Sunday, March 19, 2017

Out of the Mouths of... Cracked?

Yet another week I'm going to put off the next lesson in photo-fakery, because this is just too damn important not to re-post -- especially since it explains the GOP's budget plan so well!

--Leslie <;)))>< 

5 Reasons Why The Middle Class Doesn't Understand Poverty


Poverty is a well-worn subject here at Cracked. John Cheese has talked about it a lot, C. Coville discussed legal loopholes that can screw the poor, and we've also covered myths the media perpetrates. And now it's my turn to moderately wealthsplain the subject.
Unlike John and others, I grew up one year's worth of acoustic guitar lessons away from being the most stereotypical middle-class white kid ever. I didn't take yearly vacations to private islands to hunt men for sport, but I also never wanted for clothes and video games. And while us suburban kids were taught that it's good to help the poor, we were also accidentally taught to treat them with disdain. Here's how.

5
We're Constantly Told That "Money Can't Buy Happiness"

If you're friends with the right kind of insufferable people on social media, you've probably seen pictures like this:
Pinterest

Or, God help us, this:
Quote Addicts
It's all variations on the same theme: Money can't buy happiness, true wealth comes from friendship and experiences, you don't need the solid gold butt plug when the polymer one feels identical inside of you, etc. Movies teach it, music teaches it, our parents teach it -- money is useless if you aren't living. It's not an inherently bad message, but try telling people at the homeless shelter to count the blessings that money can't buy, and see how long it takes before you'll feel blessed that you can afford health insurance.
Outside of images that the Care Bears would find insipid, "Money can't buy happiness" is what middle-class people tell each other when someone is trying to decide between two different jobs. "I make 70k right now and the new gig only plays 60k, so I wouldn't be able to travel as much. But I'd have more free time to play Ultimate, the benefits are better, and there's no way my new manager could be any worse than my current one." That's an important decision to the person making it, but they're debating between two different kinds of comfort. It's safely assumed that the money they will need to exist will always be there. It would be nice to have more -- to be able to go to more restaurants or to justify buying a second Roomba because deep down you know that the first one is lonely -- but there's always enough to keep the lights on and the kitchen stocked.
Pinterest, God's Punishment For Our SinsIf the Minions are on your side, you might want to reconsider things.
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You may have seen the study that claimed $70,000 a year is the ideal salary -- after that, more money generally doesn't make you happier. Well, that's great news for people hovering around that benchmark, but if you're poor, more money will abso-fucking-lutely make you happier. More money means healthier food, or a chance to get out of the house and have some fun. It can mean knowing the rent is paid for next month, or being able to afford medication.
The middle class isn't immune to money problems, especially if there are kids in the mix. Getting laid off at the wrong time sucks, no matter what your income is. But the middle-class people with money problems I've known were generally suffering from self-inflicted wounds. They had no savings because they wanted the new car or the luxury vacation. They wanted one of those experiences they were constantly told was more important than money, because the money for day-to-day necessities was always there, right up until it wasn't.
My Destination UnknownA sentiment that will read differently when employers start asking about the gaps in your resume.
That's part of the reason, I think, so many middle-class people laugh at campaigns to raise the minimum wage. "You want 15 bucks an hour to flip burgers? How about you just hold off on the new TV until you get a real job?" The middle class generally fluctuates between being able to afford a nice vacation one year and having to settle for a few trips to the movies the next. The poor can fluctuate between paying bills and being out on the street. But the idea that such essentials could just go unpaid is unfathomable, right up until you experience it.

