blue collar workers. Many of them are poor, because as I’m sure you know farming and rural blue collar work doesn’t pay particularly well.

    Very few of these rural poor are lazy, Ms. Shaidle. In fact, they work as hard or harder than anyone I know. And while many of them are uneducated, uneducated is not the same as stupid. In all, these are good, honest, hard-working people. Perhaps you are comfortable classifying them, and other hard-working poor, as “too lazy and/or dumb to get their acts together.” I am not.

    Conversely, I’ve worked in high-tech and publishing for much of my life, and as a consequence I’ve known lots of middle and upper class folk. Some of them are quite lazy and/or stupid — so many, in fact, that I am quite comfortable making the observation that dumb and lazy can’t possibly be the deciding factors in who is poor and who is not in this country, because if they were, I wouldn’t be stuck in a three-hour meeting with this idiotic schmuck who is about to dump all his work on me so he can get out to the golf course.

    I think it’s a problem that people assume that all the poor are either dumb or lazy, because it’s false, and because it allows the not-poor to go, oh well, they had their chance, and they didn’t do anything with it. As I mentioned before earlier in the thread, lots of poor people are doing everything right to improve their situation, but they don’t have any wiggle room when things go wrong.

    The fact that people seem so willing to write off the poor as dumb and lazy is of course why I wrote in the original essay:

    Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.

    Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

    “Much more helpful than all the guilty white liberal, pseudo-Russell Banks stuff, what?”

    I don’t feel in the slightest bit guilty, and I’ve never read Russel Banks. Also, Ms. Shaidle, I write what I choose. Maybe at some point I will write a “how I did it” piece. However, at this particular moment in time, for various reasons, I think it’s helpful to note to the comfortable what the experience of being poor is, because oddly enough, sometimes it seems like they don’t understand it well, even some of them who have come up from it.

  247. Being poor is not even being able to have the education to read this blog.

    Being poor is living in the (San Francisco) bay area with a good paying job, with a husband who is a public school teacher and still not being able to afford your own home or an apartment in a neighborhood where there aren’t gunshots ringing all hours of the day and night.

  248. Being poor is having the landlord stiff you on your deposit when you move out, just because she can. And then going to Legal Aid for some help to get your deposit back, only to be told you’re not poor enough to qualify for free legal aid.

    Being poor is driving your ratty $500 car, and not being able to afford insurance, and then getting stopped for a taillight being out, and getting a ticket for not having insurance. Which you then have to buy AT A HUGELY INFLATED PENALTY PRICE, because you now have a “moving violation” driving offense — no insurance — that puts you into a higher category of risk and automatically raises your insurance rates.

    Being poor means being 90 cents overdrawn at the bank, so that your $20 check to the grocery store bounces, after which the bank charges you $35 and the store charges you $25. And both act like you’re some kind of shitbag who really deserves to have to pay an extra $60 just for being 90 cents short that week.

    Being poor means having your canine best friend get sick, and not being able to pay even to find out what’s wrong with him, and opting to have him “put down” BECAUSE IT WAS ALL YOU COULD AFFORD — and then having to believe for the rest of your life that your dog is dead because he had the misfortune to belong to a worthless piece of shit like you.

  249. Being poor is sitting on a waiting list for four monthes in order to ask a doctor you have never met why the hell you feel like nothing better than taking your own life every single day of the year.

  250. Being poor is having Concerned Liberals in the High Tech and Publishing life write patronizing articles about your pitiful life to burnish their compassion points.

  251. I looked through this list and recognized a lot of it from my life post-parents. However, at the time I didn’t feel poor. Sure, I had no money, but I’d rather trade that for the hell at home any day.

    That being said, here’s one from my experience:

    Being poor is getting a surprise ride home from work from a co-worker, and cheerfully plotting until one’s next paycheck what to do with the $1.50 from the saved bus fare.

  252. Andrea Harris:

    “Being poor is having Concerned Liberals in the High Tech and Publishing life write patronizing articles about your pitiful life to burnish their compassion points.”

    I give that a solid C, Andrea. You lose points because you’re not especially original: you’re not the first to trot out the “liberal” thing, and I suspect you won’t be the last, because it seems like all y’all love the tang of it or something. The rest of it is standard-issue snarkery and contempt, decently tossed off but not particularly compelling. You need to work on that.

    However I’m happy to see you have the presence of mind to pick up a detail from a recent comment and work it in. That shows initiative, and brings your grade up half a tick.

    Thanks for playing, Andrea; you’ve been delightful. Please see the nice lady in the sequined dress for your lovely parting gifts.

    Since a little snark from contemptuous jackasses goes a very long way, I’m going to use this particular comment of Ms. Harris’ to establish a contemptuous jackass snark baseline: Those future snarky comments from contemptuous jackasses that are no more interesting than the one provided by Ms. Harris will be deleted, because I feel this one is more than sufficient, the archetype, if you will, of reasonably adequate contemptuous jackass snark.

    Ones that achieve beyond this level, however, will be allowed to remain, so that all may admire the lofty heights of snark that contemptuous jackasses can reach, if only they try. Because we all know how much contemptuous jackasses like to be admired for their jackassery.

    This is not to say that I wish for rampaging hordes of contemptuous jackasses to descend on the thread, since by and large I think people have maintained a fine level of decorum so far. Indeed, I wish the contemptuous jackasses would simply pass by. But if they find that they cannot, well, now they know where the bar is set, and they can thank Ms. Harris for it.

    Also, I would ask other posters not to engage the contemptuous jackasses when and if they come by. Don’t touch them, you don’t know where they’ve been. Let the management handle them. Thanks.

  253. “Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.”

    thanks everyone rich or poor in major cities

  254. The bills pile up while we work and work to catch up. My husband has had a toothache for far too long, but I always remember hearing somebody say that being “broke” and being “poor” are two very different things. No matter how “broke” we are, we will always be the richest people on earth.

    nice work though… an important piece. i see you are rich too.

  255. Scott, when you’re not poor and you have health insurance, you can take the sick child to see a regular ol’ doctor. That is, when you’re poor, you go to the emergency room because they have to take you. A treating physician can tell you no insurance, no cash, no treatment, unless it is an emergency (and then they will send you to the ER anyway).

    And emergency rooms go on triage. If you’re the poor person coming in with a sick child, you have to wait until the people with seizures and fractures skulls get treated. That’s reasonable, of course–but it means that a trip that should have taken an hour at the doctor’s office takes six because you’re stuck with the ER.

  256. Being poor means sitting in a college class and having earnest, well-meaning students discuss what they should do about poverty and “the poor” like it’s something distant and exotic and theoretical, having no idea they are dissecting your life.

    Being poor means you had no help with your homework last night or really any time to do it because your mother was out working her second job and you had to watch your nephew.

    Being poor means your middle-class fifth grade teacher can’t understand that you aren’t just making excuses about your homework so she punishes you in front of the whole class, calling you lazy and making you sit with your desk in the corner for the rest of the year.

    Being poor means coming back from the doctor even sicker than you were before, because the doctor was at a free clinic where you had to wait 6 hours in the filthy waiting room in the company of people with contagious illnesses.

    Being poor means that you are scared to borrow something from a friend that you really, really need, because if you somehow manage to break it, you will never be able to replace it.

  257. Mr Scalzi, I sense a lot of anger and hostility and envy in you. I sense a lot of what poor people are encouraged to feel today towards those who, for whatever reason, are not poor. I sense a lot of what keeps many people poor.

    I used to feel like you did. That’s why I am still living paycheck to paycheck at the age of forty two. “Bad choices,” you said — yet you seem unaware that the ultimate bad choice — the bad choice from which all other bad choices spring — is choosing to live a life totally dedicated to feeling sorry for yourself and envious of the good fortune of others. This is what keeps people poor in this country, not other people not thinking nice thoughts about the poor.

  258. I’d like to point out something that is being misrepresented about America in these posts.

    It’s not that we can’t provide medical care for everyone. It’s that we won’t.

    We certainly have the money. We also have plenty of works/doesn’t work examples from Europe and other areas to tweak out the most efficient system. And many of us really want it.

