poor people aren’t supposed to want nice things.

I don’t know if you guys received the memo; but poor people aren’t supposed to want nice things.

All rags-to-riches (or rags-to-bitches, if you want to get all Boondocks about it) stories start with people who are poor but industrious. Tales of kids eating cigarette ash sandwiches to survive. Tales of people saving mustard packets so they have food that stretches through the whole year. Bonus points if your parent proudly refuses government help, or if you suffer through and survive a vitamin deficiency. You’re a rock star if you live many years out on the streets and still pull down a 4.0+ GPA. You have done poverty correctly.

However, if you take what little disposable income you have and buy sushi, you are doing wrong. Poor people do not want things like smartphones (you’re poor; who are you calling on a smartphone?), televisions (you’re poor; what do you need entertainment for?), nice cars (why wouldn’t you get a modest car to get around when you’re poor), or delicious food (do you know how much ramen you could have bought for the cost of that scone?). Poor people should not take any windfalls or nest eggs or scraped together pennies and expose themselves to luxuries. After all, isn’t that just a brutal reminder of how poor they are any other time? Why not just face the fact that poor is what you are, poor is what you shall be, and poor means that you cannot have nice things?

Poor means you cannot even want Nice Things. You are not supposed to want them. In commercials, do they show people living in Section 8 housing, driving BMWs and sipping lattes, and otherwise enjoying Nice Things? No, they show fashionably abysmal young lithe college students enjoying Nice Things. But what if you are a fashionably abysmal young lithe poor college student? Doesn’t matter. You’re poor. If you ostensibly put together a year’s worth of fortune cookies so that you’d have something to nibble on once the ramen ran out, you are not supposed to want Nice Things.

When you are poor, you are supposed to shock people with the depth of your intellect. It is your responsibility to tell people the reason you are so intelligent or well-read or knowledgeable is:

  • Your parents wanted something better for their children, something that they themselves could never have;
  • You owe your intelligence to treks to the library, sometimes barefoot in 10 feet of snow, backwards, pulling the sled you would overload with books and stories; or
  • Being poor, you have been living the realities that academics and news reporters can only dream about. Nobody knows the trouble you’ve seen; nobody knows your sorrow.
  • Often when one of these three reasons come to light, people forgive your indulgence (sometimes your overindulgence) in Nice Things. But they do not forgive the voracity of your enjoyment. Because at that point, Poor Person, you are their reminder that people who are poor want the Nice Things that they readily and regularly acquire. While you may enjoy yourself once, once you have tasted the fruit, do not repeatedly comment on how much you enjoyed that taste of the fruit. You are poor. They know you like what you have because they presume you have never wanted anything more than to get it, like They Who Have Always Had It. You walk into volunteer events, feeling like a hypocrite because you have benefitted from the programs to which you now give your time and your resources. You may even recognize some of the patrons in the soup kitchen, or you glimpse an address for a Christmas gift package that is doors away from your home. Your friends smile and spend over the encouraged limits for them, and you wonder if it weren’t for anonymity, would they even care to know your neighbors’ needs? Or would they be scandalized that the poor would want Nice Things for their families, for themselves? You know the answer already, though. You’ve heard their stories of contempt.

    Your goal, Poor Person, should you choose to accept it, is to forget about any presumption of haves and have-nots. Your job, Poor Person, is to get as far away from the have-nots as possible in thought and deed and investment. Otherwise, you will tip people off to the fact you are or have been poor. They are only supposed to suspect that you have been poor when you approach the dais to give a motivating speech, or when you are filling out an application to fund more education for yourself, or when you have fallen upon dire straits but grow accustomed to those circumstances with aplomb. Then, dear Poor Person, and then only may you say, “I did not always blithely accept the presence of Nice Things in my life; I lived a joyless existence under the poverty line.” After that statement, you counterbalance those tales with your jaunts to an expensive school among Those Who Have a Lot, the blatantly poor, and the secret poor. You omit the mental gymnastics you played to hide how much you wished that Those Who Have a Lot knew you when, so they’d understand how much it hurt when they’d pipe up in class about how poverty is a birthright of the irresponsible and the deranged, the deviant and the demented. Instead, you speak of overcoming the Blue Bloods, the Jacks and Jills, the Nouveau Riche as a general learning experience that the only time you can say, “I wasn’t that upset or deprived or needy when I was poor” is to yourself or to your progeny, as a whispered admonishment when they laugh at a homeless man on the street or when they sneer at a story of a single mother with four kids and a 58″ flat screen television in her home.

    “Yes,” you explain to your astonished kids or closest friends, “sometimes it hurt, and sometimes we couldn’t afford things; but I made myself remember I was still a person, a good person. That’s one thing my parents always had me remember.”

    About problem chylde
    "In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:6

    94 Responses to poor people aren’t supposed to want nice things.

    1. Mamita Mala says:

      In other words, the job of the poor person is to remain invisible.

      Mujer, if you are a poor person with kids….ay pues that’s a whole nother related post

    2. Ooh, I know. You, poor person with kids, better have the cleanest, most well-behaved children in all of Poverty. Otherwise, you don’t deserve your children (we’ll take them away, even) and your inability to have them perfect in all public spaces proves you deserve to be poor and childless.

    3. turtlebella says:

      uh-huh. This particular American myth makes me stabby.

      This morning I was reading an article about a union that is on strike at Mott’s applesauce plant in upstate NY. The parent company has, apparently, voiced the opinion that the skilled workers at this plant shouldn’t have the middle-class lives that they have, being able to afford houses and have health care. So even if you aren’t poor, you should still not have Nice Things. Not the poor. Not the not-poor-but-not-rich. Only the richest of the rich get that, apparently. Again, stabby.

    4. cat says:

      “Your job, Poor Person, is to get as far away from the have-nots as possible in thought and deed and investment. Otherwise, you will tip people off to the fact you are or have been poor. ” Yes, I understand that very well. As a person who grew up poor in a rural area (yes, rural poor, we exist too) and went to an expensive private university in a city, I have gotten this sentiment over and over again. Another related thing though is that rich kids expect you to keep up with their rich lifestyles, despite the whine about how you as a poor person should never ever have bought any extras. As a poor person amoung rich folks, you get stuck in the catch 22 of being expected to have and not have an exorbitant lifestyle at the same time.

    5. Katherine says:

      Exactly cat. My university “friends” once decided I was “a slacker” because I had to work in my parents’ factory rather than go on holiday with them. Boy, did they get an earful.

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    8. jay says:

      Just wanted to tell you –

      this post is absolutely amazing. Thanks for writing it.

    9. maevele says:

      This is awesome. I read it a couple days back and have tried to find time to put together a comment since.

      What poor people are allowed to want, is simply and only, to not be poor. They are supposed to sacrifice all immediate comforts to some day aspire to be a rich person, because that’s how you know someone is worth something. Wanting, or dog forbid having, any comforts or luxuries in your life while you are still poor is simply not acceptable.

      And it’s amazing how much you can internalize that crap if you live immersed in it long enough. I can not spend money on myself. I’ve started overcoming it the last couple of years, but it’s been a thing. Because as a poor person, yeah, I’m supposed to be putting every ounce of energy into getting unpoor, to contribute to the capitalist system, not to enjoy my life. I’ve finally mostly killed that, but it took 30 odd years.

    10. maevele says:

      I accidentally deleted my post. basically, your post is awesome, poor people really are expected only to put all their energy into escaping poverty so they can become productive contributing capitalist cogs, not to enjoy what they can afford to enjoy. You ever want to find truly spiteful things coming out of otherwise nice seeming people? mention families who get food stamps and have cable.

      And being poor for a long time means you internalize all that shit, and really start to believe that you don’t deserve nice things as long as you are poor, and that in fact, if you didn’t waste your money on luxuries, you could save up and stop being poor. Because that’s the goal, right? To aspire to be a better person, therefore a richer person? If poor people can enjoy their quality of life, even if it’s all curbscores and thrift shops and draining the savings, where’s the motivation for them to scramble around trying to be better capitalists and get rich?

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    12. great, moving post. I can’t tell ya how many times I’ve heard ignorant rants by privileged white people going off about how these “ghetto black people” are wasting their money driving SUVs and wearing bling bling when they should be spending it on their kids or rebuilding their communities. Who says they’re not?

    13. CanadaGoose says:

      Some years ago when I lived in California I was in a Macy’s at Christmas time. They had a wishing tree with notes from (poor) kids requesting various items for Christmas. Someone next to me was exclaiming over the “outrageous” requests — video games, high-priced athletic shoes, and so forth. Being poor meant they had no right to ask for nice things — I guess an orange and/or a lump of coal would be more suitable.
      The next card I looked at was that of a 13-year-old who wanted a watch. (I bought her a nice one. Good quality and pretty too.)
      The whole idea that a poor kid was wrong too aspire to better things made my blood boil.