4
We're Taught To Associate Low-Paying Jobs With Failure

When I was growing up, there was never a question of whether or not I was going to college. That's partially because the idea of my spindly idiot ass learning a technical trade or doing manual labor is the first step in creating an "Epic Fail!!!" YouTube video, but mostly because my parents had a fund set up for me. (It helped that I live in a country where a post-secondary education doesn't cost roughly eight quadrillion dollars a semester.)
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So jobs that didn't require a degree were presented to us as warning signs. "You better study hard, or else you're going to end up just like that bull masturbator for the rest of your life! And I didn't intend that pun, so don't giggle!" Becoming a janitor or a gas station attendant or an internet comedy writer would have been considered a disappointment, an inability to take advantage of the gifts that were offered to us. Poverty was considered a moral failing.
SeanShot/iStockI'm sure he regrets not studying harder for that ninth-grade algebra test.
No one ever just came out and said that, but the implication was always there. We tend to assume that other people are basically like us until they prove otherwise, which is why I'm constantly shocked to discover that most people don't like my favorite homoerotic golf academy anime, Wood Strokes. So we were never taught that working as a dishwasher or a grocery store clerk or a sperm bank fluffer could be an important stepping stone for someone with a different background than us. We were also never taught that, you know, it's still a goddamn job where someone shows up and puts work in and gets paid for their time. They were always just associated with squandered potential.
And man, when you hear that message constantly, it's hard to shake. It's easy to glance at a middle-aged dude working the checkout counter and automatically think "Well, I bet he's not the brightest guy around" or "Oh shit, is that what happened to Matthew Lawrence?" It's not malicious -- not initially. Being told to take advantage of your opportunities is not a bad message. But when that message is driven into you for decades, it creates a stigma around certain jobs. And from some people, it produces plenty of snide remarks about how the people working those jobs should get better ones, as if the person who's been a server for seven years has never considered just popping


 down to the job store and picking up a career in architecture.  Janitors and baristas keep society running as much as anyone else. If all of America's coffee shops shut down for a day, the country would experience a nationwide narcolepsy epidemic crossed with The Purge. But when you grow up in the middle class, the only thing you're taught about such jobs is that you should get one as a teenager to build character, and then thank God that you'll never have to work one again as long as you don't fuck up in life. And as long as we consider that a sign of our superior work ethic instead of birth luck, we're going to keep dismissing as pathetic the jobs we'd all get angry about if they vanished tomorrow.

There Are Always Certain Things We Take For Granted

An education isn't the only thing that most middle-class kids can assume they'll get. A car to borrow, a phone, 20 bucks for when you really want to take a girl to what you assumed was a bad movie so you could make out in the back row but then it turns out that she's actually super into the plot of Gigli and wants to focus on it even though you were all set to reach second base and so you end up getting a confused erection to Al Pacino and it inadvertently shapes your formative years ... you know, all the little things that are part of growing up in Middle America.

That's the end result of assuming that a good job awaits you, and that money is for throwing at problems and buying pizza instead of something to stress out about. Water heater broke? No worries, we'll just have to eat in the rest of the month to make up for it. Shoes all worn out? Well, you can't go to school like that, so go get some new ones. Gone on a losing streak at the Pokemon Card League and the groupies have started drifting off to the other players? Better pick up a few booster packs to get back in the game. You know you can't get greedy and start buying Armani, but as long as your needs are modest, the money will always be there.
So the idea of 20 bucks making or breaking someone is impossible to appreciate. It's just not a concept that clicks in our heads. It makes sense on a logical level, sure -- you need money, and you don't have it, and that sucks. But when you're raised in comfort, you can't put yourself in that head space emotionally. You can't understand the stress, or the fear that you might not be able to feed your kids. The closest we can get is watching Gwyneth Paltrow try and hilariously fail to live on a tiny food budget before going back to her $4,000 kale cleanses. That's kind of like empathy, right?

And because it's tough to relate to, it's tough to talk about. If someone tells me that they never got Christmas presents growing up, all I can respond with is "Uh, yeah, that sounds like it sucked. Well ... one time my grandma accidentally got me Super Murpio 67, so ... I hear you." Starting a conversation with a bunch of middle-class people about poverty is like bringing up Trayvon Martin at a country club. Everyone trips over everyone else's words to talk about how tragic it is, but then they distance themselves from the problem and the "buts" start coming out. And to further compound the issue ...

2
We Don't Witness Poverty, So We Don't Understand It

When I was growing up, my exposure to poverty was largely limited to sitcom families who would talk about how poor they were, but were still able to go on a wacky adventure every week. The Simpsons kept running into money troubles in their early years, but their house looked the same as mine. Even the family from Roseanne, the classic working-class sitcom, owned a house that's a palace compared to what a lot of people live in. The problem with portraying poverty in sitcoms is that it's hard to get laughs out of eviction and early deaths caused by crippling medical debt, so the lesson always ends up being "Poor people struggle with money sometimes, but in the end they alays get by, and they have lots of laughs while doing it!" Sitcoms make being poor look fun.

