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Learning To Be Poor
by Robert Soloway

I haven’t been poor for a long time. I was poor, I guess, in graduate school, but that doesn’t feel like poverty. You know it’s temporary, and beside you and the people around you are so busy in academia, you almost don’t miss the money. The library is free.

Then I was lower middle class for a while as a teacher and then I actually was rich for a few years and now I’ve gotten poor.

I’m not really poor. I’m cash strapped and unemployed. Without going into a long explanation, I am living on about $20,000 a year.

Oh, that doesn’t sound so poor to you?

Well, if you count the cost of housing and food (necessities), I have consumed more than half ($7200 rent, $3500 food). That leaves $9300. I maintain health insurance, its only good for major illnesses, but at least the card should get me in the hospital. That’s almost $4000 more. That leaves $5300.

I have a car. It is leftover from when I wasn’t poor. It costs me $2500 a year. I figured if I get rid of it, I’m going to spend about $1000 just taking buses and trains, so I am allowing myself this luxury until it dies. Frankly, it needs 2 repairs that I can’t afford. Well, it runs. I spend $20 a week on gas maximum. A few months ago that was getting me less than 5 gallons and about 100 miles. This week it filled the tank. I get to shop at the farmer’s market, again. You wouldn’t believe the trips you cut out when you have 100 miles to use.

Now I’m down to $2800. I still have to pay utilities: gas, electric, phone, TV, and water. The thermostat in my house is set at 58 degrees. That’s right 58! I have a little space heater in the room I am in, so I am comfortable, but when I go into the kitchen or bathroom, it is cold. I wear a long sleeve shirt and sweat shirt in my house all the time. At night I move the space heater into my bedroom and turn the house heater down to 52. In the morning, I get up, open the bathroom door that is off my bedroom, so some of the heat will move into the bathroom, then I kick the house heat up to 58. That little boost warms the bathroom enough to get in a shower.

When I had more money I used to run a couple of hundred dollars a month in the winter for gas. Now I keep that to eighty bucks. The electric is higher because of the space heater, but I get away with about $120. In the past, when utilities were cheaper, I would run almost $400 monthly in the winter (some months more). Now I survive on $200, but it is cold.

In the summer, I used 2 small window air conditioners, one at a time. I didn’t kick the house A/C on all summer.

I stay conscious of the length of my showers and how much hot water I use.

The heat has just kicked on. I notice every time it does.

I will go to bed soon and turn it down. One morning last week the house fell to 49.

Okay, so totaling all 5 utilities, and my (cheap) internet service, I average $220 per month or $2640. Since I had $2800 left, I now have $160.

I am broke.

Notice, I haven’t done anything. There is not a single piece of clothing, a toiletry (toilet paper and some stuff is in the food money above) like shampoo or aspirin or band-aids. I haven’t taken a trip to see my mother in Florida or my family in New York. I haven’t spent a penny on my daughter, who I see 2 or 3 times a week (I do maintain a “larger” apartment because of her visits, and I turn the heat up to 62 when she is there). There is not a single gift for anyone or a donation to anything that means something to me.

I haven’t included going to a single movie, or show, or amusement of any sort.

When I play tennis, a passion of mine, I use crappy balls and I can’t hit my favorite shot because it breaks the strings more quickly. Can you imagine, I altered my game to keep from breaking my strings?!

And here is what induced me to write this essay.

$20,000 a year is almost twice what a minimum wage earner has to live on.

I wouldn’t do it.

If I get that poor, I will leave or deal drugs before I will accept the fact that my country thinks so little of me, that it allows me to work a full time job, still starve.

So what kind of life should a minimum wage earner live? I think we owe everyone who works a life with some pleasure and the ability to enjoy some of society’s advantages.

Now that I’ve been “poor” for a little while, I can clearly say that it is unreasonable to expect someone to live and feel like they have a share of the benefits of the country they work in, for less than $25,000.

That would make the minimum wage about $12.50.

It turns out that $25000 is not the minimum but the median income. That tells me that half the people in this country are underpaid.

And we know that there are a couple of millions who are overpaid.

A minimum of $12.50 would balance out the wealth much more evenly. If business can’t make it, they will fold. Others will begin and soon the spending power of millions of richer “poor” people will create a boom.

I believe this country will not return to a level of prosperity until it balances out its wealth. The rich have taken so much out of the economy, that the rest of us can’t afford to buy all those things that help the rich get rich in the first place.

Speaking from experience, $6.55 an hour is a joke. It is un-American to intentionally create an underclass. $12.50 would eliminate the poor, and alleviate much of societies problems, Poor health, educational failure, crime, mental illness, etc, all correlate to poverty.

And if the CEO of Ford only makes 10 million next year, too damn bad.

Published: Dec 14,2008 00:48
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