26 Oct 2006, Comments Off on Poverty week

Poverty week

Author: Helen

I was going to do a post for Anti Poverty week, but of course at the Cast Iron Balcony we hardly ever blog anything in a timely manner. Anyway, has poverty gone away since Poverty week? NO! OK then.

I meant to link to this famous blog post by John Scalzi (Whatever)* and the reply by the dearly departed Body and Soul (Jeanne D’Arc – does anyone know why she stopped writing?) Here’s some of John Scalzi’s post:


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.

Here’s some of Jeanne’s:


Being poor is crossing your fingers and hoping that your stomach doesn’t growl and give you away when you tell your teacher you didn’t bring lunch because you never get hungry in the middle of the day.

Being poor is when you’ve repeated that lie so many times you start to believe it yourself, and think that the reason you can’t concentrate in school is that you’re not as smart as everybody else.

Being poor is waiting an hour in the sun for a bus, and then watching it pass you by, and not reacting, because that’s just the way it is.

Being poor is when your couch is against a wall because your mom says it isn’t safe to sit with your back to the living room window.

Being poor is accidentally keeping a library book too long, and then never going back to that library because you’ll have to pay a fine.

Being poor is when the driver’s ed teacher tells you you’ll do just fine if you get a little practice in the family car, and you tell him your family doesn’t have a car, and he laughs, because every family in Southern California has a car.

To put these in context, in October last year, “Two proposals from Democrats and Republicans to raise the minimum wage to $6.25an hour were rejected on Wednesday by the Senate, making it unlikely that the wage, $5.15 an hour since 1997, will rise in the foreseeable future.” $5.15 an hour, people. If you work normal hours, that’s around $200 a week, before tax. (Ah, but people on these kind of wages wouldn’t be working “normal” hours.)

Elizabeth of Half Changed World describes the effect of poverty in creating a mindset, even in intellectually bright students, which affects their ability to get access to higher education in the way more privileged students can. Poverty or class is further entrenched.

While we shouldn’t lose focus on the plight of people on unemployment, disability or carers payments in Australia, the US experience now is that being in work doesn’t necessarily even mean a roof over your head. If WorkChoices brings a race to the bottom in wages to compete with overseas sweatshops, we’ll have a similar working-poor situation here.

*The name of Scalzi’s blog, not a sarcastic aside from me.

Comments (0)

  • JahTeh says:

    How about being shamed in a classroom for not having a ‘voluntary’ contribution or taking 3 months to finally get all the books on the school list.

  • kate says:

    What Howard et al don’t understand, don’t care to notice, or just plain don’t care about, is that most people who are unemployed, underemployed, or on the minimum wage, have a family in the same position. I suspect they justify it to themselves by comparing it to their own student days and how they still had a few dollars left to spend at the pub. They forget that they always had the security of parental middle-class incomes to fall back on, and parents to visit when they ran out of food.

    I don’t earn much, but I don’t go without because I have a big family who give me hand-me-downs, invite us round for dinner, and lend us a car. I’m in awe of Americans who earn significantly less than our minimum wage, AND have fewer social supports (like our Medicare & Health Care Cards) to rely on. I’m also in awe of the asylum seekers in Australia, who are here legally, but who receive no social security benefits, and do not have the right to work, and of the people who volunteer time and donate money to keep them going.

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