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Poor America, Dumb America: It's Time for Solutions

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Until recently, I accounted myself a pretty die-hard liberal. I was anti-gun, pro-choice, antiwar, anti-big business, pro-government programs, anti-free trade, etc, etc, etc... Now, I am still some of these things. I am still pro-choice, antiwar, and anti-free trade. I think that to be otherwise would be to advocate harming other human beings by choice, and I can't live with that.

But I have found myself shifting gears on a lot of these traditional left-right split issues. Currently, one thing is really pissing me off.

I am twenty-four years old. My husband is also twenty-four, and we have a two-year old daughter. Today, we sat down and looked at our finances, and at first things looked pretty bleak. My husband is a police officer and a Marine Corps reservist, and I am a full-time mom and freelance writer. For our ages, and our geographic location, we do pretty well financially. The median annual household income in our city is just over $29,000. But we are in debt, and I couldn't really understand why. Aside from our collective college debt, there was really no reason for us to be behind on any of our bills, much less ALL of them.

So I pulled out our bank statement, and added up all of the unnecessary spending we have done in the last month--shopping trips, eating out in restaurants and ordering in, renting movies and whatnot. Since April 1st, we have spent a whopping $1,372.80 on crap we never needed. We have paid exactly 0 bills in that time.

What the hell were we thinking? And why I am telling you all of this?

Now, I know that a lot of Americans are legitimately struggling to make ends meet, without anything extra. But it's time for all of us to wake up a little bit when it comes to unnecessary spending. I see two major problems with the concept of poverty we have here in the United States. First of all, we (and by we, I mean Americans in general) have made it respectable to be poor in this country. There is no shame in poverty, even if said poverty is caused by a refusal to go out and take a job. Second, most Americans living under the federal poverty line (and remember, this is not ALL, but MOST) live in relative comfort--meaning, they have a warm place to sleep, clothes on their backs, food to eat, cable and Internet and a car, and a few bucks "left over" to have fun.


This lifestyle may be a facade, because these people live like the majority of the rest of the American people--like me and my family in fact. We are a nation of people living beyond our means. For example, so-called "poverty stricken" Americans are extremely likely to have cell phones (2 out of 3 Americans own cell phones, and this does not take adolescents into account). That's $50 or so every month that each of these Americans could be putting in the bank and putting toward paying off debts. Most Americans living in what we consider poverty have credit cards. I'm not talking about those suffering from extreme poverty, our brethren living in shelters and alleyways. I'm talking about the Americans most of us progressives spend a lot of our time worrying about--people living in inner cities and trailer parks and government subsidized housing.

Frankly, I'm getting a little fed up with the politically correct requirement set upon me by my contemporaries to feel bad for ALL poor people. I am fairly poor--and no one should feel sorry for me--it was my own doing, 100%. When I see most "poor" Americans, all I feel is disdain. I see people who don't understand the promise of living in a country where you have opportunities unheard of in much of the world. I see people who choose to throw money away buying things and services they don't need instead of saving for themselves and their children.

I see selfishness. I see short-sightedness. And I see ignorance to the nth degree.

And I'm sick of feeling bad about it.

Here's my solution: I want to make financial planning classes mandatory for all American high school students and I want it to be mandatory ALL four years. I want the United States public education system to start teaching our kids things they really need to know to succeed in life. IRA, 401K, and mutual fund should all be SAT words. Our kids should be able to understand the interest rates they are agreeing to pay on credit cards and loans. Of course, this is a lofty goal when we take into consideration that most parents don't really understand the finer nuances of personal finance.

I think that teaching the next generation to budget whatever money they DO have, pay their bills on time and consistently, avoid unnecessary credit card and loan debt, and prioritize their expenses, we could completely change the face of our economy.

So, if that makes me a right-wing ditto head (and I don't think it does), then so be it. I think it's time for all of us to start coming up with some serious solutions instead of expressing our feelings of solidarity with the homeless by sleeping overnight in a cardboard box.

We can do a whole lot better than that.

 

Katherine Brengle is a freelance writer and activist.
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another author (you have the same last name as a H... by Daniel Geery on Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 1:56:12 PM