Who’s the real scammer?

From a brief glance it would be easy to assume that the economic catastrophe of 2008 is nothing but a distant memory, a bad dream that we have all recovered from. After all, the stock market is up, business profits are up, CEO’s are taking home ginormous bonuses and it seems every man, woman and child in America is walking around the either the latest iPhone or a tablet computer. Clearly we are all basking in the joys of economic stability or maybe it’s all an illusion?

I work in social services, granted as the executive director I do a lot less working with people than I used to. But I still analyze the data and talk to professional colleagues and the one thing we all agree on is that things aren’t getting better. We are all continuing to see staggering numbers of people in need of essentials such as food, shelter and childcare. (sometimes even school supplies, coats and shoes too) The spigot was turned on in 2008 and frankly the basin is overflowing with people in need. At my agency, I am facing record growth which if I were the CEO of a profit making venture would be awesome but in my line of work, record growth means I spend a lot of time making hard decisions since record growth doesn’t mean record revenue to meet the needs of that record growth but that is an entirely different post.

What I am seeing more and more of is stories like this, national publications are actually starting to take notice of those folks that I have been talking about since 2009-the formerly middle class. Folks who might look a lot like you; they used to own the house, two cars, and a few fancy gadgets and even had a nest egg. Many of those folks are now living in ways they never dreamed of, mired in the hardscrabble new world of poverty. They often still cling to their middle class fantasies and dreams that they will turn their ships around but make no mistake, once you have entered a world of living in the pay by the week hotels and frequenting food pantries, your odds of taking the elevator back to the middle class are only slightly better than a winning Powerball ticket. Especially in this brave new world where permanent well-paying employment opportunities elude even the college educated. This brave new world is a place where we are all the captains of our fate, using fancy euphemisms to hide the fact that we lack the stability that was the norm only a generation ago. Consulting, freelancing, self-employed are all valid options but too many of us aren’t doing these things because we want to, we are doing them because they are our only opportunities for employment. After all, some money beats no money.

Funny thing is that despite this economic tsunami and its victims, we Americans are a proud lot; refusing to accept that the jobs are gone and that going out and getting a job is a lot easier said than done. Instead we turn on one another and destroy our own, lashing out at the man down the street who decides to apply for permanent disability status which will ensure him a permanent though meager paycheck, access to healthcare via the government funded Medicaid program and access to subsidized housing rather than continue to suffer the indignities of a job search that is futile.

We eat our own for lunch and feel disgust for the moochers and the scammers, eager to cut people off from the dribs and drabs of the economic safety net rather than turning our anger on the corporate overlords who truly own our asses and have made us their wage slaves. But hey who’s the moocher?

 

Like many people, I have a complicated relationship with food. Our relationship for the past decade has been especially tenuous as I have worked hard to unlearn a lifetime of bad eating habits and adjust to the metabolism that I really have and not the one I wish I had. As a result, I buy very little of my food at the grocery store instead opting to buy as much as possible at the local farmers market and direct from local farmers. As much as I would prefer to nosh on unlimited bags of Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar Chips and follow it up with swigs of ice cold RC, I know that such eating habits simply don’t work for me. However I am still a work in progress when it comes to food. Of course having an extremely picky eater keeps me humble when it comes to food since her list of what she won’t eat is three times longer than what she will eat. Whenever there is a food that she likes to eat, and will really eat it, I pretty much go with the flow.  I just keep reminding myself that my 21yo vegetarian son used to be the king of ham and chicken wings before he adjusted his views on food several years ago.

In addition to having my own issues with food, I am one of those rare people who literally sees food insecurity daily in my professional life. Currently at the agency I run, 95% of the kids registered in our programs come from food insecure households and on any given day upwards of 20% of the kids that drop into our programs, will not be going home to eat dinner because there is no dinner available to eat.

I started my social services career over 15 years ago in a program that offered meals to women in need and as hard as it was to see adults without food, I struggle deeply seeing so many kids going without. Kids in our center talk as casually about eating at the local soup kitchen with their families as middle class kids speak about the newest apps on their iPads.