    But the guys with all the muscle at the top to get it done know that the minority that refuse to even think about it are better politically organized than the majority who either don’t care or are actively for it, and so voting it in (or even talking about it, in many cases) is political suicide.

    We could do it. We just won’t, for any number of reasons – most of which contain language like “lazy welfare bums” and “why should I have to”. And that’s even sadder.

  259. Andrea Harris writes:

    “Mr Scalzi, I sense a lot of anger and hostility and envy in you.”

    Mmmm… no, not really. I am irritable, but that’s not the same thing. As for envy, considering that I live very well with a family I adore, doing work I love, and can’t imagine why I would want another life other than the one I have, it’s difficult (and would be somewhat ridiculous) for me to feel either sorry for myself or envious other people. So I regret to say your diagnosis appears somewhat wide of the mark.

    I think you’ve misdiagnosed the aim of this entry. It’s not designed to be a pityfest to make the poor feel better about themselves for being poor, or to foment some sort of class struggle, or to be used as a reason for the poor not to attempt to better themselves, or to be some guilty liberal apologia from a middle-class white guy. It’s simply meant to evoke some of what it’s like to be poor in this country, based on some personal experiences and the experiences of people I know. For various reasons, I thought it to be necessary at this point in time.

    Having said that, it’s been my observation that people seem to take out of it what they put into it. If you get out of it a liberal patronizing of the pitiful poor, allow me to suggest that says as much about your perspective as you attempt to make it say about my own, and possibly more.

    I would certainly agree that poor people who indulge in self-defeatism will inevitably be self-defeated, but this is an observation that works well for everyone regardless of class. People not thinking nice thoughts will not keep poor people down, either, unless thinking not nice thoughts turns to behaviors that will keep poor people down, which it sometimes does. If one marginalizes someone simply because they are poor, it makes it harder for that person to leave those margins, even when they are actively doing the things to allow themselves to do just that.

  260. being poor is when you do spend that 6 hours in the free clinic, and not want to leave because you are afraid that you would get jumped because your the minority.

    being poor is when you have to go your grandmothers school district because you dont have a “legal” home

    being poor is simply wishing for food, more then gifts at christmas…

    being poor is dreading holidays

    it blows

  261. After reading this, I feel ashamed that I actually thought I was “poor”. There are so many others in greater need than me and my family. Thank you for reminding me of those who have so little, when we have been blessed with the necessities of life.

  262. Being poor is making sure you use the bathroom before you leave work, and holding it until you get there the next day, because you have no toilet paper and can’t afford any. Sometimes you steal a little from work to hold you over.

    Being poor is also using work toilet paper taped to your underwear as a sort of ‘ghetto pad’.

    Being poor is letting popsicles melt, adding water to them, and refreezing them in icecube trays so you get “more out of them”. One cube = dessert.

    Being poor is looking like an idiot wearing sandals in the winter, because that’s all you have.

    Being poor is going to church even though you’re atheist, because they have free cookies and coffee.

    Being poor is knowing how to roll your own cigarettes, and collecting the unsmoked tobacco from half/mostly smoked cigarettes left in ashtrays.

    Being poor is telling people you sleep on the floor because you heard it was “better for your back” and prefer it that way.

    Being poor is feeling a slap in the face when company policy makes you throw away perfectly good food/items and arguing with the manager for half an hour why you can’t take them home if they’re just going in the trash.

    Being poor is feeling like scum when you realize a customer’s dog has more $ spent on their food every week than you get to spend to feed yourself.

    Being poor is rotating the same 3 outfits you own all the time and pretending to yourself that no one notices.

    Being poor is not compromising on your regular purchase of $.99 bubble bath, even if it means skipping a meal, because you NEED that ‘luxury item’ to feel halfway decent emotionally.

    Being poor is bragging to your other poor friends how CHEAP you got something, much like how rich people brag to their friends how EXPENSIVE such-and-such was.

    Being poor means going to work no matter how sick you are.

    Being poor is crying because your poor mother ingrained it in you growing up that going to college would set you free, and finding out that she was wrong.

  263. Being poor means that dumbasses who have never themselves been poor will tell you that if only you’d brushed your teeth harder

    Mythago: what makes you think I’ve never been poor?

    One of the reasons I’m so annoyed with John’s post is that it conflates the folks who are poor-but-cluefull or poor-but-hardworking with folks who are too lazy or too spoiled to live like adults.

    Yes, I AM telling people that if the teeth in their head are rotting out, it’s their own damn fault. Does one have to be a Rockefeller to brush one’s teeth?

    I’m also telling people that they have to budget their money, and they have to work hard, and they shouldn’t keep friends who are going to drag them down.

    I’ve lived without healthcare for years at a time. I’ve had a negative net worth. I’ve lived crammed in small apartments.

    What’s the problem with me saying that there’s a difference between not having funds, and living like white trash?

  264. Being poor is having arseholes think it’s ‘low class’

    Read what I wrote a second time.

    I was NOT calling poverty the same as being low-class.

    I was pointing out that half of John’s list items were not unavoidable effects of being poor, but were instead low-class behaviors that RESULT in poverty.

    In someone is poor, but keeps their home neat, prioritizes their spending, and raises their kids right, they’re doing a great job.

    If someone is spending money on lotto tickets, then stealing meat, failing to brush and then letting the teeth rot out of their head, etc., then they’re low-class.

    These are two orthogonal issues, and John was wrong to argue that various low-class behaviors are common to the poor.

  265. I am not a writer so forgive the following drivel but I feel I must say something in the spirit of this page and the debate going on.

    I think the timing of this thread and article are spot-on for showing a weakness in the fabric of our society today, in highlight of recent events. I think it makes blatantly obvious the mindset that resulted in the government utterly failing the people of New Orleans. That is the total apathy towards the poor and the belief that “they did this to themselves.” In what is otherwise a culture of great hope and strength, we fail in that one respect. Unlike other societies which try to help the downtrodden and struggling, we beat them over the brow and tell them “you failed.” And here I am not speaking of myself or others who just had it a little rough while growing up but others I have known and just know of who have grown up in the most squalid conditions. These thoughts and memories here only scratch the surface of their lives. And I would not even begin to imagine I know how it feels coming from the very bottom.

    So just out of curiousity, who here that blames the poor for staying poor, comes from the ghettos or projects or slums or barios of America? Who out there who believes the New Orleans refugees who stayed behind have themselves to blame–Has your family ever been so poor you did not even own a car? Who thinks that the now homeless father who stayed behind for fear of losing his job to support 5 or 6 kids is to blame–have you been in the same situation?

    There has been absolutely destitute people who have become successful, but they are truely pillars of strength, working against all odds and without any kind of leverage at all to help them crawl their way up from the bottom. And until we change our way of thinking in regards to the poor and struggling to survive, the majority will stay at the bottom.

    I just urge those who blast someone as a liberal for finding empathy in their souls and/or trying to help someone less fortunate would take a moment to think that those people deserve a little compassion instead of a kick while theyre down.

  266. Not being poor any more means no longer having to cover my mouth every time I smile.

    Not being poor any more means swearing to never set foot in another dollar store as long as I live.

    Not being poor any more means obsessively giving to the Lions Club on White Cane Days, because they give glasses to poor kids, and I can remember not having a decent pair of glasses until I was sixteen.

  267. Being poor is feeling your blood boil as you watch the president put on a sad face for the television cameras.

  268. Instead of focusing on self pity and hopelessness, I think it’s a lot better focus on what can be done to fix what’s broken.

    Like millions of other families my immediate family was poor. My single parent mother worked three jobs without using welfare and without the luxury of child support to feed her children. We got help where we could from our family, the church, and student loans. There were sacrifices made, but my siblings and I got an education and moved up in the world. Instead of bitching and feeling sorry for ourselves, we used our time and energy proactively to make a better life for ourselves.

    “Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.”

    … and please, don’t confuse being dirty with being poor. They don’t necessarily go hand and hand.

    Your whiny post is useless and it gets people no where.

