We Need to Be People


Let’s see you try to jobhunt without a working phone or internet access. Let’s see you try to grocery shop on a budget for a family of four with no car and a freezer that’s just big enough for a couple of ice cube trays. Let’s see you keep yourself looking professionally presentable and your children schoolready when you’re handwashing all your clothes in the bath and hanging them out to dry on the radiator you can’t afford to turn on half the time, because your tiny income means choosing between warmth and medication.

What you’re doing, OP – you and other privileged assholes like you – is assuming that poverty is somehow EASY; that there’s no emotional, psychological toll to it that might ever need to be alleviated – not for adults, and especially not for children, because the children of poor people don’t deserve happy childhoods; presumably, they should just get jobs and work for their toys, as though this were Dickensian fucking England. You see objects, but not the sacrifice behind obtaining them; to you, objects have no context, no significance beyond their cost and status value, because THAT’S ALL THEY MEAN TOYOU. I used to work for a government department in Australia that provided free fridges and washing machines to people on welfare whose own had broken, and which they couldn’t afford to replace. I rang one woman to tell her that her fridge request had been approved, and she was literally fighting back tears of relief – not only had she been spending extra money she couldn’t afford buying groceries day to day, because all the food was spoiling without anywhere to keep it cool, but she’d been having to keep her young kids from realising just how bad things were, too – she’d told them they were having Ramadan early, fasting early, to explain why there was no food all of a sudden, and she didn’t know how much longer she could keep it up. I approved a washing machine for a single father who was struggling to keep his children out of foster homes after their mother, who had been their primary caregiver, was arrested; he needed one for the social workers to let him keep his kids, but was between jobs and didn’t have enough cash to replace the one that broke.


I get twitchy every time some O’Reilly-like asshole talks about air conditioners and microwaves in poor people’s apartments, because used versions of those things can be bought at second-hand stores, often, very cheaply, or obtained through assistance programs, and even new ones (off-brand) aren’t THAT expensive. Even unfurnished apartments often come with an air conditioner if they’re in a warm climate. They come with appliances, or at least a stove and fridge. These aren’t unimaginable luxuries.

Also: Thinking that one purchase is the difference between poverty and riches displays such a fundamental lack of understanding about how finance works that I’m amazed the people who hold these views can walk and breathe without tripping over their own shoes.

(In fact, I’m always amazed that these arguments come from supposedly pro-business Republicans who understand budgets, because if you’ve ever gotten a budget together you know that “not making the bottom line” is different from “no money at all” or “not enough money for this one thing.” Cash flow over a given time period isn’t always reflected in the totals. Purchases can be ranked in terms of “we need this item, or the next five tasks we need to accomplish won’t happen.”)

You can spend $50 on a used TV on Craigslist (please, someone tell these dicks that “plasma tvs” have been around a while and are usually for sale day after Christmas) and that still won’t make up the $500 or $1,000 you’re short every month that qualifies you for assistance in the first place. When I wasn’t making rent, right out of college, occasionally I went over to the noodle place near my apartment for dinner. I’d get a freelance check, and I’d get a $12 treat. That $12 meal generally stretched into two meals for me, because I was thin back then, but still: I should have saved that $12. I should have put it into a savings account and eaten the eggs in my fridge instead.

After six months, that $12 would have added up to … a third of one month’s rent. Do you see what I’m saying? God Almighty, we’re all just people, and beyond needing a phone and a lousy-to-middling laptop to get a job, living in pointless self-deprivation to prove something to talk radio listeners just isn’t a thing most of us are interested in doing.