Maybe it’s because of my professional background that my interest was piqued when I saw the hashtag #endchildHunger and #ConAgra a few days ago on Twitter. From what I gather there was a conference and attendees were asked to spread awareness about the issue of child hunger and apparently ConAgra would be donating resources to end child hunger. In theory this sounds great and many well-meaning folks were doing their part to spread the word…after all no one wants to think of hungry kids.

The problem is that ConAgra is not exactly going to end childhood hunger and if in this current US economy the idea of childhood hunger is not something you have heard about it, it’s because your head has been in the sand. Food stamp use has been up and while the economy is slowly turning around, for the millions of folks that were already close to the bottom of the economic ladder this supposed growth is about as real as unicorns.

ConAgra partners with Feeding America which is the largest hunger relief charity in the US and they do awesome work. They have a lot of great programs; some that I have worked with directly through my work and they make a huge difference in the lives of a lot of kids. They are also a supplier to a fair number of food banks in the US.

So what is the problem you may ask? ConAgra is helping out Feeding America and Feeding America is helping feed folks including kids, so how are they not ending child hunger? See, this is where it gets tricky. In most communities no matter how small they are in the US, there is a local food pantry. A place where people can get a bag or two of food if they have nothing to eat. In theory, the food pantry in your community should be able to get food from the food bank in your area but in many cases that is not the case. Ever notice how food pantries often have food drives? See, the reason they are asking people to donate food is because they can’t afford to buy the food from the food bank. Here in Maine, the food bank is Good Shepherd and if you run a food pantry, if you want to get food from that food bank that is getting support indirectly through ConAgra you have to pay. No money means no food for the hungry people in your town including those hungry kids that Con Agra is using social media to say they will be supporting.

Now I knew from my 1st job back in Chicago a lifetime ago that feeding programs that used the food banks had to pay. Actually part of my job at that agency was overseeing our meal program so I knew there was a cost. However at that time I worked at an agency in Chicago, which is only the 3rd largest city in the US at an agency that had a million dollar plus budget. So for us buying the food was a no brainer and affordable.

I didn’t learn until almost 5 years ago when I took over as the head of a small agency in a rural state that the economics of using the food bank means being poor and hungry in rural America sucks balls. In the county I work in, many agencies use a food rescue service (yep, its exactly what it sounds like) rather than the state’s lone food bank because they cannot afford to pay the food bank for food to give to people who cannot afford to buy groceries at the grocery store. In many small towns and villages in the US, the local food pantry is a volunteer run affair often operating in donated space with donated food and a shit load of good will.

When I learned a few years ago just how skewed social services are in rural states, it was a wake-up call for me. It meant unlearning much of what I understood about poverty and reframing it in a rural framework. In this case, if ConAgra were making direct donations and contributions to small pantry operators across the nation rather than the food bank network that exists through Feeding America, I would say hell yeah they are ending child hunger. The truth is they are nothing more than a band aid solution to ending child hunger on a wide scale in a social services system that favors larger agencies over smaller ones despite the fact that in many communities it’s the small agencies working tirelessly to meet needs in locations that sometimes are untouched by the larger agencies.

Am I saying ConAgra is evil? Not really, though I prefer to buy my food directly from folks who if there are problems with my food, I know where they live. I will say though that campaigns such End Childhood Hunger are not being as honest as they can be and that is what bothers me. Because the sad reality is even in the helping word much like the corporate world, the large folks are the winners. How many resources were spent on a campaign to increase awareness when those same resources could have actually fed folks?

 

PS: If you want to make a difference, donate directly to the food pantries in your community. Call them and ask them what they need, and if you have the means donate often. Real change only requires real people making a difference.

Marriage as the cure, America’s reality problem

America has a reality problem and it ain’t Snooki, J-Wow and Honey Boo. Americans are stuck in the dreams of yesterday and a place and time where life was a lot more black and white and not the shades of grey that have become the reality of modern day life in America. Our reality problem or rather refusal to look at reality as a collective whole is why we avoid looking at what we have become and working towards real solutions, instead we assess blame and look the other way.