  269. Being poor is no school supplies, unless dad steals them from work.
    Being poor is sauerkraut and neckbones for dinner.
    Being poor is no new clothes for back-to-school.
    Being poor is no field trips because your family can’t afford the fee.
    Being poor is working on the holidays because it pays time-and-a-half.
    Being poor is wearing shoes that are always too big or too small.
    Being poor is pinto bean soup for dinner…for a week.
    Being poor is farina, powdered milk, and government cheese.
    Being poor is celebrating with generic beer.
    Being poor is living in the approach path of the airport…everywhere you’ve ever lived.
    Being poor is mailing the check for the electricity to the phone company (and vice versa) so you’ll have a couple extra days to come up with the money.
    Being poor is working for minimum wage because you don’t have the clothes to wear to an interview that would get you anything better.
    Being poor is no Christmas tree until Christmas Eve when they’re being given away free.
    Being poor is homemade Christmas gifts…on the good years.
    Being poor is never having a vacation.
    Being poor is choosing to feed the pets or feed yourself.
    Being poor is hating gifts from your friends because you know you have no way of giving them anything in return.

  270. Being poor is feeling like you have to justify every expenditure that doesn’t directly contribute to keeping you alive, because whenever you scrape together the money to see your friends, your mother decides to remind you that you could be paying your bills with that money.

  271. On Being Poor

    It took a good long time for the media to realize that the reason so many people stayed in New Orleans despite the evacuation order was because they didn’t have the means to leave. I suspect many of the people claiming to “want to ride it out” are in…

  272. being poor means all the kids sleeping in coats in the kitchen with the oven door open bc the heat got shut off

    being poor means wondering if the lights will come back on

    being poor means eating lots of potatoes, macaroni and tomato soup

    being poor means not having magazines to cut pictures out of for homework assignments

    being poor means not having glue, tape, scissors, markers for homework assignments either

    being poor means wearing plastic garbage bags for rain gear

    being poor means not having a bathing suit or beach towels

    being poor means not having snow boots

    being poor means toiletries nicked from hotel housekeeping carts and used in public restrooms

    being poor means unplugging the 25c ride at the grocery store so you can replug it after someone tries to use it – so your baby sister can get a ride

    being poor means checking all the candy machine doors, hoping for leftovers

    being poor means no birthday parties

    being poor means truly lame, embarrassing halloween costumes, but halloween means free food

    being poor means you can’t use the car in the rain; the electrical system will short out

    being poor means knowing the ChiChi’s buffet was (is?) free on Fridays, for 2 hours, with small purchase

    being poor means your shoes fall apart at work after waiting in the rain for the bus to get you there

    being poor means the neighbors call the town because your grass is too high but you don’t own a lawnmower

    being poor means knowing things you never wanted to know and seeing things you never wanted to see

  273. TJIC writes:

    “Yes, I AM telling people that if the teeth in their head are rotting out, it’s their own damn fault. Does one have to be a Rockefeller to brush one’s teeth?”

    And once again, I’ll note that when one is poor, one can take perfect care of one’s teeth — and despite that still get a toothache. Some people have bad teeth naturally. Some people my bite down on something too hard and crack their enamel. Lots of things can happen in spite of doing something conscientiously. And that’s where being poor is a problem. However one got the toothache, when one is poor, one hopes it simply goes away.

    As with the toothache example, are probably quite a few other examples here that you would ascribe to “being white trash” which are equally ascribable to bad luck or event to which the person has no control.

    What is interesting is that you choose to imagine a simple desciption of a toothache as an example of someone being low-class, when in fact, it’s just about a toothache, and what having one means when one is poor.

    Or, for another example, let’s take the “stealing meat” thing. If a kid steals the meat and cooks it up before his mother gets home because he knows his mother is a day away from a paycheck and doesn’t have enough food in the house to feed both herself and her kid and he doesn’t want to see her go hungry, where does that rank on your empathy scale? I ask, because, being the kid in question, and having done it, I’d like to know what’s inherently “low class” about wanting one’s mother to be able to eat when she gets home from work. Bear in mind the mother was doing all the right things — job, maintaining a house, raising her child adequately — and yet, for whatever reason, at the end of the day, she would have had to skip a meal.

    I don’t think all the examples you would choose to list are orthogonal as you think. Or more to the point, most of the things on this list could be ascribable to people being trashy and wallowing in their own loserdom and they are equally ascribable to people doing everything right who are unable to catch a break.

    As I’ve noted before, people seem take out of this list what they put into it. You seem to want make this list examples of how people can’t, don’t or won’t help themselves. Interestingly, this is one of the reasons I put this one in the list:

    Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.

  274. Being poor means living with mice in a slummy apartment where you see at least two race across the floor every hour and your closets are covered in mice turds no matter how much you try to clean them up.

    Being poor means not having a working stove, good pots and pans or decent food to eat and having to skip a meal or two a day.

    Being poor means going without a car even if you are disabled and can barely walk to the bus stop.

    Being poor means you go undiagnosed with medical conditions [especially rarer ones] and cant get help, become disabled–making you poorer and almost die.

    Being poor means no asthma treatment and gasping for air in Emergency Rooms praying to stay alive where you know youll be getting thousands of dollars in bills you wont be able to pay.

    Being poor when your family is well-off: you may as well have LOSER duct-taped to your forehead, completed college education not withstanding.

    Being poor means your clothes are worn out, ripped and you wonder how you can get a new job because you have nothing to wear.

    Being poor means buy everything second-hand from Salvation Army and thrift stores during the good times. The rest of the time you go without.

    Being poor means no money for a bed, having to sleep on a dirty thin mattress with holes out of the trash.

    Being poor means being looked at with a mixture of disgust and pity by so called “loved ones” who shop for recreation who have endless money to waste.

    Being poor means back-uped bathtubs with black water in them.

    Being poor means too many ramen noodles mixed with ketchup, hotdogs and cans of tuna.

    Being poor means living in neighborhood that requires you live in a constant state of vigilance else you get jumped or robbed.

    Being poor can lead you to depend on God, because there is no one else that is going to help you. I am a Christian today because of the poverty I faced.

    Being poor makes you realize what a sick and shallow society we live in.

    Being poor you realize what Jesus Christ was talking about when He said it would be harder for a rich man to enter heaven then a camel through an eye of a needle.

  275. This discussion, like all its ilk, has brought out the divide between those who emphasize sympathy and others who emphasize responsibility. The latter, in this case, are too keen to perceive Mr. Scalzi as ignoring the responsibility of the poor for their own plight. “Knowing how few choices you have” is a very good way to state the problem. It’s not that it’s impossible to make the transition from poor to non-poor; it’s that to do so, one must follow a fairly rigorous path with little room for error. Whereas those already non-poor can make disastrously foolish decisions, from slacking off on a job to getting a liberal arts degree, and remain non-poor at the end of it.

  276. John, an inspirational post. Hope you don’t mind that I pasted your post and some reader comments (with credit and link) into my own blog for fellow Canadians to read and hopefully try to understand. Very, very well done.

  277. What’s the problem with me saying that there’s a difference between not having funds, and living like white trash?

    Because you’re ignoring reality in a desperate need to find somebody to step on–oh yes, we may have been poor, but we weren’t white trash, you see. And it’s a very handy way to see oneself as permanently beyond the reach of all those horrors of poverty: People stay poor because they are bad; I am good; therefore I will never be poor again.

    Your “brush your teeth” comment is a good example of this kind of magical thinking. The notion that people might have dental problems despite being diligent about dental hygiene is not one you can entertain, because that would deflate the whole “poor people deserve it” argument. (And, of course, it all rests on the fallacy that all poor people are adults.)

    Instead of focusing on self pity and hopelessness, I think it’s a lot better focus on what can be done to fix what’s broken.

    As somebody who didn’t grow up poor, Brian, let me give you a big suggestion as to one of those things that can be done, and it’s not telling poor people to shut up and work harder. It’s extending the same safety net, social support and benefit of the doubt we give wealthy people that we give to poor people. Believe you me, it’s quite an eye-opener to find out that things you took for granted when you were a kid–you know, like the cops showing up when someone calls 911, or having a functioning lab in your science class–were not available to everyone.

  278. this is “being poor in one of the richest countries in the world”, being really poor is exactly like this, only much, much worse. Except perhaps without the status envy.

    Being really poor is walking 6 hours through the african night to the only hospital carrying your dead child, because you’ve heard the people there can bring the dead back to life.