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    15. Kjen says:

      Great post. The poor also have to carefully modify exactly what is that they aspire to have/be.
      If they mention how they want to get a better paying job in order to get a great car, cool clothes, etc then they are superficial and have little understanding of money. In order to be poor, ambitious and taken seriously, you must only aspire to education, education and more education for the sake of education. Only to turn around 10 years later and just happen to have landed a great paying gig. “Oh, how did I wind up here?”

    16. NancyP says:

      Everyone should speak up about the knowledge and entertainment they gained from using the public library, one of the great American institutions, one used by all classes.

      Public libraries give great value for their share of the tax dollars, and we all should speak out in their support, to counter the ignorant me-first Tea Party types who begrudge even a few bucks towards the libraries.

      Challenge the killjoy types to eat cheap meals on birthdays and anniversaries, deny their kids birthday cakes, skip holiday dinners. Everyone in the known universe marks special days by special food.

    17. Robin says:

      Just yesterday an acquaintance of mine was talking about someone taking “too long” in front of her at the grocery store who (shock, gasp) had the *nerve* to be paying with food stamps while texting on a cell phone and being in possession of a recent-model vehicle.

      These signs of a life not being lived at basic human subsistence so enraged my acquaintance that she felt the need to post online about how the world would be better if she could shoot people without repercussion and how some people “need to be put down.”

      Needless to say, we are now unacquainted. And I took my below the poverty line ass down to the grocery store and bought myself duck and brie.

    18. Donald says:

      The people who talk like this just don’t understand poverty. They think it’s the week when their credit card was maxed out and they had to borrow from their friends until daddy paid the bill for them. Living in an area with a lot of university students I hear a lot about “poor students”. Sure some are really poor but most are spending far more than I do.

      From that perspective poverty is all about being unable to afford the luxuries they want. So when they see someone with a luxury they haven’t got their reaction is that the person is either wasteful or not really poor. No matter that the individual concerned bought the luxury when they had a decent job and they are now balancing paying the rent against buying food.

    19. Gesyckah says:

      @ Jihad Punk
      Well, maybe the person with bling and an SUV didn’t spend their money on education and rebuilding their community. Who’s place is it to police their spending? It damn sure isn’t upper middle class people’s place to when many of them have problems buying within their means as well. It’s like people have to contribute to the capitalist system (Money will buy you whatever you want! Get more of it and spend!) but only under certain rules. It’s a free country and people can spend their money on whatever they want.

    20. Emily says:

      Great post. Thank you.
      But… one thing

      “the *nerve* to be paying with food stamps while texting on a cell phone and being in possession of a recent-model vehicle.”

      “mention families who get food stamps and have cable.”

      I suppose this comes down to what we value and perhaps how we are raised and what we need in order to feel good about ourselves. But, if you can afford a nice car and (premium) cable, why would you have food stamps? Because you’re spending your food money (that you need to literally live) on things that are not necessary to have in order to live.

      Want what you want. Who cares. I choose to shop at Goodwill and buy groceries rather than eat out. That’s a personal (and sometimes political) decision. I don’t expect others to want the same things as I do. But should we be asking our neighbors to help finance things that are, by definition, unnecessary?

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    22. karak says:

      This. This is so true. I see middle-class people living frighteningly beyond their means, and then those same people turn around and go completely vicious on someone daring to have cable and internet in their subsidized apartment. Seriously, you’re TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars in luxury-based debt, but THIS person is terrible? Really?

      Don’t forget–if you’re poor, you gotta put down other poor people once you get wealth. It really helps if you talk about how they tried to Drag You Down but the middle class (white) people helped you gain all that is good in the world.

    23. Janine deManda says:

      Thank you, Problem Chylde. Thank you for writing this and putting it out into the world. Having grown up in rural poverty, I internalized a lot of classist bullshit. I’ve worked on being aware of and challenging it in myself, but this was an aspect that I just hadn’t been able to take apart like you did. Thank you. This helps.

      @Emily – congratulations on being so fiscally wise and self-denying, but how about you back the fuck up off people on food stamps who have the audacity to make their own choices, hmmm? Frankly, I am unconvinced that you thought the OP was a “Great post.” since your responding comment reads as an excellent example of the fucked-upness that the OP was challenging. Just sayin’.

    24. Joyce says:

      I have to agree with Emily. If you require financial assistance from taxpayers to feed your family, and spend your money on cable, well, what you are actually doing is requiring other people to pay for your entertainment since the money you are paying for cable could have purchased a necessity like food.

      Most people generally feel everyone (even *gasp* poor people) should have food but you are not entitled to have other people pay for your entertainment.

      Want whatever you want. Spend your every last dime on luxury goods; I could care less. But don’t spend MY money (i.e. – the tax dollars that pay for things like food stamps) on YOUR stuff.

    25. antiprincess says:

      “But should we be asking our neighbors to help finance things that are, by definition, unnecessary?”

      it depends on how you define “unnecessary”.

      my home telephone service is bundled with decent internet service. but if I pay that bill every month, I won’t have quite enough for groceries. I’ll have almost enough, but not quite. I am told that if one has a child, it’s AGAINST THE LAW to go without telephone service. so, even though I have hot and cold running internet, I feel a lot better getting a little help from the fine folks at the Dept. of Agriculture.

      or here, try this – let’s say I buy a beeeeeeyouteeful brand new super-eco-friendly fancy schmancy Honda Prius. it fits my whole family, it’s a color I love, it’s fun to drive, whoo yeah baby this is cruising at its finest for me. (I wouldn’t know, I don’t even drive, we don’t even have a car, this is just for sake of argument.)

      and then I lose my job. and so does my husband. and suddenly we go from “doing okay” to “oh shit we’re starving!” is the solution to sell the beautiful car and get a piece-a-crap gas guzzler, which may actually cost more money over time (factoring in gas, repairs, time off work to get repairs done etc.), just so I can remain consistent with what the rest of the world thinks a food stamp recipient looks like?

      why not just use the car I have to get a new job, and in the meantime NOT starve to death?

      and no, The Gummint is not “my neighbor”. I can’t manage to knock on the next door lady’s door to borrow an egg, I’m too humiliated to let her know I need an egg. but I sure can do SOME of my grocery shopping on the USDA’s dime. I’ll feel too-guilty about that when AIG feels too-guilty about taking government money.

    26. antiprincess says:

      “If you require financial assistance from taxpayers to feed your family, and spend your money on cable, well, what you are actually doing is requiring other people to pay for your entertainment since the money you are paying for cable could have purchased a necessity like food.”

      what is it about television that makes people so fussy? consider – it’s impossible in 2010 to get any sort of tv reception without that stupid converter box, and even then the coupla-three broadcast channels you get are substandard at best. Consider also that television (and the internet, to a lesser extent) does have a public service to perform – want to know if there’s a hurricane or tornado? how about a zombie invasion? if you don’t have any form of mass media in your house, you could miss something like that. television (and cable in particular) has become part of the “standard of living” in the US. going without it puts one at something of a social disadvantage, at the very least.

      while we’re at it, who really needs electricity? why not make poor people sit in the cold and dark for the privilege of not starving to death? at least then they wouldn’t be able to watch television.

    27. Emily says:

      I actually did think the post was great. I agreed with almost every point, except one. And I actually am not so fiscally wise and I don’t deny myself; we all have our own pleasures. The point that I diverge at with you and the OP is that I simply don’t understand how anyone can justify driving an expensive, financed car while on food stamps (circumstances are essential; one can’t make a general, broad statement about this; I was pinpointing 2 specific comments). It’s no shame to be poor, no shame to want nice things, whatever they may be, but it IS a questionable act to use government assistance while you are financing a Lexus, for example. Government assistance is for those who *can’t survive* on their income (because of the “fucked-upness” of this country: racism, classism). What you’re suggesting is that I would like to monitor welfare recipient’s choices? Or blame welfare recipients for their state of affairs? Of course not (a part of me appreciates the “fuck the government” sentiment.) But, will I call out irresponsibility when I specifically see it in a comment? I sure as fuck will.

    28. maevele says:

      re the food stamps and cable thing, see, I said just mention it. It’s not just food stamp recepients that get told they are wasteful leeches for spending money on entertainment, either. I once had someone tell me off for having cable while I qualified for EIC (american tax relief bonus for the working poor) even after we worked our way off of food stamps.

      but poor people should make their own damn entertainment, no matter how much energy being poor has sucked from them. Come home from your minimum wage job, make some rice and beans for dinner, and then design and make a puppet theater to entertain you and the kids til bedtime, right? because since you are poor, your kids don’t deserve nickelodeon.

    29. Emily says:


      I agree; every situation is unique.

      This can get ridiculous fast. Is cable a luxury? I would say yes. A person with children in the city would say, hell no. Internet? You have to have it to look for a job these days.

      I find myself going back and forth on this. There are many people out there that think the poor should deny themselves, should suffer. But, I don’t think going without television or a smart phone is suffering. I can’t have them, and I damn sure want them. I don’t think keeping a hurricane radio (in lieu of television PSA & weather reports) in your kitchen drawer is suffering. But then, that’s unfair of me to tell people what suffering is.

