crewgrrl: (John adams)
[personal profile] crewgrrl
Yesterday, John Scalzi linked to his own essay Being Poor. I believe it was written in response to a lot of things people were saying about the urban poor who died in Katrina because they couldn't afford to leave.

Many people wrote in the comments what being poor meant to them. It's an eye-opening read to someone who grew up ensconced firmly in the middle class until my father passed. We were never poor, but we relied on a lot of help till my mom was able to get the insurance money and then a job. But here's my thoughts:

Not being middle class anymore means that your peers don't understand why you don't have a credit card, let alone one that your parents pay the bills on.

Not being middle class anymore means that even though you've begged the money to go on a heritage trip to Poland, the terms of your scholarship to Israel for the year may mean you're not allowed to leave the country.

Not being middle class anymore means listening to people complain that "November is the only month that no one is coming to visit me in Israel" when you know that a) your mom can't afford to come and b) the only reason your boyfriend can is that he's taken on an extra freelance job to pay for it.

Not being middle class anymore means thanking God that your husband makes more than your mother, and you'll never have to worry that hard about money again.

Not being middle class anymore means knowing that your mother can never civilly remarry, because it'll screw your siblings out of college aid.

Not being middle class anymore means creeping into a suite mate's room while she's out to watch a movie on her portable DVD player because you want to see it so desperately and there's no way you'll ever be able to see it otherwise.

It means looking at all of the things your peers have and knowing that you'll never have any of them.

It means knowing that if you got the takeout Chinese using your college meal plan money, the large lasted two meals instead of the one meal in the cafeteria.

It means already having way more life skills than your age peers, who never had to do laundry or cook before they left home for the first time.

It means that even though you have money to do most of what you'd like, you still keep track of how much everything costs at competing supermarkets because that's how your family got through high school and your first crack at college.

It means knowing that if your mom maintains employment with a school district, you pray Obamacare passes unscathed so that your siblings will have health insurance until they are employed and are getting it on their own.

It means knowing the income thresholds for college aid since you were 17, and being grateful when you can earn just enough to get insurance but not make so much that you'll be denied aid.

It means being grateful to the man you will one day marry who thinks that insuring his girlfriend is a worthwhile expense, because now you have health care that's actually worth a damn.

It means knowing just how damn lucky you are that you'll get to be a stay at home mom when the country's economic situation largely prevents that in many families.

It means knowing how much harder it is for the truly poor to get jobs, because you can't even get a secretarial job without a college degree.

Date: 2012-05-15 03:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mabfan.livejournal.com
Thank you.

Date: 2012-05-15 05:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] crewgrrl.livejournal.com
You're very welcome. It's hard for people in relatively affluent communities to understand what it is to have just enough.

Date: 2012-05-15 03:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ladymondegreen.livejournal.com
I lived a lot of this too. Middle class is differently hard and we were bottom tier middle class, largely by dint of not being able to own our own house, and thus being exempt from the mortgage dance. Otherwise I suspect we would have been properly poor church synagogue mice.

Date: 2012-05-16 02:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] crewgrrl.livejournal.com
Well, we have much in common as we already knew ;).

But on a serious note, so many Jews (and others, but that's who I encountered during my more vulnerable period) from the tri-state area Just Don't Get It. It's exhausting trying to explain it.

Date: 2012-05-16 02:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] crewgrrl.livejournal.com
It's one of those really hard things to explain. No, I'm not poor, but I still don't have enough to do the things society says I should.

Date: 2012-05-16 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debka-notion.livejournal.com
The shifting definition of "middle class" is a funny and sometimes detrimental thing. How is it that I'm "middle class", when H and I live together on less than it would take to pay for childcare for a year (I compared what sort of money we needed to make with a classmate, when we were looking at jobs), but so are people who can afford to pay for day school/private school for several children for 12 years, and then go on to pay for their college?

Date: 2012-05-16 02:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] crewgrrl.livejournal.com
Because the concepts of income and wealth are co-mingled and misunderstood. Because supposedly anyone who isn't "poor" is middle-class (upper, lower, etc) and anyone who makes less that whatever your personal threshold for wealthy is still middle class. I would consider anyone who can afford full freight on all of those things (for more than an only child) wealthy.

Remembering what it was like in Israel

Date: 2012-05-16 05:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wotyfree.livejournal.com
In Israel, it meant this:

Not being able to afford to share an apartment with roommates.

Having to spend a month illegally living in my friend's Hebrew University dorm room, using my campus pass from the program I volunteered for to get past the guards and hoping like hell that they wouldn't figure out what I was doing.

Having to rent a room from a woman who wouldn't allow me to have people over ever because she "didn't want her daughter exposed to immorality".

Never being able to host Shabbat meals, and knowing my inability to reciprocate was a deterrent to inviting me.

Being socially isolated by being unable to go out to eat with my friends.

Being made fun of for eating a lot of cheap bread. Mostly eating bread and hummus until I figured out that vegetables were cheap at the shuk.

Feeling like a drain on the yeshiva because they were supporting me, feeling guilty because one person in administration had promised me more aid than the other agreed with and I had to insist on getting it because I needed it to survive.

Feeling like a failure because I couldn't find a place to live when everyone else could.

Feeling guilty for spending $100 on a safrut class while I was living on a yeshiva stipend.

Getting pressured into therapy with an inappropriate therapist and being unable to change because I couldn't afford anything else. Quitting because it was bad for me and being afraid that the yeshiva would find out and I'd be in trouble.

Spending two years taking a medication that stole a lot of my energy and slowed down my thinking, because I needed it in order to function and couldn't afford the better drug.

Needing a neurology appointment to get that drug, and having to accept money from an abusive person who was manipulating me in order to pay for it.

Listening to rabbinical students who could live in nice apartments, eat out, visit other countries, and take extracurricular classes that cost $700 complaining about being poor.

Knowing I'm lucky to be able to spend so much time learning, and that my parents would rescue me if I really needed help. Knowing that living like that was to an extent voluntary. Knowing that there was a limit to how bad things could get.

Date: 2012-05-17 01:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debka-notion.livejournal.com
I was lucky enough that I could "afford" to take a significant loan out for that year, such that I could have the nice apartment, and could have people over for shabbos. But seeing my classmates travel all over, buy lots of stuff, and the like was a real shocker to my system. As it was, I had to argue with Shechter about which sort of visa to get- the single-entry student visa was free, and they wanted me to get a multiple-entry visa (it turned out, they got a kick-back if I did). Eventually, they got it for me, with the agreement that if I used it (I couldn't afford to do so, even if I wanted to), I'd pay them back. Well- they were out the money for no reason...

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