    I’m not trumping your moving and honest writing. It just amazes me how humans are never happy, no matter what we have, if others have more.

  279. If I may comment on some past ones:

    >>>Being poor means having your canine best friend get sick, and not being able to pay even to find out what’s wrong with him, and opting to have him “put down” BECAUSE IT WAS ALL YOU COULD AFFORD — and then having to believe for the rest of your life that your dog is dead because he had the misfortune to belong to a worthless piece of shit like you.

    — yes. That was my awakening. That’s the dividing line for me. I am a hard bastard today for it.

    Scalzi wrote —
    >>>[This piece is] not designed to … foment some sort of class struggle

    — leave that bit of incitement to me, John.

    >>>”Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.”

    >>>… and please, don’t confuse being dirty with being poor. They don’t necessarily go hand and hand.

    — putting aside the current transitory vermin infesting the White House and Congress, would you be at all surprised to find out even *those* august structures have visits from *exterminators*? Putting aside arguments about metaphysical filth, and sticking to physical filth, would you then conclude that such high-ranking and high-paying citizens are *dirty*, hence the need for regular rounds by exterminators?

  280. Being poor is feeling your blood boil as you watch the president put on a sad face for the television cameras.


    Let me guess…if the President didn’t visit the hurricane devastated areas and meet with the victims, you would say this:

    Being poor is feeling your blood boil while the president stays in at the White House (or the Crawford ranch) and ignores the victims.

    Am I right?

  281. I was raised after WWII in Montreal. I never knew what butter was until I was older. Whole milk was always cut with powdered milk. Mother made some ‘interesting’ meals out of tongue, liver and other strange animal parts. My brothers and I got one pair of school shoes when school started and they were expected to last the year or until you outgrew them. We wore our cousins’ hand me downs. Boy! That was good stuff too, because they were rich. I felt rich when I had $1 in my pocket.
    John: you hit the nail on the head. Folks today really don’t know what poor is.

  282. This literally made me cry. I’ve known hardship, but I always knew it could be worse. But I always know where I came from, and I never want to return there with my children.

  283. Mike Cane:

    “(Scalzi will probably delete this. Act fast!)”

    I’m not going to delete it, but I will say that there are other things to focus on in this particular thread than president-bashing. Anyone who knows me or this site will note that me hoping to avoid overt political eyeball-gouging is really so very not the usual. But this has been an unusual thread: More then 300 comments, nearly all thought provoking. It’d be cool to keep it going in that spirit.

  284. Being poor is praying to any God, while in the emergency room listening to the doctor say you need surgery immediately, that somehow you still have a job when you recover, you may qualify for assistance for the surgery because you and your husband earn $10 more than the spin down for Medicaid, you still have a place to live and that your husband will understand that he still has to work and somehow not worry about you because you both need the paycheck from the company that is bouncing paychecks.

  285. Sidebar, John: While I admit I did not vote for this man, I have not been active against him until he lost us New Orleans. This has nothing to do with his politics, it goes to the heart of his ineptness.

    If I may, a link via Warren Ellis that I think is indeed non-political in spirit:

    Feel free to delete this, with no hard feelins.

  286. Being poor is having your hard-earned law school scholarship push you into a new tax bracket that, coupled with the American Bar Association’s requirement that you must not work more than twenty hours per week, pushes law school out of your financial grasp.

    Being poor is hating yourself every day because you lost your chance at something better.

  287. Something that has been touched on tangentially in this thread: being disabled = being poor, all too often. No matter how educated and capable one is.

    I know a couple of people – intelligent people, capable people, people who would work hard if they could – who are poor despite their intelligence and abilities because they can’t work. No, I don’t mean “lazy bums who mooch off the government tit,” I mean CAN’T WORK. As in have multiple sclerosis or mental illness that makes it well-nigh impossible to hold down a decent (or indecent) job. These are people who are poor thanks to karma, fate, the hand of God, or whatever you want to call it. Nobody chooses to be disabled. Maybe I’m just a soggy ol’ bleeding heart liberal but a lot of times life IS hard on people and they deserve a little compassion instead of finger-wagging.

    Paula Kamen wrote a book the title of which I have forgotten, dealing with her chronic headache that she’s had nonstop for six years. She said at one point the only thing standing between her and poverty was having middle-class parents who loved her enough to help her. Other women she interviewed were not so lucky. They fell into poverty despite having college degrees and work skills because they COULD. NOT. WORK.

  288. Great post, John — brought back some “wonderful” memories:

    *Hiding in the house with mom and younger siblings, with the lights off and the door locked while the landlord banged on the door looking for the rent

    *Being banned from the “stacks” of the college library, all semester every semester, because tuition was late

    *Dropping out of college due to lack of money, squatting in boyfriend’s dorm room using his food service coupons to eat while saving up money from two jobs to come up with first/last/security deposit on a studio apartment in a bad neighborhood, and losing most of my possessions when my 20-year-old car that I was using as a storage unit while living in said dorm room was towed away

    *Still living in fear that every (healthy now, thanks) paycheck will be the last, wearing 10-year-old clothes to work because they still fit and are clean and mended, and cringing every time the fashion-conscious boss comments that the wardrobe isn’t up to snuff

  289. Your writing reminded me a bit of this classic essay on poverty, which I first encountered in a sociology class.

    Even in situations nowhere near that desperate, people who didn’t start out poor all too often end up poor or with bad credit or both because they trusted the wrong person and got screwed. About four years ago, I was trying to save money to go back to school, and signed a lease for a new apartment with two “friends”, thinking it would be better to split a large apartment’s bills 3-ways than to pay for a smaller apartment by myself. The “friends” bailed out on the lease, and I was unable to find someone to take their place. End result: not only did I end up NOT going back to school for several years afterwards, I also ended up in a massive mess of debt from the expenses I had fronted for the move itself, assuming that it would save me money later and that I would be paid back, and from an ER vet visit that ended with a dead cat and a $700 bill. I couldn’t pay the debts because my fixed living expenses came to about $1000 of my $1200 monthly take-home pay.

    My freshman-year college roommate found herself in a similar situation when her housemates bailed on her with no warning and stuck her with all the bills, including a new washer and dryer she had put on her credit because their credit was too poor to finance it.

    Sometimes the “bad decisions” were made with the best of intentions – people weren’t irresponsible with money by spending it on frivolities, but by trying to help so-called friends get on their feet and getting stiffed for it. It happened to me in 2001, and I’m still struggling to put my credit back together and driving a 15-year-old car that I pray stays roadworthy.

  290. I’d just like to say, most $800 Toyotas have at least another 100K miles on them, providing the oil’s been changed on time. Get it checked out before you buy and take good care of it, and that $800 will go a long ways.

  291. Thanks for this.

    Being poor means being turned away from urgent care with a toddler who broke his leg because you didn’t have any money.

    Being poor is realizing that the $1.00 copay for your heart medication is too much so you’ll have to do without.

    Being poor is dividing the food pantry boxes up among your family members because nobody has the money for food that month.

    Being poor is wondering what all those people who spend $200 per week on groceries are complaining about, you haven’t had that much food money in months.

    Being poor means choosing between the pair of shoes or gas for work because you can’t have both.

  292. >>>In America you are constantly told that it is your own fault if you are poor, and thus you fall into a state of violent self-hatred – a morbid state I find unequalled anywhere else in the world.

    Not so long ago in America. I’m sure these sights still exist. We’re just not shown them.

    And even if shown them, we would not believe it of ourselves. This is, after all, America.

    Well, minus New Orleans and a few other towns now…

  293. >>>With no cradle to grave equality and security in America, especially the poor are at great risk here. Their racism and poor education often makes them even more right-wing than most Americans and against any social safety net which would also benefit blacks.

    — equal racial time, for those who subcutaneously twitched at the previous set of pictures.

  294. Thanks, this really brought back some memories.

    I have some to add:

    Being poor is waking up your four year old at 3:30 in the morning to catch the bus in time to drop her at a seedy daycare, then make it to work on time.

    Being poor is using dimes to pay for Chinese take-out while the lady behind the counter piles as much food as possible into a single carton out of pity.