    30. Lindasusan says:

      I expect that the problem of people on foodstamps making payments on a Lexus is not, shall we say, *widespread*. It’s a straw argument that only reinforces the central point of this article: poor people aren’t supposed to be seen anywhere near anything nice.

      Growing up, my mom would mutter under her breath about the person in front of us at the checkout using foodstamps to pay for steak while she used ours on generic cereal and the cheapest grade hamburger. Even then, I thought, “Why do you care how they spend their foodstamps?” It wasn’t taking money out of her pocket — in fact, we were benefiting from the exact same program. But because she’d internalized that deprivation was somehow morally superior to enjoyment, it was the only way to mitigate her shame at needing foodstamps in the first place.

      That’s what it all comes down to: shame. Who gets to dole it out, who gets it shoved down their throats, who gets to judge how much is enough, who is labeled problematic for not playing along. It’s toxic sh*t, and the world would be a better place with less of it slung around.

    31. antiprincess says:

      “but it IS a questionable act to use government assistance while you are financing a Lexus, for example.”

      my own self, I think financing a Lexus under ANY circumstances is a questionable act…I don’t get the whole luxury-automobile thing. or any automobile thing, really. if it has four wheels and uses gasoline, I’m mostly agin it. BUT having a car (like having a television) is now sort of considered a necessity (despite my objection…no one ever listens to me anyway…) – what does it matter if you’re driving a Dodge POS or a Mercedes 666? you’re somehow more virtuous if you have a crappy car that’s falling apart and putting your family in danger every time you push the gas pedal?

      we here in Poorland make choices based on the resources we have vs the resources we need. no one out here is deliberately making irresponsible choices in order to piss you off, waste taxpayer money, or give politicians excuses to be assholes.

      I have a friend who uses her USDA card to buy gluten free vegan groceries and local organic produce. how dare she? what’s wrong with ramen and peanut butter and white bread? why is she eating so high up the virtue food chain?

      oh, yeah, her children have peanut and gluten allergies and might die if she buys regular groceries with her card. but if you didn’t know her extenuating circumstances, and just saw the tale of the tape at the end of the shopping trip, you’d accuse her of making those irresponsible choices you’re so fearful of.

      walk a mile in my (secondhand, slightly-too-big, better-than-nothing) birkenstocks before you decide I need a more appropriate choice of footwear.

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    33. antiprincess says:

      Emily – what if a family trades off their “luxuries”? say they have a “nice car” but no TV? or decent TV but no car? or are total foodies (eat organic, maybe have some unique dietary needs, whatever) but shop for clothes at goodwill? does that balance out the responsibility level for you?

      (what does “nice car” even mean? really eco-friendly? really safe? really shiny? for my little family, a “nice car” would mean “one that’s in our driveway.” but I don’t understand car culture at all, even though having a car is even more of a “necessity” than television is. in my opinion, financing a Lexus under ANY circumstances is questionable…but what does it matter if you’re driving a dodge POS or a mercedes 666? they’re both polluting the air, destroying the earth, leaking into groundwater, wasting non-renewable resources, etc…but dog forbid you get around without a car, people think you’re a freak. I guess I feel like doing without a car is not exactly “suffering”, but I do get flinchy when people try to take away my ability to watch the news.)

      none of us who are on government aid wake up in the morning and decide “hey, what irresponsible choice can I make with all this delicious free money? oooh, hey, this will piss them all off, I’m gonna buy organic tomatoes with my food stamp card! and then I’m going to pay my cable bill…oooh…caaaaaable…”

      we make the choices we make based on resources we have vs resources we need. or think we need. there’s lots and lots of factors that go into “need”, and I guess that’s where it gets complex. what do you think you need?

      I assure you, nobody out here in poorland is hellbent on making irresponsible choices just to make the rest of the world upset. and frankly, we don’t often need to be “called out” on our choices any more than we call ourselves out.

      I have a friend, she uses her benefits card for gluten-free vegan groceries and local organic produce. I’m sure you’d be horrified to see her flinging that little silver card around Whole Foods, just like some regular person, and her grocery receipt would give you apoplexy, no doubt. but would it make things different for you if you knew her children had food allergies that made “regular” groceries tantamount to poison?

      we can never know the whole story behind someone’s spending habits just by standing behind them in line, or next to them at starbucks, or whatever. before you go “calling out irresponsibility”, I’m just saying, you may want to walk a mile in my pal’s (secondhand, slightly-too-big) birkenstocks before suggesting a more,er, virtuous choice of footwear.

    34. mohteroflove says:

      This is a fascinating post and engendered a lot of ambivalence within me. I grew up poor. And we moved from the ghetto to a predominantly white, working to middle class neighborhood in which I attended private, Catholic school. We lived in the worse house on the block- our cement steps were crumbling and destroyed. My mother drove a decent car to work, and was a social worker, but sometimes I would hear the same stuff about other single working parents on welfare come out of her mouth. People who were on welfare but bought designer jeans etc. My mother refused public assistance and all that, and even stopped hunting down my father for child support. I spent my life going to special, private schools and a special, private college in New England. I have heard it all. Recently, my husband and I lived in LA with our newborn baby. We had no jobs, I had been making a living acting and he was a freelance writer. He got mad because i would go to the Good Will and buy clothes. And I would take pay what you can yoga every day because I gained too much weight. Not on filet mignon, just on the nervous fear that my son wouldn’t grow if I didn’t eat continuously. Anyway, I remember the stupid ass yoga guy saying “don’t you have ___” fill in the blank w/some kind of nice technology. God, what an a-hole. We had nothing. But I had to get my body together if I was ever going to get back on television. (My agent had said that I was too heavy- to my face. Ah… Hollywood.) I volunteered at the Y to have a free membership and shopping at the Goodwill made me look very cute. I didn’t work but stayed at home with my kid. Anyway, one of the big things in LA is to eat organially. Well, my husband would have a nervous breakdown if I spent two dollars on an organic avocado when a regular one cost one dollar. My sone had severe eczema, and I kept trying to find the food or set of foods that would help him and his indigestion and growth issues. However, when I complained that organic, healthy food was too expensive, people would say, rather snottily, that they sacrificed nice clothes for food. It was a dig. However, my nice clothes cost five bucks an item at best. I am the most frugal, creative clothes shopper on the planet. I had to be. I was a working actor at fourteen and I was always hanging out with people with far more money than I. I am a whiz at putting together an outfit for ten bucks. Nowadays, my cousins and sister make snide remarks about how I am no working and am staying at home with my son. My husband has a decent job, we live in a great neighborhood for very cheap rent (house is old but cute) and I still can find a designer blouse for five bucks. It’s a knack I have. People are always in your business, making assumptions, thinking they know you. I have heard it all. The truth is, you really don’t know someone’s situation. However, thanks for the post, because it is allowing me to sift through my own baggage about guilt and comfort, beauty and fashion.

    35. maevele says:

      but Emily, not two posts ago you were specifically saying that if one is on food stamps, cable IS a wasteful luxury, full stop.

      The point where I diverge with you is the idea that it’s somehow anyone else’s business how a poor person prioritizes their budget, needs and desires.

    36. Esh says:

      And how is it anyone’s business that Emily finds that prioritization irresponsible? It’s not like she’s advocating for annual audits of food stamp recipients’ budgets or whatever.

    37. antiprincess says:

      “And how is it anyone’s business that Emily finds that prioritization irresponsible? It’s not like she’s advocating for annual audits of food stamp recipients’ budgets or whatever.”

      ah, but that’s where it starts, doesn’t it? a frowny disapproving stare behind me in the grocery line, a scornful aside to a companion, just loud enough so I can hear it – “well I just think it’s irresponsible”, a contemptuous glance at my shoes that might look new or my face that might look happy — next thing you know, Emily’s looking hard at a candidate in her next election going “Food Stamps should be harder to get! The Poor should be made to work harder for their assistance! Let’s add another level of complexity to the process and kick more people off assistance!” and that candidate will look really appealing because she’ll have othered that group of people who need help. if I can help her modify her attitude towards people who need assistance (in a positive way), maybe some day she’ll vote for someone who wants to find ways to be more helpful to people who need it, not less. that’s why it’s my business.

    38. Donald says:

      It is undoubtably true that many poor people make bad choices on priorities. What I find incredible is the number of people who think they can make better ones based on incomplete information and then judge others by it. Maybe the woman driving a Lexus and paying with food stamps is doing some shopping for a neighbour who can’t get to a decent store. Maybe it isn’t her car but a relative lets her borrow it so she can get her shopping done. We don’t know and nor do the people who jump on the scrounger’s bandwagon.

      I’ve yet to hear of a welfare benefit that gives more than the bare minimum in all but the most exceptional circumstances. Yet there is continual reporting of those exceptions as if they were commonplace. And that’s before we get onto the people who fall though the gaps because they don’t fit or are unable to navigate the complex rules.