Beyond that, once or twice a year, I'd go to some kid's birthday party and notice that his house was a lot smaller and more run down than mine. One of the kids who always got talked about in a slightly different tone of voice by the adults. I never gave it much thought because we went to the same school and both liked Nintendo -- how different could our lives possibly be? Maybe I'd see a story on the news that would put a positive spin on the issue. ("Look at how many volunteers with beautiful families showed up to the soup kitchen to help feed these filthy hobos!") Beyond that, the middle class just doesn't think about poverty.


We're always looking up, always wanting to go to the Christmas party at the rich friend's house so we can get a taste of what we're aspiring to. There's rarely a reason to go to the poor part of town. Tell jokes about it, sure, but go? We never have to leave the bubble, so we never learn what real poverty looks like. Poor people become invisible, this mysterious Other, a group that serves you food, and in return, you throw a couple of non-perishables and toys into donation bins for them over the holidays.

Oh yeah, the middle class loves to donate food and toys and clothes and gently used ball gags and all sorts of other crap that we weren't using anyway. Food banks actually need money far more than they need your creamed corn that's going to expire in two weeks, because money just goes further. But people who will gladly part with 12 boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese and some Funyuns they found under the sofa get leery when it comes to handing over money, even though we're supposedly under the impression that we don't need it ourselves to be happy.
That's partially just because it's more satisfying to give stuff instead of money -- you can imagine some happy kid playing with your old Lego, and you get to clean out your closet. But remember, we're taught that the poor are stupid and lazy. We sit around telling each other stories about how our friend's cousin's boyfriend knows a guy who spent his welfare check on beer and weed. These are campfire horror stories for the most tedious suburbanites, and they're told in the hot tubs that they probably shouldn't have bought until the next mortgage payment cleared. We can't trust those people with money, because if they were smart enough to manage it properly, they'd be smart enough to have a better job. Also, they probably all have hooks for hands and murder teenagers while they're making out in their cars. Hey, we learn so little about poor people that it's just as believable.

1
We're Taught To See Ourselves As The Victims

I've known people with movie theaters in their homes and four cars in their garage who are convinced that society is against them, that life is a gloomy parade of suffering because their property taxes went up a bit. That's stereotypical rich people behavior, but it's there in the middle class too, in subtler ways. I live in a city where the economy revolves around a boom and bust industry, so people tend to make good money while complaining about taxes for a few years, then get laid off and go on government benefits for a while, and then get a new job and go back to complaining about the government. And if you watch the cycle, you see the same "us against the world" mentality, just with fewer BMWs in the mix.

When middle-class people get laid off and go on welfare, they blame the economy, or their former employer, or the government. They never blame themselves. And they shouldn't! Much like a whale's erection, economies are big, confusing things that can't be controlled by the average person. It's not like they left photocopies of their asshole on the boss' desk. They paid into the welfare system with their taxes when times were good, and now they're using the system for exactly what it's intended: helping you out when you're unlucky. It's bridging the gap until you, a hard-working person who just caught a tough break, gets another job.
Except when poor people use the system, it's none of those things. Suddenly they're not getting help; they're just dumb, lazy leeches. Plenty of middle-class people are more empathetic and generous than I'll ever be, but the worst instinct of the middle class is to blame the system when the system fails us, then lecture poor people when the system fails them. I've heard the condescending explanations about how the world really works (which usually come out after a few beers when no actual poor people are around because the speaker would never be brave enough to say it to their faces) more times than I can count.

The middle class has a weird relationship with the rich -- we alternate between complaining about them and wishing we were them. Money can't buy happiness, but a yacht certainly wouldn't hurt matters. Even if we don't like the rich, there's always the pipe dream that we could be them. But no one dreams about being poor, unless you're into an incredibly specific kind of role-playing.
Being poor is a problem (practically, not morally), and a problem is either the fault of the person or the fault of circumstances beyond their control. The latter means we in the middle class might have to do something about it -- or, God forbid, reflect upon our lifestyles, which is just the worst. It's much, much easier to assume that we're fine, that ultra-rich politicians and celebrities and investment bankers are the ones being condescending and awful to the poor, but also that poor people could probably stand to work a little harder. So, uh ... sorry about all of that. I'll donate some food at Christmas, though!
Mark is on Twitter and has a book that's made him rich in experience.
For more, check out 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Poor and 4 Common Morals Designed to Keep You Poor.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel, and check out Disney Thinks You Hate Poor People, and watch other videos you won't see on the site!