    Being poor is using your child’s piggy bank of dimes and nickels to pay for the ridiculous gas prices when you finally afford that car.

    Being poor is having your kid walk home in the rain without a jacket and shoes without proper soles because you’re at work

    Being poor is walking up to your mom when you’re four, holding a toy and prefacing your request to buy it with “When you have money…”

    Being poor is seeing a letter from child support in the mail, then having your heart fall when they’re just asking if you know where your dad is since he apparently dropped off the face of the earth.

    Being poor is when your dinner consists of juice boxes because that’s all there is.

    Being poor is getting sick constantly because the heater doesn’t work and being told to “buck it” since there isn’t enough money or time to see a doctor

    Being poor is being beat around by a baby-sitter you keep going to b/c they’re free

    Being poor means learning by 7 that one meal a day is decent and real hunger doesn’t hit until at least the second day

    Being poor is people asking you why you bothered to pick up that nickel on the ground

    Being poor is asking your kid to put a food item back when you’re at the register because you don’t have enough money

    Being poor is considering overtime your regular working hours because that’s what you need to survive.

    Being poor means sleeping on couches and floors that aren’t even yours.

    Being poor is when you truly do come to prefer sleeping on the floor

    Being poor is asking 8 different people if they can just spare a quarter so you can eat something before going home. That way, your mom doesn’t have to feel guilty about not having dinner

    Being poor is never being liked by your friends’ parents because they think you must be a bad influence because you’re poor

    Being poor is being bounced back and forth between different households who don’t really want you because your parents can’t afford to keep you.

    Being poor means that holidays are no different than any other day: your mom is still working and there’s still no food in the house.

  295. [deleted]

    J, feel free to repost this comment here; it was a good and amusing post, but as I said I want to keep this thread focused on the subject.

    Likewise, anyone else who feels like posting class-baiting and/or president-bashing entries from here on out, take them to the “Quick Followup” entry comment thread. Mike Cane, I’m looking at you.

  296. Thank you for writing this. It broke my heart to read it but it made me realize that, as a “poor college student” working two jobs to pay tuition, I have it A LOT easier than others and, my God, I am so incredibly lucky.

  297. Well, I just tried to post a clarification and it seems some flypaper was set up to catch my comments before anyone else can see them. No problems with that.

  298. being poor means after spending many years completing collelge hoping that when you get your raise, you’ll be able to move up into the next level of housing, and then relize that the price of the house you were hoping to get into someday has doubled or more.

  299. being poor is only getting reactive medical care, ie: your teeth are rotting so they pull them. It’s not that you don’t brush your teeth, it’s that the rich old people are scared of flouride in the water and cloud seeding, so your teeth are soft and rot out fast. Rich kids get braces, and poor kids learn not to smile with an open mouth.

    Being poor is having nightmares that you’ve missed a bill years after you’r enot poor anymore.

    being poor is feeling guilty after spending $20 on yourself once you’re not poor anymore.

    being poor is saying “it’s okay mommy, i didn’t really want anything anyway” in any gift giving situation.

    being poor is buying canned goods for 5 cents because they’re rusted and dented and the labels have come off

    being poor is growing up without heat or air conditioning and the water tastes funny

    being poor is 8 people using the same bath water

    being poor is watching your mom work double shifts steel welding and your dad work 2 full time jobs and one part time job so that you can go on the three field trips in biology class and get the nifty calculator for math

    being poor is getting a job and giving the money to your mom so that the family can eat

    being poor is pretending that you aren’t so you don’t cry

    being poor means you learn early that nothing is fair and that poor people have to work harder for less and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

    being poor means being offended when you hear some pissy teenager at the mall in yuppietopia bitch that s/he’s poor and restraining yourself from saying “you don’t know poor. i’ll tell you about poor”

  300. Every time a discussion of poverty comes around, being poor is having to endure apocryphal tales of people recieving public assistance and living a luxurious life with a $4800 tax refund and all expenses paid. What next, the section 8 housing area of town with Cadillacs parked outside? The mythology about poverty is dizzying. Welfare is about 300- 400 a month. You do not get more by “hiding” the identity of the “babydaddy”. These are dangerous, mean spirited myths.

  301. Being poor means being followed by security guys when you go to a department store thinking you are there for a five-finger discount.

    Being poor means dealing with low-level bureaucrats who think that they are above you since they have a job.

    Being poor means the cops following you and presuming you are guilty when you have not not antything wrong (but about to do something or planning to do it).

    Being poor means swallowing your pride to the point that you will gag because you feel despised and abandoned.

    Being poor means being hounded by creditors when you have been disabled and could no longer work unless they give you a wheelchair.

    Being poor means being treated with contempt and glaring look from people who think you are a freeloader or getting a smirk when handing you some money.

    Being poor is mistaking the grumbling in your stomach for an impending heart attack.

    Being poor is being lectured about by church and lay people that “God helps those who help themselves” and getting a sermon that “the poor shall always be with us” afterwhich they drive away in their Mercedes-Benz and SUVs.

    Being poor really SUCKS and that is why the momentary escape offered by crack or any drug is welcome relief from reality.


  302. Being poor is making “appetizers” out of generic spam and government cheese on saltine crackers.
    Being poor is spending the summer days at the library, because they had air conditioning.
    Being poor is selling back books at the end of the semester to get busfare home for Christmas, hoping your parents have enough to send you back for spring semester.
    Being poor is riding your bike to your shift as a cashier, with .50 in your pocket for lunch of a banana and yogurt.
    Having been poor is insisting that your children will never eat bologna.

  303. Being Poor

    Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV. Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they're what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there's not an $800…

  304. Being poor is when you lose everything you had in storage because your car was towed (the trunk).

    Being poor is losing your *car* because your car was towed.

  305. Being poor is closing out a checking account because you don’t have enough money in it to pay the minimum maintenance fee, and having an extra dollar slipped in by the well-meaning bank employee.

  306. [Deleted for being a poor example of contemptuous jackass snark]

    You had a point in there somewhere, however, Rav, and If you think it’s possible for you to make it without slathering your contempt for others all over it, you’re welcome to try again.

  307. Excellent on all counts. I remember many of them well. How about a few more:

    Being poor is living with relatives (because your parents got rid of you) at the age of 9 and being reminded constantly that you are a charity case.

    Being poor is letting grandpa do his secret, special things to you so that he will let you go outside to play – and escape.

    Being poor is walking by the garbage can in school and noticing a sandwich with only two bites, and actually yelling “WHOA!” and hoping no one will see you remove it.

    Being poor is drinking enough water every day, all day long to feel “full,” three days before payday.

    Being poor is feeding your 20-month-old daughter no-frills baby food.

  308. Being poor is more than deprivation and pain. The people with the least statistically give more to those in need than the richest among us. Poor people tend to be less judgmental because they realize that “there but for the grace of God go I.” Poor people are more understanding of human nature and more forgiving, because they realize how dearly some pay for mistakes, even though everyone makes them. Poor people know the value of the things money can’t buy and find a way to live their lives with considerable equanimity and generosity, grateful for the sacrifices parents, children and others have made. Poor people accept consequences as the natural order of things with much more alacrity than the Ken Lays and Rush Limbaughs of the world. Poor people must work harder to take care of their families. After a long bus ride, and an even longer wait, they face down the scorn of the free clinic and the indignant complaints of the wealthier, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The poor can make a chicken last for three meals–meals that taste damn good. Being poor is not necessarily a correlary to having class. One look at the likes of Paris Whatshername and Britney Spears settles that question once and for all. The poor have human dignity that comes from authentic being-ness that’s truly divorced from the artificial, and ultimately meaningless, boosts of possession and status. The poor have faith borne of experience. Lke the sparrow in the sky, their higher power somehow manages to keep them alive and with love for their families and friends. That is a faith without an axe with which to grind your fellow life travelers, nor an excuse for cruelty, intolerance and judgment. So, while the poor know the price of everything, they also have had to learn the value of the intangible. Of course, there are ugly exceptions, as with all things. But watch the vast majority of the people made homeless by Katrina, and you’ll see what I’m saying. I wonder how well a bunch of Trumps, Bushes, DeLays and their ilk would do in similar circumstances. The roars of indignation at the injustice of it all would have taken the roof entirely off the Superdome. It’s quite another matter when ill fortune visits the poor, let alone the black. Have some of that misery at the feet of the catered class and we’ll see what stern stuff they’re made of. But like I said before, there are exceptions to everything and many might have done us proud.