    39. antiprincess says:

      darn it. sorry for the double post. sylvia – feel free to remove one, or the other, or both as it suits you. I’m really sorry.

    40. It’s okay. For some reason my spam filter kept catching your comments. I’ll fix it.

      Edit: Or keep it because I like ‘em and I’m sleepy. lol

    41. valentine says:

      thank you. this is brilliant.

    42. Shafiqah Hudson says:

      This was incredible, my dear. Thank you for it. (I’ve nothing to add. :D )

    43. Emily says:

      I’ve mentioned that every situation is unique and that I also don’t want to impose my fiscal values on someone else. I also said I vacillate, because I’m human, and I just don’t get it sometimes — not welfare recipients in particular, but certain things that others find a necessity. I realize that that is when I need to step back and breathe and listen to other people. Because I do (for me) think that trying to live simply is the right (spiritual) path. Ah. But so is compassion and acceptance. So there you go.

      I really appreciate others sharing their experiences. I actually would never want to impose harsher stipulations on those that receive public assistance or vote for a candidate that thinks that’s a good idea. I don’t find it an appealing prospect to “other” people in the grocery line or what have you. I actually think the system is broken, the country is broken, and our people are broken and we act like it. But, I understand that what I said about 2 particular comments could paint me as a person that makes broad generalizations about people on public assistance. No. The two aforementioned comments just stuck in my craw.

      Because here’s the thing: I think there are a lot of people (like me) born with (white) privilege that grew up poor. And they were raised with good ole (Protestant) values that suffering is the way to heaven and Jesus loves the poor people and the whores the most and wealthy people just ain’t right. So, they get the poor thing, but they don’t get that they still have privilege; that they were born lucky. So, they’re working their trade job and they look at the glaring exception: the welfare recipient that is abusing the system, and they say what. the. f*ck.? They see that and never see the majority of recipients that are really suffering and doing the best that they can.

      I agree with the assertion that the egregious exceptions concerning welfare recipients (ie: welfare queens) are reported as if it is the norm. I’ve witnessed the exceptions in friends. I never think, ‘no, you can’t have my tax money!’ I think, ‘God, you have just given up, haven’t you?’

    44. Layla says:

      Ok, seriously, I’m asking this question honestly, because I honestly want to know. How many people, show of hands, have seriously seen someone buy food with food stamps, and then load their groceries into a Lexus? I’ve lived in two states, two different cities (three different areas within the same city) and lived and worked in four different townships and have never once seen this happen.

      But then, that leads me to my next question. Who the hell is keeping track? Who the hell is seriously watching the mother who uses food stamps to feed her children that closely?

      I sure as hell am not. But maybe that’s because I’m poor and the huge sense of entitlement that comes with watching and criticizing the poor is bestowed only on the rich.

      The assessment that perhaps someone is driving a “nice” car and still using food stamps may have been recently laid off is a good point as well. My sister and I were almost in that position. My parents almost were as well. The job market is tricky at best these days but you cannot seriously tell me you think someone who needs a new car, but is unfortunate enough to need to work in a time where lay-offs are common, should not be able to buy a decent, dependable, fuel efficient car. And as far as saying no one “needs” a car, that really depends. You can say if you live in a city with decent-ish public transit you don’t need a car, but it really limits your job search. Sure, I can get a lot of places in my current city by bus, but in some cases it’ll take me about 2 hours to go ten miles (I used to ride two buses to work a day, so I know what I’m talking about here). But in rural, midwest America YOU NEED A CAR. You cannot get anywhere without a car which means you cannot get a job without a car. A lucky few may be able to carpool, but that’s rare and particularly in the north you need a GOOD, DEPENDABLE car because if not, you’re screwed as soon as it snows.

      Poor people need to get places too.

      As far as nice shoes go, crappy shoes can cause all kinds of back problems, knee problems, etc. Especially if you’re a poor person who’s on their feet a lot at work (which you know, is common in lower paying jobs).

      And as far as Christian values go, what’s the saying? “Judge not, lest ye be judged?”

    45. Simon says:

      This article was like a breath of fresh air. Thank you thank you thank you.

      I think the real wasteful thieves conning the government out of taxpayer money are: 1) military contractors; 2) agri-business (who gets welfare that makes the mind reel); and 3) the richest of the rich – both individuals and corporations, who have tax shelters and loopholes all the way to the bank.

      I personally don’t care if my neighbors spend their (astonishingly low) welfare money on whatever they want, including drugs. For real. It’s their money. I’m not gonna tell a WalMart worker how they should spend money that comes from profiteering off the sweatshop labor of children in poor countries. I’m not going to tell scumbag lawyers who have fancy cars “legitimately” that they should stop ripping people off and drive a beater. It’s none of my business. It is my business to try to change the capitalist system that sets us all up to be in this relationship where one person “gains” by another’s “loss”, but I’m not going to take that out on individuals because it’s not fair. It’s especially not fair because (as usual) poor people get picked on first.

      I get food stamps and I just got off welfare. No one in my family has a medical food requirement, but I buy local organic food because it’s good for us, it is socially responsible, and it tastes fucking awesome. I also -refuse- to send my kid to some shitty childcare center like a “good poor person.” This makes my family’s situation all the trickier, but there is no way I am going to compromise his development and put him on the institutionalized-poor track just because I support the three of us on a non-profit salary and live in a super poor neighborhood. And, I’m not going to stop working at my awesome job where I help people so that I can make more money screwing people over. And I’m not going to apologize for simultaneously failing at capitalism and succeeding at living a good life.

    46. Donald says:

      Having experience of dealing with the benefits system in the UK I can understand people giving up. Fortunately I have never had to rely on it to survive. It can be a full time job finding out and getting what you are entitled to. It’s also very stressful being passed from one clerk to another without getting a straight answer. In my experience those clerks either want to help but can’t because of “the rules” which they only partially understand or they are uncaring jobsworths. Add that to the other stresses of poverty and it doesn’t take much imagination to see someone’s brain just shutting down.

    47. maevele says:

      If someone makes little enough that they qualify for food stamps, and are good enough at budgeting that within that they have money left for cable, or nice shoes, or a decent car, they are trimming what someone else thinks are necessities off as luxuries. How’s that worth judging?

    48. antiprincess says:

      “I’ve witnessed the exceptions in friends. I never think, ‘no, you can’t have my tax money!’ I think, ‘God, you have just given up, haven’t you?’”

      given up on what?

      and also, @ Simon – right ON.

    49. Tanja says:

      I am in my mid 40s and am on a Disability support pension due to illness. I know the taxpayers resent people like me because I can actually WALK. What most of them do not understand is that depression can be an extremely debilitating condition which renders the sufferer unable to work for many reasons. Each day is different to me. One day I will walk to the shops and it feels like people are judging me as they pass in their cars (I do not drive, dog forbid). The next day I will be capable of helping in a welfare kitchen, and another I will simply wish I was dead. All of this does not make for a reliable worker, does it?

      Having said that, I will not apologise for making the soil in my courtyard earn its keep with home grown veggies. I do not apologise for buying top-shelf cosmetics (when the gifts with purchase is there). I am not sorry for accessing the internet from my own home.

      When I was a child, I forever laboured under the impression that ALL poor people were dirty, their houses smelled greasy from cooking cheap, fatty cuts of meat, their children could not be disciplined, drugs and alcohol abound, poor neighbourhoods = poor schooling. You get the picture.

      I have made it up to myself now. I live in a subsidised apartment in style. I don’t drink copious amounts of cask-wine, preferring just a bottle of GOOD wine. I buy the best quality food that I can afford. I prefer to buy a $200 pair of jeans than buy 5 pairs of cheap unflattering ones. It is about priorities. Do you want to eat a ton of shit or a few grams of gold? Less is more.

      How do I live this way? I don’t have kids. I didn’t contribute to the overpopulated impoverished masses while I had the chance.

      Poverty is embarassing. That may sound shallow but it is the truth. I spent my entire childhood and adolescence convinced that I would rise above it and would never be bullied by the ‘haves’ ever again. Now I live alone and avoid social contact as much as possible. In my little world, I have class. My carpet doesn’t stink of rancid milk. I never have a pile of laundry to do. I disdain dirty poor single mothers with beat-up vans full of junkfood wrappers.

      As you may have noticed, I am very insecure as a result of poverty. I am trying to preserve my looks and keep an open mind, something that poor people are not supposed to possess.

      Yes, poor people CAN want for ‘nice things’ and HAVE them. It all depends on your priorities.