6 comments:

Technomad said...

The thing is, Leslie, there is a difference between being down on your luck through no fault of your own and making a career out of f*cking up. While I am no fan or friend of government or taxation per se, I acknowledge that a social safety net is a Good Thing...but not when it turns into a hammock!

I spent thirteen years and ruined my life beyond all repair being an unwilling, unhappy enabler to two selfish, mentally-tweaked alcoholics who shamelessly exploited my filial feelings and the fact that I was trapped in a town I could not escape for lack of money and data (didn't have any money to get away and didn't have anywhere that I knew I could go.) One of the worst things about welfare-as-she-now-exists is that it all too often enables selfish, self-destructive, asocial, antisocial behavior...and this is what gives all welfare recipients a bad rap.

What I could have used would have been financial help to get myself set up in a metro area where there were jobs, while I was still young enough to not have to worry about explaining away thirty-plus years of under- and unemployment, and some real guidance as to which jobs I should be aiming at, and where. Was this available to me? Howls of derisive laughter! I've commented bitterly that I should have drunk myself sick, done more drugs than the Freak Brothers and Cheech and Chong's onscreen personas, fathered a bunch of out-of-marriage brats with whatever bar skank I could con into bed, and raised so much hell as to be on a first-name basis with the personnel of every lockup in North-Central Iowa. I'd be about where I am now, but at least I'd have had some fun!

Little Desert Mare said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Little Desert Mare said...

Dear Leslie,

My comment probably sounds like bellyaching, but I wrote it because even when you are trying your hardest to improve your lot, unexpected things can throw you off course and far downhill--fast. That's something that many people don't want to face, let alone make plans to alleviate just in case it happens. But it can, it does, and some of us have been picking ourselves up and starting over from the bottom that it seems as though that IS our career.

Little Desert Mare said...

Dear Leslie,

The aforementioned comment (deleted) detailed how a good plan to obtain my Bachelors degree and then work while earning a graduate degree went into a tailspin due to health problems aggravated by not being able to afford health care (AHCCCS, in this case) that would have allowed me to correct the problem through surgery and finish my education with little delay. Instead, I went through four years of anemia and falling grades before I could get surgery, by which time, I had no income. I survived by the help of friends, by selling personal possessions, and, recently, with a small job training stipend. The days when it was "easy" to raise oneself from poverty have probably never existed, and it seems that it has always been fashionable, among some people, to blame the poor for their poverty.

I am uncertain that I will ever achieve my educational goal, not because I have a strong willingness to work hard and study harder, but because I simply cannot afford a university education with some sort of financial assistance. The local university's tuition would cost roughly as much as I can reasonably expect to earn working at minimum wage, before taxes--and then I would have to earn enough to pay for rent, food, utilities, and transportation (half-time costs the same as full-time, and I do not have the years left to earn my degree one class at a time).
Therefore, I am now in debt, and still poor, and I am striving not to let my optimism dissipate; poor planning had very little to do with it.

Alex Pitter said...

I liked your article on Poverty. I appreciate all the reason which you noticed that why middle class doesn't understand poverty. Thanks for sharing such an amazing post with us and keep sharing some more unique topics.

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Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Tech. Tell me about it! I've been a Welfare worker, and I've been a Welfare case (eyesight), and I've seen that -- yes -- the stresses of poverty tend to reveal weaknesses (or strengths) of character, and those can make all the difference. I'll also agree that Welfare fails miserably at advising their clients on escape-routes, everything from Vocational Rehabilitation to the Salvation Army to local day-labor offices. Ignorance kills!

Hi, Mare. Gawwwwd, yes, I've seen that happen! Yes, you've got to get some kind of health coverage, govt. or private, and keep aware of your health -- otherwise, your life can get worse than derailed; it can get terminated. Well, if a university degree is beyond reach, consider a community college that tends toward skilled-trade courses. Skilled-trade (*any* skilled-trade) brings in better than minimum wage. Once you've got an income that can let you set aside emergency money, you've got a pad against random disasters.

Hi, Alex. I'll do my best; there are plenty of weird revelations out there.