  309. I’ve come to learn I’m not poor, despite what I’ve been told. I’m upper lower class. Or, if you must, lower-lower-middle class.

    Being upper-lower class is being well-off enough to get loans for college, but still not know where the money’s coming from when you leave school.

    Being upper-lower class is being able to post this from your dorm room or a home Internet connection.

    Being upper-lower class is being able to pay, even with difficulty, for overpriced clothes because clothes for women who are a 2X in men’s sizes are virtually impossible to find outside of an expensive plus-size store–and, sadly, many “plus-size” stores have no rightful claim to the phrase.

    Being upper-lower class is having to watch expenditures on lower-level luxuries, but still having enough to buy food.

    Being upper-lower class and transgendered is being able to scrape up money for hormones without going hungry or living on the sidewalk.

    Being an upper-lower class transwoman is being able to afford electrolysis if you cut back on your entertainment budget.

    Being upper-lower class is having a relative one can beg for a ride.

    Being upper-lower class is being able to make ten-dollar co-pays.

    Being upper-lower class is being able to pay for what you need… Just not many of the things you want.

    Some from the experience of others, and am I fortunate to not know them firsthand:

    Being poor and transgendered is being lucky to have money for two of hormones, food, shelter; and braving the sidewalk. Or worse, cutting out more meals to scrape up enough for androgen blockers.

    Being poor and transgendered is having to buy hormones at jacked-up prices overseas or on the black market for want of the vast amounts of money required to pay for the psychotherapy to get a recommendation for them and a doctor’s fees to get a prescription to buy hormones “legit,” then risking your health and life taking them without medical supervision.

    Being a poor transwoman is having to choose between letting your stubble go for a day and getting read, or shaving it and getting read because the ancient blade leaves your face so raw it’s still a dead giveaway; because you can’t afford electrolysis.

    Being poor and transgendered is being unable to get many of the jobs the other poor can get, because the employers know they could just as easily get any of the myriad poor people who aren’t “freaks.”

    Being poor and transgendered is being fired from the job(s) you already have for being a “freak,” and not having any recourse even in the handful of jurisdictions where it’s illegal to fire someone for being transgendered.

    Being a poor transwoman is being unable to get a job and breaking down because your bastard father has a paying job for you–save that he won’t tolerate having a whole daughter instead of a broken “son.”

    Being a poor transwoman is prostituting yourself on the streets because no one in your neck of the woods will hire a transsexual woman.

    Being a poor transwoman prostitute is not making your johns wear condoms so that you might be able to scrape up enough for electrolysis this week.

    Being a poor transwoman is sharing the needles for your injectable hormones with other poor transwomen.

    Being poor and transgendered is shacking up with people who don’t know you’re transgendered for shelter… And living in fear that they’ll find out what’s in your pants.

    Being poor and transgendered is having to somehow come up with far more money for clothes, because the few stores that carry clothes in your size are so much more expensive than even ordinary retail.

    Being a poor transwoman is having a boy’s name on all of your documentation because you can’t afford the court fees for a name change.

    Being a poor transwoman is having an “M” on all your documentation, because you can’t afford surgery to let you get your documents changed, and no one in the system cares that being unable to get your documents updated outs you to everyone and their dog in a world where you have to have your ID for everything.

    Being poor and transgendered is being on the bottom rung of the poor: the group upon which all the other poor can safely vent their ill will.

    Being poor and transgendered is being scorned as wasting money on “luxuries” like being able to walk outside in the daylight without getting spit on, beaten up, or murdered for being a “fag” or a “freak,” or worse, pretending to be a boy.

    Being poor and transgendered is always knowing you’re being judged three times–once for being poor, once for being transgendered, and again for daring to be transgendered when you’re poor.

    And, lastly. Being an upper-lower class transwoman who spent most of your teenage years paralyzed by depression instead of doing things you needed to do and who no longer knows where your resources will be coming from is: fearing that all those things learned second-hand are only things you don’t know first-hand yet; and scouring the tales of what it’s like to be poor posted by others for precious survival tips, because they may well be necessary.

  310. This blog brought back memories of a time when things were pretty difficult. As a child, we never had much money. I remember dreading to go into the grocery stores to get groceries and the clerks telling me my mother had a bad check there and she should call them or the clerk asking another loudly if they could take another check of my folks.
    I wore clothes from thrift stores and was so embarassed when people would point out that they knew who used to own my clothes.
    I put myself through college, however, with only
    a hundred dollars help from my parents.
    I am actually kind of proud of that. I worked
    three jobs every summer and always in college.
    I know that kids work three jobs all year round
    and still don’t see college and they help their
    parents. I know how lucky I am that I did get
    a pell grant and was able to escape.

    In later years my husband and I had lost our jobs and we were broke. For two years, we were delighted to get Christmas presents sent to us so we could return the gifts given to us to stores before Christmas so we could buy presents for the kids. My MIL was great at buying things
    on sale and kept us in laundry detergent. I
    remember returning soap so we could get some
    I also remember that the camcorder we’d bought in earlier times was in the pawn shop half a dozen times. But for the grace of God and my husband’s parents, we wouldn’t have been able to make our house nor car payments and we really would have lost everything.

    My husband and I talk about those days.

    I’m lucky that I can feel thankful for actually having had them.

    I am so thankful for all that I have and a bit ashamed to think that I don’t give nearly what I should to organizations like Feed the Children.

  311. Some from my childhood:

    Being poor is having your parents hop from rented residence to rented residence because they can’t afford rent.

    Worse is your mother buying hair dye and other things when you can’t make the rent, then telling you that there’s no money when you want something.

    Being poor is having a drug dealer for a father.

    Being poor is your grandmother stuffing you full of food whenever you visit her, because she knows your parents will hardly feed you when you go home.

  312. Being poor is having your uninsured dad go to the hospital complaining of chest pains and get sent home because he “seems fine” to the ER doctor who refuses to send an uninsured person on to a cardiologist, and then having him die three hours later.

    Being poor is selling your wedding band (inherited from your grandmother-in-law) to pay the electric bill and then overhearing yourself being referred to by a grocery clerk who thinks you don’t speak her language as “another lazy, unwed mother” because you’re shopping with your kids and paying with a food stamps card.

    Being formerly poor is being disgusted with your neighbor when you move to an upper-middle class neighborhood and he tells you not to “bother” answering the door on Halloween night because the trick-or-treaters are just the poor kids from further out in town and that you “shouldn’t have” to give candy to the kids who don’t actually live in your neighborhood of $300,000+ homes.

    Being formerly poor is remarking to the pizza delivery kid how impressed you are with how quick the delivery is, as always, and having him confess that it’s because “Your house is the only one in the neighborhood who gives decent tips. You’re a good customer.” And then having him tell you that overall he’d rather deliver a pizza to the trailer park three miles away because the residents there never stiff him on a tip the way your affluent neighbors constantly do. And being amazed to find out that wealthy people stiff the pizza guy.

    Being formerly poor is knowing, unlike your neighbor, that waiters don’t even make the standard minimum wage – they make significantly less (It was still just $2.13 an hour last time I checked.) because of the “assumption” of tips – and hating the way your neighbor rants about how he shouldn’t be forced to tip a guy who’s “doing the job he gets paid by the restaurant to do.”

    Being formerly poor is listening to other parents complain that the elementary school is being “brought down” by the poorer children being bused in, as if they expect you to sympathize and agree with them and then having them not understand when you send them dirty looks and walk off.

    ~ Not too long ago we were living on food stamps and in a shabby apartment with mold on the walls, brought down by medical bills as so many people are. While we eventually climbed out of the pit by taking on four jobs between the two of us, my husband and I, and working all hours so one of us was always home with the kids to keep from paying day care costs, I still recognize that we were able to do this because we were “hire-able.” (That is, decently educated, decent in looks, etc.) In other words, we were just plain lucky.