Recent Census data shows that America, the land of dreams and prosperity has taken a terrible detour, we are lost. Yet instead of acknowledging that we are lost, it’s easier to nitpick hence a report I heard on NPR this morning ‘Can Marriage Save Single Mothers From Poverty’ of course folks on the conservative side think that marriage (but only marriage that involves one man and one woman) is the magic cure-all. Sure 40% of all births in the US are out of wedlock, but rather than look at the fact that wages have been stagnant and in the past decade the middle class has been hammered and the poor have been forgotten all while the rich have grown richer, it’s easy to say get married and the number of poor will decrease. Really?

In the NPR piece, Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College, makes a good point, sure women know that marrying a man who earns a good wage probably will be beneficial but the reality is these men with good wages are often not available. In lower income communities they simply don’t exist as wages have stagnated and even in so called good communities, many of these men have watched their own opportunities decrease as evidenced by this piece featured a few weeks ago in the New York Times. Where once solidly middle class men with wives are no longer the breadwinners, instead it’s the wives who are earning the bread. In many cases, globalization has changed the game and in this case, the game has changed for good.

To take a financial issue and turn it into a moral/social issue once again takes the pressure off the powers to be to create real change. It pits neighbor against neighbor and creates a false sense of security for the remaining haves while they cast dispersions at the have-nots. To even link single motherhood to poverty and use marriage as the cure, once again threatens the rights of all women and threatens to take us back to a time when women were less than.

Marriage under the right circumstances can be a beautiful thing, hell I have done it two times and so far seem to be pretty successful at it this second time around. Make no mistake though, more marriages crumble due to financial matters than anything else. If we look at the upper middle class and above and say they have higher rates of marriage and lowers rates of divorce, we can’t ignore the fact that financial stability allows a couple to have less pressures and more access to resources when there are problems. A financially solid couple can see a marriage therapist, afford the babysitters and time away that can keep a marriage on track, all things that are harder to do when you are just trying to keep the lights on.

Until we all have access to financially stable jobs with solid benefits, let’s just leave marriage out of the discussion.

This  post was originally written in August 2012 and a year later, it is still relevant. Once again this summer I saw kids with no shoes, or shoes in such bad shape they were barely shoes.  No child in a country as “prosperous” as America, should be forced to duct taped Dollar Store flip-flops. But that is the world we live in, where some kids will walk blocks in their patched up dollar store flip flops to participate in a free summer enrichment program, that is held together with the blood, sweat and tears of a merry band of do-gooders who refuse to accept  no. While others have more than they need or even want. But we tell ourselves that in America, we are all equal, tell that to the kid with the patched up flip flops.

I rarely use this space to talk about the in-depth part of my work especially as I am no longer anonymous locally, but some things I have seen and conversations I have had frankly have me shaking my head and really needing to talk.

I got into the social/human services sector many years ago after realizing that while I was a really good advertising sales rep, that I hated it with every fiber of my being. Convincing people to do business with me felt like a form of prostitution and the job just stole my soul. Not long after it was clear that the Spousal Unit and I were looking at a life plan, I decided a career shift was in order. No more whoring my soul for cash! Initially I went into community organizing and after having shots fired across the street from my office, my days as a community organizer ended abruptly. When you are trying to rid a community of the drug dealers and they start shooting right by your job, I take that as a sign it’s time to move on. I have commitment but not that much commitment.

I went from community organizing to being the house manager at a facility that worked with women with addictions. Later I moved in to working with homeless adults and eventually working with families and youth. The hardest by far has been working with families and youth, in fact the longer I do this and see kids in need it tears at my soul.