    50. Rudgyal says:

      @ Simon….EXACTLY!!! I’m so glad someone said it..this is a prime example of how middle and working class Americans look at poverty..we don’t connnect the dots and rich people and their richness never seem to enter into the equation…anybody ever heard of corporate welfare? Those Bush tax cuts set to expire (hopefully without any further blundering from our idiotic congress)? What does that mean to the welfare recipient?nothing? well it should..the great lie told in this country is the existence of a meritocracy..poor people are poor because they don’t work as hard as rich people to r ealize their dreams..the truth is rich people do not adhere to the same moral/cultural codes that 95% of Americans are taught to hold dear…honesty, thrift, hard work, perseverance, etc. take a look at the history of this country and what the foundation of wealth is cemented in…that’s right land ownership…fyi great book if you want more info on the history of specific policies aimed at helping specific segments of the population gain wealth while effectively blocking all others “The Color of wealth” by Meizhu Liu…If the past year has shown we the people anything it’s that the rich get rich by exploiting, robbing the rest of us and then call upon the government, which they control via lobbyists and special interest relationships with elected officials, to bail them out with OUR tax money… I don’t give a flying f*ck about the welfare mom with 7 kids wearing Nike sneakers and eating filet mignon (if she exists!) I am angry at the multibillionnaire quasi-tax paying capitalist/titan of industry who is literally sucking the life out of all of us so that he/she can maintain their yacht, mansion, real estate holdings and off shore accounts..That is who i’m pissed at

    51. antiprincess says:

      “Yes, poor people CAN want for ‘nice things’ and HAVE them. It all depends on your priorities.”

      but only if they’re child-free?

    52. Donald says:

      Well poor people are supposed to be child-free according to the people who think the way we’ve been discussing. I’ve heard the mantra “Don’t have children until you can afford them” all my life. What precisely “afford them” means depends on the speaker but it’s always spoken from a position of priviledge.

      We can see the consequence of this attitude in Britain where the middle classes are failing to reproduce at a level to maintain the population because in one way or another they “can’t afford” children. In the long term interest of our society it is as well poorer people are breeding.

    53. Genevieve says:

      Yes, and then they are shamed for being the ones who are breeding. (I’m not trying to say you’re shaming them, by the way, I’m hoping this doesn’t come off that way.)

      One of the grossest things I ever heard from an otherwise nice-seeming person (in a general discussion of overpopulation) was that, despite how many people might want to limit the number of children they have, “the poor people and the stupid people” would still have too many kids. I was literally speechless.

      Especially rankling are the types of people who say things like “don’t have kids unless you can afford them” while also being pro-life and anti-birth control. Excuse me? You might as well be telling poor people to not have sex at all, if that’s your stance. Sex is one of the cheapest “pleasures” out there, and easy to come by if you already have a partner. And you want to deprive people of that? (Which reminds me of something I saw on Facebook the other day–one of my “friends” “liked” a page called “if you can afford cigarettes, you don’t need food stamps.” Um…cigarettes are addictive and relieve stress. People with the kind of low-paying jobs which require them to need food stamps are often quite stressed. I’m not saying smoking is a good thing, but unless you want to pay to help them quit and be less stressed-out over all…then shut the hell up.)

    54. Tanja says:

      I thought the middle classes didn’t actually like children.

      As far as ‘affording’ children is concerned, people should consider whether they can mentally, emotionally and even physically afford them. Can they help those children make world a better place in the furture, irrelevant of class?

      Antiprincess, I was suggesting that poor but child-free people can entertain the idea of affording ‘nice things’.

      OK, I am pretty smug about how well I have managed my fertility but thanks to my mother who didn’t want me and whom blamed me for her shitty life, it was not a hard decision to make.

    55. Donald says:

      That’s a horrid generalisation Tanja. While there are middle class people who regard their babies as fashion accessories they are no more common than the poor ones who regard babies as a welfare ticket. In both cases I pity the child more than the parent.

      For the majority of people the answer to the affordability question is logically no. Few people can rely on having an adequate income to support themselves and a child for the next 20 years. This is something the poor have always dealt with by spreading the load among the extended family. Society as a whole hasn’t helped by extending dependency. A century ago most people started work at about 14. Now it’s difficult to get a proper job before 18 and many are still haven’t started work at 21. If society is going to impose increased costs based on middle-class practices surely society has an obligation to bear some of those costs.

    56. omi says:

      *applauds while wishing you didn’t have to write this at all*

      right mf’in on.

    57. beth says:

      thank you for this….i have dealt with the guilt of wanting, sometimes even enjoying nice things while being financially poor. i am learning to be okay with that, but sometimes i still feel a twinge of guilt.

      i grew up in a family that kept up appearances of being an uppermiddle class family while really often just a lower class family….we sometimes had up to twenty people in our house at a time, we had close to ten of us in a one bedroom apartment, while my caretaker worked multiple jobs, we still didnt get by without government assistance, all the while she would put down mexican families or black families or sometimes even other white families that lived off of government assistance.

      i was put out on the streets at seventeen, at which point i spent several years of my life homeless, and when i wasnt homeless i went to work with the carnival….i was taught that both were shameful, and even working with the carnival people would often ask me why i didnt get a “real” job-excuse me, im covered in grease and just worked thirty plus hours without sleep and i need to get a “real” job….when i worked i made decent money with few bills, so i spent frivolously, which i now feel shame over-something about learning about the grasshopper that thought the world owed him a living(at a young age), i just thought i would always have time to save….

      then i became ill….homeless is hard enough, its a nine to five trying to find a safe place to sleep at night-safe from the weather, safe from the cops, safe from danger, then you have to get up early before businesses open and people see you sleeping there-often the same businesses i patronized during the day didnt know i made a bed in their doorway at night, the ones that did didnt mind as long as i was out of sight out of mind-in other words came in after they were gone and left before they got there, without leaving a trace of being there….it is also hard work trying to find food to eat, yeah there were soup kitchens, but the food was often not very good, and sometimes people would get sick from the food, i always heard that if you get hungry enough you will eat anything-im sorry i HAVE been hungry enough, and there are some things i will starve before eating, and if you should ask somebody for food or a little change to get something to eat(while many have helpped), how dare you give them a funny look or turn them down when the offer you something that you CANNOT COOK TO EAT, or a banana that is so mushy you could drink it with a straw, or something that looks moldy, or something that possibly you are alergic to and will get sick from eating…..if you are homeless and hungry, you should be happy that they are willing to give you something that will put you in the hospital and give you medical bills you cannot afford to pay, or something that they were going to throw away anyways, you should be happy that they gave you something that you dont have a can opener to open-if you stare at it long enough it might open on its own, or something that you have to cook to make palatable-by the way palatable should not be a requirement when homeless because you are priviledged to get anything to eat….

      homeless also becomes a full time job when you have to go somewhere and cannot carry everything you own into the building with you-you then have to find somewhere to hide it and pray that nobody steals it or throws it away, or that an animal doesnt pee on it, what about finding a job….i have heard that line, do you know how hard it is to find a job while homeless….the first thing they will say is that you need an address before they can give you a job-for their records, if you have a mailing address they will then say, well how will you shower, hygiene is hard to keep up when homeless they think all homeless people run around smelly and grimy-i tell ya i have seen some homeless people that you would never have guessed were homeless, including me, after all if you look homeless you are pinpointed for harrassment from the authorities and even from joe citizen sometimes….if you tell them that you have a place to get a shower and hygiene wont be an issue, they make up some other excuse not to hire you….what they are really not saying is they dont want to hire you because you are homeless and they have a fear of transients, either because it is “contagious” or because they are afraid that you will steal from them. so often employment is hard to obtain.

      then add upon homelessness injury, illness, or disability and your problems have doubled….yeah its a little easier if you are missing a limb and people can see that you are disabled, but what of those with cancer, or myself with epilepsy-at one point i was having up to ten or more seizures in a day with more than one being a gran mal….you are left almost incompacitated after that many seizures back to back….and you try to keep your head up, but when you have to go out and beg for food, or ask somebody for help, and then have them give you dirty looks, yell at you, threaten you for daring to ask them, trying to run you over, calling you a bum, telling you to get a job…..i will simply say it is such a blow to any self esteem you may have held onto thus far, but you are homeless, self esteem is a luxery…..

      i have been on social security for many years now, including while i was homeless, so i had a little money, but not enough to get off the streets, and it wasnt enough to make it last the whole month-it is more expensive to be homeless because you have to eat out-there arent many non fast food choices when you are homeless….you have to do laundry and have clean clothes, oh no thats another luxery. i had a cell phone. you mean you can afford a cell phone but have to ask me for money for food….ummm, the cell phone with my health conditions WAS a necessity, if i had a seizure and needed help, i needed to know that i could call for help, maybe every couple months i would indulde myself in getting my nails done, well if you can afford that, you shouldnt be asking me for help….when you think about it, everything i went through, i didnt have much to make myself feel good about….these times i would go in and for a couple hours i didnt have to be “another bum on the streets”, i was a customer and treated with the same respect as all customers….who wouldnt want to escape the streets in favor of being pampered?