    I’ve learned a lot since moving to my new community. In the old one, when one of our apartment neighbors were in trouble, the entire building rallied ’round – when we couldn’t pay our gas bill one month, my neighbors, all equally poor, took up a collection to help us. When a young couple missed several days of work from a serious flu, (Being poor means knowing if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. There is no such thing as “sick pay” for hourly employees.) we all raised the money to cover their groceries and gasoline. Now I live with well-to-do neighbors and I’ve learned the secret to their success. They don’t give a dime to help out those less fortunate and they begrudge every last tax-penny that gets spent on welfare, calling it “forced, undeserved charity.”

  313. Over the past several days, the issue of Third World conditions existing in a First World country like the U.S.A. has surfaced. Let me share my views on this issue. The concept of a Third World is a mental construct by some economists to describe the conditions in undeveloped or underdeveloped countries. It is a broad brushstroke to paint a picture of what living conditions in those countries are but they could be misleading. In the same way that GDP or GNP is used to measure a country’s economic performance or relative ranking, it is misleading and useless as far as giving aid to those who need it most.
    My experience in economic development shows the myopic and almost contemptible assertions from international organizations that money, infrastructure development and trade are the only solutions to the problem. Will it benefit the truly poor people of Asia or Africa if you build them schools with no teachers to staff them? What do they have that they can trade other than the natural resources within their boundaries? A classic example is Nauru (a tiny country in the South Pacific most people have not heard of) that was built from phosphate deposits over eons. They have nothing to export but phosphate which is used in fertilizer. They rank as one of the richest in per capita income among Third World countries. But the country is almost gone after all the mining and the mismanaged investments made in the ’90s.
    Compare that to the US or other developed countries with so many resources a million-fold bigger. It has a population of 12,000+ and can vanish overnight when sea levels go up. It has been targetted by the US as a conduit for money laundering by the Russian mob.
    So there is indeed absolute poverty and it can be brought about by natural and man-made disasters. There is only one world (not three) and we all live in it. Next time you look at your lawn, please remember that there might be a piece of Nauru in there.

  314. Yeah, the “brush your teeth” thing always gets me. Even if you’re poor, you get free toothbrushes at school and stuff (if you walk into any dentist’s office, they’ll probably hand you several just for asking). Not brushing isn’t the problem (although flossing may be – it took until I was in my 20s before I knew anyone who could afford such a luxury as dental floss – and that was me, trying to learn a habit that I should have been taught as a kid, except mom couldn’t afford it).

    But 90% of the food you can afford when you’re poor is essentially 90% sugar – white flour, corn syrup, refined sugar, degermed corn, malt, etc. Even with fanatical brushing, a mostly-sugar diet will rot the teeth out of your head in no time.

    Additionally, well water (from living in the country where rent is cheap because there are no jobs and there are few, if any, building codes for the landlord to have to raise the rent over meeting) isn’t fluoridated.

    Toothpaste costs money that could go to food, so you brush with baking soda and salt (a cheap and effective cleaner, but hard on enamel…and also, no fluoride).

    And if the poor diet, lack of fluoride and abrasive alternatives don’t rot your teeth, then cross your fingers and hope for good genes, no chipped teeth or other physical injury that could get infected or worse, and no pregnancies (the calcium for those little bones has to come from somewhere, and if it doesn’t come from your diet – as if – it’ll come from your own teeth and bones). That’s how my mom ended up with dentures in her late twenties. We three kids literally sucked the calcium right out of her body.

    Oh, and BTW those dentures were paid for by several months of hard work on a hand-stitched quilt, thanks to the compassionate dentist who agreed to barter. If he hadn’t, well, that would have been that. We certainly had no money for anything that expensive.

    I helped pay for her last pair, which she bought this year. She is so ecstatic – it’s been ages since she’s been able to eat salads and veggies that weren’t cooked to literal nutritional death. When you’re poor, you live with ill-fitting, spork-dull choppers that restrict your already crappy diet to soft, nutrition-poor foods because the $100 for a new cheapo pair is out of the question.

    Bad teeth are rarely a case of not brushing. When you’re poor, brushing is often the only thing you’ve got working in your teeth’s favor.

  315. Being poor is paying 47 cents tax for every dollar you earn, plus 10% on all goods and services (VAT), stamp duty, land tax, capital gains tax, superannuation contribution (compulsory retirement fund) tax, health benefits taxes, import duty taxes, petrol taxes and transaction fees for all banking services, including electronic and internet banking.

  316. Hmmm!check!Huh?Are this people are for real?What are they talking about?What’s the topic?For what
    I’ve read so far I thought you guys are talking
    about being poor.Guess what “PEOPLE”, “POOR” people don’t have computer, let alone Internet connections and blogging!Hello!Can you guys get real here.Duh!Reality check here.Being poor,you don’t get to go to any kind of store.You’re familyhouse is a cardboard box near the garbage dumpster,you don’t buy your food or anything that
    you need, you find them in the dumpster.Let alone talking about pennies.What penny?And shower?bathroom?”What are words?Toilet paper?You
    guys are joking right?Anything are better than leaving and eating out the dumpster.Thank you very much for a very insightfull information.

  317. Hey, rav4u, I’m sure most of the readers who posted probably grew up poor. Just because we can afford a computer now doesn’t mean we could afford the basics growing up. Or didn’t that occur to you?

    Being poor is your dad having to sell his pickup to make the mortgage payment.

    Being poor is being 16 years old and your $400 car you saved years to buy being the only mode of transportation for your family.

    Being poor is eating grilled cheese sandwiches made from day old bread and government cheese, (which never, ever, seems to melt) and being glad it’s not boiled beans again.

    Being poor is your dad poaching deer to feed the family through the winter after being laid off.

    Being poor is your friend who lives in a travel trailer with 3 other family members thinking you are rich because your house doesn’t have wheels under it, and you have a VCR!

    This post brought back a lot of memories of my childhood and made me thankful for what I have nonw.

    Thank you.

  318. Being poor means using something until it absolutely can’t serve its function anymore. Hey, that couch might have had all the upholstry ripped off and be missing one leg and have springs sticking out the back, but you can still sit on it, right?

    Being poor, apparently, means taking it from both ends. It means that the people who have three meals a day will tell you that you could too, if you only tried, and the people who get one meal every other day will tell you you’re a jerk for complaining about getting one meal a day.

    Honestly, people, there’s always somebody worse off then you. Even if you live in a box on the street in a first-world country, there’s some guy in a third world prison being tortured who would give a whole hell of a lot to trade places with you.

    But does this mean that you aren’t allowed to say you’re badly off for living in a freaking box? I don’t think it does. If we use this standard, then only the worst off guy in the entire world is allowed to complain about his life. Even the guy getting tortured in prison can’t complain, because some other guy is getting tortured twice as much.

    Incidentally, the library has free computers where you can go online for a couple of hours. Even a homeless person could post on this thread. Just, FYI.

    Oh, and your benefits will get cut if you get a job, and often the job won’t make up the difference. This can be important if you need to take mental health drugs to stay functional. Those drugs cost a lot of money, and you may just be scraping by. If you get a job, then you’ll have less money, and won’t be able to afford them, and, ironically, you won’t be able to keep the job either, because the drugs were all that gave you enough functionality to hold down a job in the first place.

    Oh, and being poor is having people tell you that what with wellfare and decreased cost-housing and everything, poor folks live great lives, buying all sorts of frivoulous things, even though you yourself live in a block of low-cost housing and your neighboors keep bothering you because they can’t afford to buy a phone, let alone a damned pedicure.

    (Incidentally, I live a weird poor/not poor lifestyle. My mom, whom I live with, doesn’t really have a source of income, but my dad is fairly wel-off, and has always paid child-support, and a good deal extra to give us kids a proper education. Hence why I have this computer and an internet connection.)

  319. Being poor is being the subject of Broadway plays like “Annie” where the sun will always come out “Tomorrow”.

    Being poor takes a lot of effort as shown in movies like “Trading Places” and “Life Stinks”.

    Being poor is reading Forbes 400 List, fashion magazines and watching mindless TV programs about celebriies thinking that there must be another planet inhabited by creatures that resemble human beings.

    Being poor is a state of mind that makes you feel trapped with no possible means of escape, constant panic attacks that eventually lead to wallowing in misery and self-pity.

