We all had the same beginning in a sharecroppers shack on top a bluff (cliff) in the Illinois Ozarks, a hard rock hill farm that never produced anything but kids. We had the same mother and father, both of whom came from a long history of rural farm folks. What is different?
From one sibling whose household income is in the $350,000 range to my household income of $15,000, from homes valued from $300,000 down to our ramshackle pieced together home consisting of a 1974 65' house trailer with built on additions, we encompass a wide range of domiciles. Maybe because we came from a share cropper family that lived in a house that had cracks between the boards that had been fixed by tacking cardboard over the cracks and then wall papering over the cardboard in lieu of insulation. What ever reason we all eight are homeowners.
In between our extremes we have six other brothers and sisters with families that are sustained in their middle class existence with jobs from diesel mechanic to Security guard on a casino boat. Managers, college grads, high school dropouts, military veterans, National Guard, store managers, nurses, home health workers, bank tellers, accountant, etc. In short a typical American Family.
At the top we have a sister and her family that by her estimate has a net worth of around $7 million (her husband's estimate is 50% higher). Regardless of which one is right, the fact of the matter is that they have accumulated a fortune and stand alone at the top of the chain. They live in an upscale neighborhood in an urban environment 50 miles from a major city (Chicago).
At the opposite end of this same chain stand I, with net worth of maybe if you stretch it $30,000 in net worth. We live in a rural environment 50 miles from Carbondale, IL Home of Southern Illinois University.
The first sister and her husband, worry constantly that someone will either take their money or ask them for money. They have some justification in that several siblings have borrowed from them in the past, although its always been paid back, or at least I think it has, there were always cruel words said. The lender would accuse the other of wasting their money on tobacco, eating out, always something that never failed to get a reaction that ended up having the borrower paying off the loan with hard feelings accompanying the payment. These two have become so protective of their money that they are always scheming for ways to increase the money, being stingy and sometimes walking the fine line of crookedness in their actions.
While on the opposite end, we don't worry with money, maybe because we have none, maybe because since my wife and I are the oldest in the family, and are closer to our depression era parents, we understand that money isn't everything. We drive a car that is 20 years old, while the rich sibling has one that is 15 years old. We out of necessity and sentimental values, they out of stinginess. Both our families own our homes (paid for), neither owes anything on our vehicles, both are retired with disability incomes and high medical bills.
In between these extremes the other six ALL drive new vehicles, all have mortgages, most have good health insurance, and most are unsatisfied in their jobs, most are constantly complaining that they have no money, that they can't afford to do things, that life is unfair.
Why do my wife and I, while in bad health, and poor consider ourselves lucky and successful, while the rest remain dissatisfied with their lot in life?
I think my wife summed it up best when she counseled a neice in high school that was complaining how poor her family was. Marie told her "poor is a state of mind".
Poverty is a state of mind. We have over the years made some decent incomes, but medical bills have consumed hundreds of thousands of dollars, we have owned several homes only to lose them to medical specialists and hospital bills. While at times we might think life is unfair, we have never sank to thinking that we are "poor white trash", which some call the less fortunate are neither African American or other foreign born.
Marie and I have over the years operated a Children's Charity called Hands of Hope, now defunct, whose name has been appropriated by several other organizations. HOH provided in the beginning toys for needy children in Johnson and Pope Counties in Illinois, serving several hundred kids a year with donations from around the area, the state and several out of state donors, all under the auspices of our church. It grew to include food baskets for the needy on holidays, then providing everything for people whose homes had burned, from clothing to furniture. While this ate into our free time, and into our pocketbooks, it gave us great satisfaction, and lead to the belief by many in and out of the family that we had money, and it became a fašade that belied the fact we had no money to do the things others did, we didn't eat out but on rare occasions, we never attend movies, we don't frequent bars or nightclubs, we neither one drank.
Without the outer trappings of poverty, we were considered by friends and family as well adjusted and successful people, all came to us for advice and help in times of need, from death of a member of their immediate family, to small loans, to borrow tools that "they couldn't afford". Even though they made more money, lived in nicer homes, drove newer vehicles, and enjoyed life by going to parties, eating out (in some cases daily), each one thought of themselves as being either poverty stricken or on verge of becoming card carrying poverty victims.
One other thing that is different in each of our lives, is that Marie and I vote in each election, whether local off year, primary or general election. We are involved in what I like to consider the Great American Civics Class. While NONE of the other 7 families even bother to vote on a regular basis. We have founded a national political organization that is part of the progressive movement, we are involved in many issues of this day, and we don't even allow the thought of poverty to enter our minds. Income, yes that is a constant reminder of our being poor but not in the sense that most consider what being poor means.
So in summation, Poverty is a state of mind, not your position on the income scale, not your control of assets, not your level of spending, its all in your head. If more Americans would get it into their heads that Success is a state of mind, that being involved in the give and take of the electoral process is a requirement, then we all as a nation would be much better off.
Founder & Chairman
Ron McBride is founder, chairman and regular contributor of, by and for www.wedemocrats.org. He is the author of numerous articles on Democracy and Life. His writings can be found at www.WeDemocrats.org, at mytown.ca/mcbride plus blogs such as www.dailykos.com, at www.OpEdNews.com and www.mydd.com