      i have since been of the streets for five years now, i alway live with the knowledge that i could easily end up on the streets again, especially with the way the economy has been. while i am slowly gaining my health back, i have been able to go back to work as of yet. i spend most of my check on bills, i scrimp and cut corners where i can, i am told that i do not spend enough on bills, apparently hygiene neccessities and repairs to the home that i live in(the own of the home doesnt work and cannot afford anything, so i have to pay everything)that arise from time to time do not count in my monthly budget, so i am told that i have to spend two hundred dollars out of pocket every month before the state will pay my medicaid, there are medications that when i start them i will have a hard time affording(some are over a hundred dollars without medicaid assistance), and that i only qualify for $19 in food stamp benefits. i have medicare, but they only cover a portion, and that portion depends, i have some things that i have gotten a bill for more than i make in a month….

      i dont drive because with epilepsy i cannot get a license, and finding a job is hard because in many cases it is an insurance liability, if i did have a license i cannot afford a car or the insurance or gas, unless i wanted to live in it, i live in a small town, and i cannot walk or ride ten miles to the bigger town, so options are limited….i sit in my home and have internet, most of my contace with the world is online,i dont meet many people so dont have many people to talk to, i have cable-and not all cable is PREMIUM, i have basic cable….there is little else for me to do, even the library, which here is not free(you have to pay a ridiculous ammount to get a library card)is too far for me to get to, when i can watch tv(i enjoy edjucational shows mostly, so hey im not wasting my brain), and can read a book online for less than the library card and the cab far to get there, i walk or ride my bike anywhere i go-which is within a five mile radius, and when i go shopping i spend my $19 fs and a hundred to a hundred and fifty on groceries, i buy fresh organic locally grown when i can, i buy better cuts of meat when i can, i buy organic almond milk or soy milk, and high end cheeses, it is more expensive yes, but with my health issues, i dont have to worry about all the chemicals NOT being put in the more expensive healthier foods(tests have shown that the foods that are consumed can trigger seizures). i do sometimes have to buy cheap food, but when i am pulling my foodstamp card out, i dont need somebody judging me by what i am buying, they dont know my situation.

      then i have issues that are blows to the self esteem, for a long time i was not able to get new clothes-most of my clothes are hand me downs anyways, but usually nice, but it has been so long, that they are needing to be replaced, it is just recently that i have slowly been able to replace the old(one top or one pair of pants/shorts at a time), i have poor teeth(broken and missing), from medications that i have to take for epilepsy, my teeth have rotted, and i always hear what people say about people who have rotted or missing teeth, i dont often smile, it makes me feel selfconscience, yet i cannot afford to pay to have them pulled and get fitted for dentures-funny most states dont think the teeth or maintaining proper oral hygiene(with a dentist)is important, but it is, abcesses in the teeth can spread and go to the brain or heart killing you instantly. i have eye problems and havent been able to afford a new pair of glasses(or to even get an eye exam)for over six years….and apparently medicare doesnt cover it, most dont take medicaid even though they do cover a small portion, and them i am back to the fact that i have to pay for it out of pocket anyways….so i go without, and strain to see anything….

      thats what i get for wanting to read anything-on or off line, im poor and reading for pleasure or for purpose will not be tolerated from somebody that is poor….

      yet, i have to maintain a positvie outlook, i may be fiscally challenged, but i am not poor, i have a dog and two cats-how dare i want companionship in my situation….i have emotional support from the few friends and family that i have, i am still breathing and somehow all of this is enough to make me feel that somehow i am not doing too bad.

    58. Cassie says:

      I don’t know if any of you are paying attention to anything that you are writing, but what you are participiating in at this very moment is called Classism, my dear friends. It is a nasty word that means that all of you who agree with this post are belittling and demeaning those who are less fortunate than others. You are dehumanizing and categorizing them as basically their own species, one that is separate and less than everyone else. Every human being wants and by telling the unfortunate that they are not allowed to want or shouldn’t be allowed to want is disparaging to their aspirations, whether they be frivolous or meaningful. It is not a crime to treat oneself. It is not unreasonable for someone to be selfish once in a while. It is not unfathomable to want to reward oneself for doing a good job, whether they have the money to do so or not.

      Because you have articulated your frustration with the lower class, you have participated in the Cycle of Prejudice and Oppression. Through your propaganda against the lower class, people have now learned to discriminate against them and they have now been led to believe that every “Poor Person” is selfish and greedy and irresponsible. As Adolf Hitler had once said, “Through constant application of propoganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.” Through your argument, you are conditioning the lower class to believe that they are less than a person and that they should just accept what they have.

      I guess all I’m trying to say is thank you for creating more tension between the classes and the genders and the races and the ages. Thank you for continuing the cycle instead of taking the road less traveled by trying to break it. And thank the constitution for allowing you to post your smut on the internet for the world to see so they can also continue this ghastly cycle as well and then pass their discrimination and prejudice to their children.

      In general, thanks.

    59. Simon says:

      @ Cassie: Um, did you just read the title and then make your comment? Sure, some people have laid down judgments of their own, but the general flavor I get from the comments is agreement with the article, which seems to also agree with you that it is in fact totally reasonable for poor people to want nice things and the system that creates “the right way to be poor” is classist and bullshit. Go you for being outraged – I am too! Please just be a little more thorough in your pre-expression reading. If I am wrong and you actually do take issue with the article and/or comments, please clarify! Thanks!

    60. Janine deManda says:

      Um, yeah, what Simon said.

    61. Rosemary says:

      So glad I found this, and thanks for writing it and thanks to all the comments that supported it/argued with those who didn’t.

      I’ve recently gone down a level in poverty and up in amounts of assistance (both governmental and personal) that I receive. And I find it damned creepy how much I feel the need to suddenly justify every single expense beyond rent, heat, and ramen to myself! No one in my actual life is causing me to feel this way, but this culture we live in has seeped in to me and I find myself explaining my purchases to my friends who take me on errands, for example. Now, they don’t give a damn what I buy, but still I load my groceries up in their car and start going into detail about how I budgeted my money this month so that I could afford some pre-made vegan meals that are a bit more expensive than cans of cream of mushroom soup. Why do I feel the need to do this??

      This post and the ensuing comments help me to understand why I *feel* the need to do it, at least.

    62. Cassie says:

      @Simon: I didn’t read the rest of the comments. My response was to the original blog and the first few comments that I had read. I tried to glance over the rest but there were far too many and too little of time to do so. I apologize for the confusion, though.

    63. Donald says:

      Looks like you missed the sarcasm in the original post as well. Problem Chylde was putting into words the unsaid assumptions behind much criticism of the poor. While tone is difficult to read from the written word the imression I got was to challenge those who make thoughtless criticism with the real meaning of their comments.

    64. Arri says:

      I don’t think I can even express how much this whole article has hit home for me. I am a single mother of 4. My biggest crime was to marry an idiot. I stuck with him and tried to make it work for a decade. It didn’t. He wouldn’t work, wouldn’t watch the kids so I could work. I finally tried it on my own. It is so hard to make it working minimum wage and supporting 4 kids. Wow, did I ever get judged for wanting something nice for my kids for a birthday, Christmas etc while I got foodstamps.

      I’ve recently gotten help to go back to school and with a place to live. I’m very grateful for that help, but I feel like I have to watch EVERYTHING. I have to for go every pleasure or anything that costs anything.

      I’m grateful for the help, but I am at the same time so tired sometimes of having to watch everything like a hawk. Or feeling guilty for the once every three months that I splurge and eat out.

      Yes, I want out of poverty, but mostly, I want out of the situation where accepting help gives people a right to judge.

      I loved the article. Thank you

    65. antiprincess says:

      lol@Cassie – we have met the enemy…and he is us!! :)

    66. Pingback: Second month. « No New Year

    67. Xena says:

      Loved. It.
      Don’t get me started on being homeless and holding down a 00.00 GPA. Will Hunting is a myth. And Will Smith’s character in Pursuit of Happyness was way bigger than I am. A person would have to be deaf and noseless to be able to focus on Kymlicka or Chomsky in a Salvation Army dorm.

      Sometimes we poor people just have to cuss at the haves. The fuckers that assume it’s ok to grope hitchhikers, the assholes that try to pick our pockets when we’re sleeping in public places, the dickwads that try to run us over when our bag lady carts don’t clear the curb quickly enough.

      I love to stand in the middle of the road and just scream FUCK YOU AND YOUR FUCKING SHINY RED PORSCHE! I’ll never be like you you greedy fuck! Pedestrians have the right of way, SO KILL ME IF YOU WANT TO LOSE IT ALL YOU FUCK!!!

      I love to watch the smug expressions on their expensively painted faces melt away when they realize just how fragile their power and privilege are, that they’re based on agreements and recognition and nothing more. When the object of their scorn jumps up and says “So go big or go home, fuckwad. Kill me if I’m such a piece of shit, and lose everything for your belief”, some of them will actually rethink their classist shit.