    Being poor does not make you less human if you start thinking that the rich, famous and powerful also emit the same stinking fart you do.

    Being poor does not mean that a rich person will leave a beautiful corpse than you. In the end, we are all going to be the same.

  320. A friend sent me this link earlier this evening and I’ve not been able to stop reading, feeling sicker and sicker as things feel more and more familiar. Thank you for writing this, John.

    I can’t think of much to add, having already identified with so much, except this:

    Being poor means you feel guilty and selfish for attempting to follow your dreams, even when you’re supporting yourself financially while doing so.

    Being poor means you’re not meant to have anything so frivolous as dreams.

  321. We’re just short of 350 comments here, many of them long, which is making this page a heck of a download. To keep this page from becoming inaccessible to people with dial-up connections, I’m closing comments here but opening them up in this entry. If you want add your own comments and observations to this, simply follow that link and place them there.

    I do want to thank everyone who has added to the original list with their own experiences. There are some genuinely astounding things here.

  322. Being Poor

    In retrospect, maybe I should have changed “poor” to “lower-middle class”. I guess it’s up for discussion. Anyway, here is my contribution to the entry, most of which I discovered today or remembered from long ago.. Being poor is packing…

  323. Living paycheck to paycheck

    This Washington Post article gives some insight into why many poor people didn’t evacuate New Orleans before hurricane Katrina hit. In particular, this comment caught my eye: “It’s hard to just get up and go when you don’t have anything,”…

  324. Lest we forget

    I’m having a hard time not feeling cynical right now. The situation in NOLA has illuminated some of the greatest problems in the United States, and those are poverty and classism. I can’t help but fear that, much like the All-American pa…

  325. Hear me now

    Like a lot of people, I grew up poor. I didn't actually realize it at the time, because my mother never really vocalized it to us as kids and my grandparents lived next door to us until I was ten [they helped]. The only time it was obvious to m…

  326. Being Poor is knowing…

    Making my daily rounds I stopped in at Mac’s place place and she had an especialy touching article about her younger days. In that article she had a link that someone else had sent to her and it was the…

  327. Let Them Eat Cake

    I read this post on Being Poor yesterday and I wanted to share it. It’s an emotional reminder that some people don’t have the luxury of putting away that extra dollar a day. Frugality is not a lifestyle choice –…

  328. being poor

    being poor is paying a debt to the rich for being born in their world. In response to New Orleans, John Scalzi wrote Being Poor, a list of statements about what being poor is like. In turn, hundreds of people left comments to add their experience of be…

  329. Whatever: Being Poor

    An amazing amazing post about being poor. He has posted this at a perfect moment (when the scenes of New Orleans are still fresh in our memory). I hope the dumb Indian youth, who wants to shift to capitalism overnight with such a huge percentage of pe…

  330. Staying Poor

    Staying poor is a result of thinking that others owe you a living. They don’t. The only person who owes you a decent living is you.
    Staying poor is a result of becoming too reliant on others. There is a massive infrastructure devoted to helping the…

  331. Thinking about poverty

    Paradox1x offers thoughts on a John Scalzi post that lists observations about, well, being poor. It covers a lot of characteristics and experiences having to do with poverty, even addressing misconceptions those who aren’t poor often have of those who …

  332. Ignoring Nostradamus

    If you have warnings that in retrospect appear almost prophetic and a government who chose to ignore them and refused to act, it begs the question “Was this malicious and premeditated?”. What could possibly drive an adminstration who claims to…

  333. Being Poor

    Now that Katrina has surfaced the poor that have dropped from the national conversation — Didn’t the Clinton welfare bill take care of that problem? — John Scalzi lists some of what it means to be poor. And then there are lots and lots of c…

  334. Poor Perspective

    Whatever brings us a startling look at what being poor really means. Definitely brings back some memories for me, I can tell ya that….

  335. Justice Issues

    So for UM Army this year the theme is Eph 6:10-20. My focus right now is on verse 12/13 and developing a few ideas for justice issues to be highlighted each morning.
    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the

  336. Being Poor

    Whether or not you have ever considered yourself poor, read this. I can directly relate to at least 30% of this list, and can completely empathize with most of it. I am so lucky that my family somehow managed to…

  337. Being poor

    Being poor, from Whatever: Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs. Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV. Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, …

  338. Being Poor

    This really puts everything into persepective.
    Being Poor by John Scalzi
    And we were upset that the price of gas for our two cars has gone up a bit.
    Being Poor [via Hello Dollar]
    geek, programming, money

  339. On being poor

    I’ve never been really rich. I’ve been well off, I’ve had cash, but I’ve never really been rolling in it– although I know some folks who are. And I’ve never really been poor. I’ve been broke, I’ve been in debt, I’ve had days where I didn’t know where …

  340. They live here too

    “Poor” is not limited to the third world. “Poor” exists down the street, in the grocery line, at the dumpster, in the pharmacy, on the bus, at the Goodwill, behind the counter… “Poor” means that people like me who call themselves “poor” really have n…

  341. They live here too

    “Poor” is not limited to the third world. “Poor” exists down the street, in the grocery line, at the dumpster, in the pharmacy, on the bus, at the Goodwill, behind the counter… “Poor” means that people like me who call themselves “poor” really have n…

  342. poverty is relative – update on Being Poor

    Given that Being Poor has been critiqued by those who feel as though American poverty is nothing compared with elsewhere (including a fabulous re-telling from and Indian perspective), i feel the need to explain why Scalzi’s article is important. Even t…

  343. Sunday Afternoon

    While Wayne is enscounced with football, I’ve gotten “The Fisherman’s Child” rewritten – plan is to send it off to F&SF with enough time left that if they bounce it back with the usual speed, I can then send it…

  344. Being Poor

    I’ve seen several people link to this post, but I had to as well. It’s really moving — not only the post itself but the comments. As a summary, the post is about what it means to be poor. The

  345. John Scalzi on Christians

    Last week, I linked to John Scalzi’s lyrical and profound list Being Poor. This week, Scalzi follows up his post with this comment: One of the more gratifying things about the aftermath of the “Being Poor” piece I wrote a…

  346. Povery is Concrete, Not Abstract

    If you’ve never been poor (and clearly, some of the trolls in today’s threads never have–whereas I know that some of our BOP contributors have been on hard tims before), you may not be able to to imagine or appreciate the day-to-day reality of poverty…

  347. Sobering post over at IMHO

    Please take the time to read this post about Being Poor and what that means in America. It mad me sad and somewhat ashamed of myself. We often take for granted what we have and expect or want more. I am fortunate to have never experienced being really …

  348. Sobering post over at IMHO

    Please take the time to read this post about Being Poor and what that means in America. It mad me sad and somewhat ashamed of myself. We often take for granted what we have and expect or want more. I am fortunate to have never experienced being really …

  349. Thanks for setting us straight about that!

    In response to Hurricane Katrina, Scalzi wrote a moving essay Sept. 3, entitled “Being Poor:” Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t…

  350. Poverty

    A regular reader passed along this this link to Whatever on what being poor really means. Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so. Being poor is knowing how hard it is…

  351. Been there…

    Having a 5 year-old sitting next to you on the couch saying “I want that” to every toy he sees on Nickelodeon, that we watch on our 70.00 a month DirecTV, makes you wonder if we can do without all this “stuff”. Especially, when…

  352. “Best of…” Lists Aren’t That Bad

    Toward the end of every year, there’s “always” been multiple “Best of…” lists. Now that there are so many people with blogs, the act of publishing your own personal “Top Ten” or “Best of (whatever)…

  353. Being Poor … In India

    Being Poor … In IndiaPeter is really upset with a post on an American’s notion of what being poor is. He has his own version : Being Poor my arse : BoingBoing quotes [via Making Light] John Scalzi’s Being Poor….

  354. {~} What it means to be poor {~}

    In telegraphic manner, a few sentences to illustrate quite straightforwardly what it means to be poor….

  355. Prepared

    I keep hearing healthy, wealthy, priviledged people wondering why the Katrina victims didn’t leave when they were told to. I know why. You see, I deeply sympathize, only a few months ago, I left my home – quite literally –

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