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Follow Up: I Can’t Afford To Save Money At Costco…

July 17th, 2009 · 10 Comments
Discrimination · Follow Ups · Policy

Last month I wrote about how it is actually kind of expensive to be poor. This is clearly not helpful when the goal of a lot of policy is to help poor people stop being poor, or at least to be less poor.

A reader friend of mine (thanks Dan L) noted that this concept, in his opinion, is blatantly obvious, which is perhaps true to a degree. However, it’s not clear to me how much thought people give to the situation, even if it doesn’t seem groundbreaking when it’s pointed out. Barbara Ehrenreich has basically made a living by writing about how hard it is to get by as a low-income worker- for her book Nickel and Dimed, she spent time in low-wage jobs in various places throughout the country (I think Key West and somewhere in Maine were on the list) to show how the logistics of not having money, well, suck. (Hence the lack of being groundbreaking.) I think it’s quite an interesting read even though I wanted to smack her around a little when she admits that she couldn’t take a decent-paying job because she had a moment of weakness and thus couldn’t pass the drug test. (In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn’t really judge someone for being human in a crappy situation. I also don’t mean to imply that only people in cushy white-collar jobs are entitled to smoke pot from time to time, since I’m one of those people who kind of wants to buy booze for homeless people- I’m pretty sure that if I were homeless I would probably want to be drunk, so why not?)

I figured it would be nice to provide a cartoon as a follow up, courtesy of the Cartoonist Group. (Sidenote: I think it’s really funny that the site tries to implement copy protection but does so in a way that takes about 3 seconds and 5 brain cells to circumvent.)

In related humor news, apparently the Treasury Department had planned to hire a cartoonist in order to improve employee morale. They seem to have dropped this plan when they realized that money is generally what makes employees happy and stupid gimmicks generally just piss people off, especially when said gimmicks cost money. This is a bit unfortunate for me since a constant stream of treasury cartoons would make my job very easy. 🙂

Tags: Discrimination · Follow Ups · Policy

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 PeterM // Jul 17, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    I think workplaces would be better if employers did things liked hire four actors to recreate the Marx Brothers, who would run around the institution wreaking havoc.

  • 2 econgirl // Jul 17, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Al Franken being a senator makes so much more sense now.

  • 3 DW // Jul 17, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    That does bring up an interesting point in terms of modeling the effects of proposed governmental legislation. How often would you say that models incorporate not only a prevailing market interest rate by take into account the credit scores of the population, how many people have what kind of score, and then look at how the results are likely to affect people across different portions of society?

  • 4 Josh F // Jul 17, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    There are many obvious things that strangely are not well known. I think this is one of them (and therefore worthy of you covering). I say it is not well known because things like studies of what has happened to income inequality normally do not take this into account. And just general public opinion fails to account for this when trying to define how much people need to live.

    Not only do basics cost more, but there are so many Screw U fees in consumer goods & services that target those with less education and financial knowledge (mostly low income folks).

  • 5 Erica // Jul 17, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Yeah the screw you fees are targeted at people who are less likely to hire lawyers. It’s traditional bullying, pick on the little guy but don’t pick on someone who will put up a fight.

    Generally politicians do the same but every so often they miscalculate. Same thing really.

  • 6 Rich C // Jul 18, 2009 at 12:11 am

    Something I have noticed with programs designed to “help” the poor, specifically the non-profits, is that once they get people in their program, they don’t want them to leave. The more people dependent upon your institution for assistance, the larger your budget allowance from the government.

  • 7 Luke Alan // Jul 18, 2009 at 12:46 am

    A lot of concepts are very “obvious” once pointed out, but not before. Such is true for a lot of basic microeconomics and is probably the case because of the elegant logic underpinning it. Instead of criticizing you for pointing out something obvious, Dan L should appreciate you pointing out something he probably never would have thought of on his own.

  • 8 Justin Ross // Jul 18, 2009 at 8:54 am

    This seems to me to be a fallacy of composition to a good extent. We look at some things that are more expensive, have extra fees, or high mark-ups then look back and ask “who buys these” and see it is poor people.

    However, 1) It is well known that the rate of inflation is far lower for the poor than it is for the rich; 2) The poor trade a lot in goods that can only be purchased with social capital.

    #2 was one of the biggest flaws with Nickel & Dimed, as she moved from place to place so frequently she couldn’t build relationships with others for mutual gain (baby sit my kid and I’ll babysit yours, etc). The other problem was that she intentionally broke many of the feedback mechanisms that would allow one to advance, so that the lesson was that if one does not take advantage of the opportunities to advance, they never will.

  • 9 Jonatan Krovitsky // Jul 19, 2009 at 2:27 am

    He’d learned something new: the very very rich could afford to be poor. Sybil
    Ramkin lived in the kind of poverty that was only available to the very rich, a
    poverty approached from the other side. Women who were merely well-off saved up
    and bought dresses made of silk edged with lace and pearls, but Lady Ramkin was
    so rich she could afford to stomp around the place in rubber boots and a tweed
    skirt that had belonged to her mother. She was so rich she could afford to live
    on biscuits and cheese sandwiches. She was so rich she lived in three rooms in a
    thirty-four-roomed mansion; the rest of them were full of very expensive and
    very old furniture, covered in dust sheets.

    The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed
    to spend less money.

    Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances.
    A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair
    of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell
    when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of
    boots Vimes always bought and wore until the soles were so thin that he could
    tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

    But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could
    afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in
    ten years’ time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have
    spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

    This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socio-economic unfairness.

    “Men at Arms” by Terry Pratchett

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