      Most won’t rethink anything, but damn it makes me feel better to scream back at them. The right to speak my mind and disrupt the flow of traffic, show up late and flash dismissive gestures, the right to make people think for a second about the possibility of incarceration and financial ruin, those are displays of power, more so than any possession.

      But just between you and me, being as obnoxious as the self serving assholes I hate would be exhausting if I had to do it all the time. I’d much rather have a few nice gadgets, tv and all, and a nice living room to put them in.

    68. Xena says:

      And go, Rudgyal. You are so right. That corporate mentality is exactly why I walked out on my business classes. The way those people rope-a-dope governments to use taxpayers money to feed their out of control expense accounts is appalling.

      It doesn’t matter how much poor people sacrifice or how they prioritize. We’ll get criticized whether we eat beans and have a home, have no home and live in a prison-style shelter and have a cell phone, walk around in ugly 3rd hand clothes and hitchhike, or whatever.

      Politicians and corporations only spew this shit to justify their own greed and distract the workers so they’ll work harder. No wonder so many poor people become self-fulfilling stereotypes and turn to violence and crime. They get sick of the put downs and the attacks on their physical space. For what? Having ugly teeth and sleeping in stairwells. There are far worse things in this world.

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    70. Kristi says:

      Well, reading all these comments about the cable and cars on food stamps kinda pissed me off. See…I receive food stamps…FINALLY! I applied in June when I lost my job in the hospital, where I was making fairly decent money. My fiance’ makes somewhat decent money and our 4 kids have always been raised on bare minimums. No fancy Jordans for my 15 yr old, or fake nails for my 13 yr old. We have the cheapest cell phone plan, however, we have data plans on our phones for myself and my fiance. We also have internet and cable in our house. Why?? I needed the data plan for my job for medical reports and xrays, my fiance needed the data plan for his job. It was a requirement at the time, and now, we’re stuck struggling to pay for it, because he still needs it and we can’t get out of it. Once upon a time, it was within our means…WELL within our means. We have internet in our house because my son is a sophomore in HS and it is REQUIRED for a few of his advanced placement classes. He has online lectures in the evenings and tests in class the next day about the webinar. Can’t do without it or not my son’s grades suffer. It too was once well within our means. We have a 2001 Chevy Van that we paid $3500 cash for, used. Again, well within our means when we first purchased it. Now, the damn thing needs a new transmission. It took us 4 months to get food stamps, my fiance’s $10.52 an hour was reported and I’ve decided to go back to school. Just because someone has things you may not THINK are necessary because they swipe an EBT card and pay with food stamps, doesn’t mean you know their situation. Oh, btw….my sister in law drives an Escalade, works 50+ hours as an RN and pays with food stamps. WHY??? She’s a foster mother of 11 kids and is required by the STATE to receive food stamps for each child. You never know the situation.

    71. mls says:

      may the tv was stolen

    72. Kelly says:

      Thank you for writing this. It is really excellent.

    73. Incredible post! I also totally agree with what Maevele said above…that the only thing poor people are allowed to want is not to be poor. It seems that many people who may have once struggled have been too long removed from poverty and conveniently forgotten what it feels like. Kind of in the same way that many kids under 21 vow to change the drinking age to 18, then grow up and no longer care about it.

      It also seems that silly poor people like me are not supposed to be intelligent, read books, or enjoy great food. So many people I have met seem to think that there must be something else seriously wrong with me or I must be lazy to be poor AND intelligent. If I’m so smart, then how can I be poor. They also love to judge the food I buy. Heaven forbid I feed my family organic food. Eek! Doesn’t that cost too much! What the hell are YOU doing buying organic food?! They never seem to bother to find out that we NEVER eat out and I make everything from scratch allowing us to buy and grow wholesome food. I guess I’m supposed to eat that ramen and hamburger helper. My poor body is supposed to conform to their preconceived notions of what it means to be poor.

    74. risa says:

      I am so so glad I read this, as I had also internalized a lot of this from childhood and didn’t realize it until reading the comments and thinking “oh, wait…” thank you to everyone. It’s been a real eye-opener.

    75. Kim says:

      let’s all not forget that enjoying poverty and never wanting more is just the way the ruling class internalizes in people the desire to never demand something, even when that something is necessary to life. it’s one of the controlling mechanism for minorities who find themselves fed up with giving their extra 110% but only recieving 75% of what their white friends are getting, just because we need to prove ourselves worthy to the in crowd. since our monikers are minor, we enjoy living up to being minor people in Their estimation.

      yeah. let’s not get dangerously away from the racist, classist logic that rules the shady landscape of this country. that particular racist classist logic is inevitably genocidal, why is it, you think that they criticize you for organic food mainehomeseller? because it’s better if you would just die off, if you eat garbage and perish, less of you = more resources for Them, i.e. The People That Matter.

      ever wonder why white people have more than everybody else? it’s because they demand it, have you ever seen the type of outlandish behavior a white person exhibits when they don’t get their way? enwhitelement is a self fulfilling prophecy. if minorities want the same privileges and treatments whites do, on top of the law and on top of what civil society is doing to combat discrimination, minorities need to take a que from the cracker and start wanting more, also getting more uppity. even when the baton comes down, the more uppity you should get.

      i heard on a radio show a talk about blood diamonds, interviewing a man who was engaged in the illegal business, asked why he did such dangerous work, replied “get rich or die trying”, a man nearly 5,000 miles away in africa nods towards an icon of capitalist fetishism; the pursuit of property above all else- for minorities to beat whitey at his own game, is to become better robber barons than whitey ever was.

      wear your bling with out shame my brothers and sistahs

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    77. LM says:

      I pay $20 a month for basic cable and took the bus 2 years while saving for my used car – and yes, when I hear a co-worker complaining she can’t pay her bills when I know she has an $80/month cable bill and shops at work it DOES piss me off. Sure, I think wealth should be more evenly distributed, but as Joyce points out, taking state benefits (and yes, that includes sending your 5 kids to public schools…amounting to a benefit of over $50,000/yr not to mention child tax credits — aka, tranfer of wealth from the childless) while buying luxury cars and entertainment IS stealing.

      The library is free. Time with friends is free. Unless you have health problems, if you have basic literacy skills you can find a job to support yourself in a fashion that would make even the wealthiest human from 200 years ago jealous.

      Hell, I may even cancel my $20/month cable. I live in a snow zone and shovel the snow off my car rather than buying an overpriced house with a garage. If you’ve had medical bills I’m sympathetic, but other than that you should be living within your means. If you don’t like the distribution of wealth, fight for a new tax structure, but sucking up education and child tax credits and going on food stamps is totally immoral unless you’ve cut back everywhere else.

    78. Sherrell says:

      I think I understand you-most folk complain about not having enough money while sitting at Red Lobster eating on a 30 dollar meal. Guess, you’re right !! And to add to this topic, guess a lot of people are just ungreatful and have been spoiled in society,even Wel-Fare families eat better than the TRUE poor people !! Here’s hoping that a lot of readers read this with an open mind just as I did. Thanks again.

    79. Donald says:

      We all know cases of extravagant people who cry poverty. Mine goes back about forty years to when I started work. There was a young woman on a similar income who never had enough money in spite of being in a similar position to me. What I didn’t do was splash out a month’s income on a party dress or the male equivelent.

      The mistake is to assume that these people are typical of those in receipt of welfare or restricted to that group.

      Your suggestion that the wealthiest people of 200 years ago were worse off than today’s literate worker is absurd. Literacy and numeracy are expected in many minimum wage jobs – you can’t stack supermarket shelves if you can’t read the labels. By comparison the illiterate farmer of two centuries ago could repair their own house, cut their own fuel, make their own clothes and grow their own food. Which makes that typical worker better off than today’s minimum wage worker whose income has to be stretched to pay for rent, clothing, heating and food.

      Poverty isn’t brushing snow off your car because your house doesn’t have a garage. It’s going to bed early to switch off the heating in a cheap drafty flat because otherwise you don’t get to eat.

    80. Pamela says:

      There is no shame in being poor and no pride in being poor either. Not all poor people are lazy. Some people are poor due to the circumstances society leaves them in. My parents were poor as kids but they worked their way up. I admire poor people who work their way up. I don’t decry poor people who buy or want nice things doesn’t everybody want nice things. If a poor person finds themselves fortunate enough to splurge on something nice they should be happy to do so. I feel poor whenever I see something I really want but couldn’t afford in two life times.

    81. fanspeed says:

      so I’m painting these buildings in a strip mall and so happen the welfare office is in the mall. come 8 am people are being dropped off in nice cars to apply or check in with their case worker. without a doubt every other person is asking me for a ciggie, I of course say no and they get all offended. one guy asks how i got a job doing what I’m doing so I tell him I came to california with a bag of clothes and just started knocking on doors of places till someone hired me. there are 2 types of people in world producers and parasites, which group do you want to be in?by the way i throw the wall street types in the parasite category also.

    82. Janine deManda says:

      Wow, fanspeed, your analysis of capitalism and the pool of impoverished masses {both employed and unemployed} it requires in order to continue to keep those Wall Street parasites in the style to which they have become accustomed is – oh, yeah, it’s totally absent. If I were inclined to divide humanity into two categories and utterly dismiss the humanity of all those in one of those said categories, I’d put you and all the other folks who keep buying the bullshit line that people poorer than them are their enemies in the same category with those Wall Street types ‘cuz they NEED ya’ll to continue to fuck me, everyone I love, most of the population of the world, and oh, yeah, YOU out of resources we need and they prefer to piss away in the profit margins. Barring that option, if I had to choose between being in one of the two categories you described – you and all the other people without a fucking clue about how the world works or “parasites”, I’d much rather hang out with the folks on GA than your sorry ass. But I bet you feel so much better now that you’ve shit on the people at the bottom of the pile, and that’s all that really matters, isn’t it now? Yup, and that’s exactly what those Wall Street types are banking on.

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    84. Zoe Brain says:

      I do get a little tired of those making twice as much as I do and are poor castigating me for being middle-class.

      Yes, we have a good lifestyle. Scrimped and saved, own two houses free and clear, no debt… but my car’s old enough to vote, all my clothing bar some shoes is from Goodwill, taking my son to McDonald’s is a big treat as we can’t afford the prices more than once every month. Too many assets to qualify for any help, and we spend a lot of time looking after aged parents who live in house #2 (rent free of course).

      We live pretty well though. OK, I can’t afford a cup of coffee at work – but I can bring some no-name diet soda bought at a discount. If you don’t pay rent, nor have any interest payments, yes, it’s possible to live well on $300 a week, and still save money for the odd luxury.

      We don’t have any money – but we’re not poor, if that makes any sense. And if we have salmon and prawn pancakes, it’s because they were on sale at 1/4 already reduced price, we have freezers just for such opportunities. $6 worth to feed a family of 3 for a day, less than the $10 a day we budget for food. Do that every day for a year, it’s close on $1500 to spend on luxuries, like going to a movie once a year, or $300 for a birthday party for my son.

      It costs to be poor. When you don’t have $200 spare to buy some good shoes that will last 5 years, and have to spend $50 every 6 months on shoes that only last that long, when you have credit card or mortgage debt or rent to pay or payments on the car… we can’t afford to be poor, our income is not high enough.

      It does get a bit wearing though when those whose daily lives involve a $4 sandwich and a $3 cup of coffee at work – that’s over $2000 a year – money that we put aside to save expenses such as interest – and with double our income but don’t live as well as we do tell us how we should subsidise them because we live so well.

    85. @ Zoe Brain – As obvious as it is that you’ve never contemplated the possibility that more than one way of living is valid or anything referenced in my post immediately preceding yours, that’s nonetheless the shape reality takes. However good it might feel to pat yourself on the back for being so deserving of real property wealth, it can’t possibly feel as good as it feels to, oh, ya know, respect the humanity of, ya know, other humans. Despite your desperate need to pathologize me and almost everyone I love {almost no real property owners amongst us, I’m afraid} to justify your miserable parsimony*, it’s not my fuckin’ job to be your bad example, thanks anyway.

      *Which is not to say that day-to-day-frugality-as-exchange-for-real-property-wealth is inherently miserable, but only to say that anyone who didn’t find it so wouldn’t feel compelled to vent bitterly self-righteous spleen about how much better an ascetic she is than, oh, say, me given that my that my 6 year old daughter has seen more than six films in the theater despite her family’s lack of any of our very own real property.

    86. Also, can we stand the irony of all these erstwhile capitalist commenters providing example after example of exactly what Problem Chylde was talking about in the first place? Some sociology student could get a paper out of this page alone.

    87. Donald says:

      @Zoe Brain

      “If you don’t pay rent, nor have any interest payments, yes, it’s possible to live well on $300 a week, and still save money for the odd luxury.”

      You’re right there. The difficulty for most of the poor is getting into that position. There are four ways of getting there:
      1. Inherit the property
      2. Win a big prize in a lottery.
      3. Work for 20-30 years in a job which pays enough to buy a property.
      4. Marry someone in one of the other catagories.

      Of course the commonest approach (3) is reliant on not getting screwed by illness or your employer deciding he can do without your services. Then you’d be better off renting than paying a mortgage because it’s quicker, easier and cheaper to move when you don’t have to sell your house first.

      I’m in a similar position to yourself. The difference is I recognise that I’m in a relatively priviledged position and don’t blame those less fortunate. Because there’s a lot of luck involved in choosing the work that will still pay a decent wage in ten or twenty years time. Hard work and carefully money management (aka scrimping) makes a lot of difference but it isn’t enough to protect from poverty.

    88. Zoe Brain says:

      I don’t blame those less fortunate; I blame those who have earned more money than I ever will, with fewer expenses, then expect me to give them more.

      One of my luxuries – budget for them first – is giving $200 a month to people who genuinely need it. As commenters have said, yes, I’ve been privileged, and know it. But others have been more privileged still, and demand yet more because “more than one way of living is valid”.

      I’d rather give some of my undeserved wealth to those who are unemployed or on minimum wage, bankrupted by medical bills, homeless or needing tens of thousands of dollars for medical treatment. There’s enough of them. They deserve more than mere subsistence too, they deserve a lifestyle at least equal to mine.

      I’ve been there; know what it’s like to have a mother crying because we have to skip a meal since there’s no money – it all went on my school fees. I know what it’s like to earn $2 an hour and hide when the employment inspectors come around. I know what it’s like to faint from hunger. And I don’t want anyone else to.

      And if that means you can’t upgrade your 36″ Plasma TV to the latest 42″ model, even though that would cramp your lifestyle – without coming to me for a donation because I’m supposedly rich (not that I could afford either model) – sorry, but the cupboard is bare.

    89. @ Donald – You said, “I’m in a similar position to yourself. The difference is I recognise that I’m in a relatively priviledged position and don’t blame those less fortunate.” I just wanted to say, “Yes! Thank you!!”

    90. @Zoe Brain – Perhaps this conversational exchange would be more effective if we were more clear about who we are and who we are talking about. There is nothing in my rented house that could be sold for more than $100 {not because of my virtuous self-denial, but because I have almost no interest in acquiring things other than books and the occasional swishy dress. I’m communicating with you from a rebuilt, hand-me down, held together with packing tape laptop, for example.}, and I bought my {tube} television in 1997. From what little you have shared about yourself, I’d think it’s safe to say that I grew up with way the hell less in the way of material goods, social access {school fees? please.}, or for that matter, food not killed or grown by someone I knew personally than you did. So, I think maybe I’m not on the wrong side of the duality you appear to be presenting and can in fact count myself among the “deserving poor” per what appears to be your parameters, but I’m still uncertain. If you’re anger is at the “middle class” shits grossing more than a quarter million per household per year who whine any time anyone suggests they pay taxes or toward the “elites” aka ruling class 1% holding almost all the wealth and paying almost none of the taxes, then I’m right with ya. However, what came across to me in both of your posts was less clear and sounded suspiciously like the very sort of toxic, blame-the-high-livin’-poor-for-poverty bullshit that the OP called out. For what it’s worth, if you could clarify the target of your animus, it’d be much appreciated and might well result in less animus being directed at you as well. Thanks.

    91. @ Zoe Brain – I wrote a longer, more eloquent response that was apparently eaten by the tempermental, held together with packing tape, hand me down, always fucking freezing up laptop I mentioned in it. The long and short of it was who exactly are you pissed at? According to the parameters you set out, I think I fall in the “deserving” poor category, but I’m still curious about the target of your animus. Is it quarter million and above annual income “middle class” types not wanting to pay taxes? Is it the 1% holding most of the wealth and paying essentially none of the taxes? Or is it the “undeserving” poor? If it’s the former two, I’m right there with ya, but if it’s the latter, I’m so not.

    92. Also, I feel compelled {by internalized classism is my guess} to share that I bought my 19 inch, tube-havin’ television in 1996, and fortunately, it still works.

    93. Jonathan tired of MSNBC says:

      It’s ok to want things as a poor person – it just isn’t ok to ask the government to steal from others in order to give you the money to buy those things. If you want something, work hard, sacrifice, save, and then buy it.

    94. Wow, Jonathan, thank you so much for that incisive, informed analysis. I’m left wondering what color the sky is in a world in which capitalism is something other than a more effective version of feudalism, and meritocracies both exist and function “justly”. Apparently, your world and mine have some things in common like the presence of asshats like yourself who value factually inaccurate, self-congratulatory bullshit stories about “hard work” more than silly things like compassion and shared social responsibility. ‘Course, maybe you just don’t mind it when the wealthy steal from you. Perhaps you aspire to being one of ‘em someday and want to be allowed to pilfer from the poor to your heart’s and wallet’s content, too. Still, on the off chance you might be offended by actual resource theft, perhaps you might consider that poverty and successful, “free market” capitalism are both created and sustained by the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many.


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