Up until this past week, I thought I had seen it all and heard it all, but two times in the past week, I have encountered kids without shoes. Let me repeat that, kids, school aged kids with no shoes. As any parent knows, kids have that pesky habit of growing, in fact as I have joked over the years, it seems the growth spurts know when to come…pretty much as soon as you think your kid has all the clothing they need for any given season, you can expect to wake up to “Mom, my clothes are tight” or “Mom my shoes are hurting a bit” For many of us it may mean an unexpected trip to the store to grab shoes or whatever but for growing numbers of families that is not an option because there is no money to replace what has been outgrown.

The legacy of welfare reform coupled with an economy in shambles is that many families that utilize benefits such as TANF have reached their 5 year lifetime limit. That means for growing multitudes in this country they have no income, at best they have a food stamp card and if they live in a nice state maybe access to Medicaid. But cash? The stuff that buys shoes is in short supply. Thanks to the economic downturn that won’t end, it also means social service providers are doing more with less as we see donations go down. People are less apt to pass their hand-me downs to the poor if they have friends and family struggling. It means the most vulnerable, those from families are with no resources are simply screwed, it means kids walk to centers like mine in ill-fitting shoes that are broken if they are lucky to get a meal and have access to fun or they simply walk with no shoes.

At first I thought the shoeless kids were a fluke but a talk with a colleague revealed she and other providers in this area are seeing the same thing. We are seeing families being evicted when they no longer can pay rent and more and more bunking up, 4 adults and 9 kids in a two bedroom apartment is the new norm.

We live in a country here in the US that prides itself on being the best, yet how good are we really when kids have to leave their homes to get a free meal and walk there barefoot? Politicians of both stripes spend goo gobs of money for the privilege of winning but in a world where kids as young as 9 know the game is rigged and not in their favor, where is the hope?

The face of poverty is peddled as being something that happens to others but the truth is most of us are only a few paychecks away from being the next face of poverty; it’s not a black thing or a white thing. It’s a human thing and frankly we are failing our fellow humans.

This past weekend I was supposed to be at a conference that frankly while fun was about excess, and now I wonder knowing what I know and seeing what I see daily, maybe there was a reason I wasn’t there. For many of my fellow bloggers when they write or talk on poverty it’s not something that see up close and personal, yet my roots aren’t far from poverty and while on paper I am no longer there, my life’s work takes me there daily.

We need some change and some real hope, no kid anywhere on this planet needs to be without access to basic essentials.

 

 

Hey Gene! What about the poor white kids?

At a certain point, it gets really tiring having people who have never experienced a moment of poverty pontificate about poverty and how they would deal with it. Of course as a Black woman, I get even more bugged by upper middle class white folks who appear to have the cure for what ails poor brown people. To that I say: Really? Then why haven’t you helped out poor white folks?
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See, if you were a Martian who landed in the United States and turned on the news, you would assume that most of the poor in this country are Black. Never mind that Blacks are still a minority, nope the take away would be “wow those Black folks are sure as shit deficient.” It seems the women can’t find mates, the men are either locked up or having closeted gay encounters, and they don’t have jobs, and on and on it goes. There are bits of truth in that but let’s be clear it’s not the entire truth by a long stretch.
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Yet it’s what creates buzz, as Gene Marks a writer for Forbes this week did with his piece “If I was a Poor Black Kid”, well the internet put the smack down on Mr. Marks and handed him his ass. None of what Marks said was particularly inspired and frankly much of it has been said before; problem is Marks is not a poor Black kid, nor was he a poor White kid and his so-called advice came from a douchebag paternalistic place where in the end anything good turned into that wawa voice from Charlie Brown…just static.
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I don’t want to spend much time on Marks and that piece, what I do want to discuss is, how is it that Marks appears ignorant of the fact there are plenty of poor white kids in the U.S.? See, thanks to being a black girl in Maine who works in social services I see em daily. In fact due to my move here almost a decade ago, I often joke in many ways I have become an ally to poor whites. Not something you expect from someone with an undergraduate degree focused in African American studies whose professional aspirations were to get a Ph.D. in African American Studies and whose major area of interest was media representations of Black women. Not exactly the poster girl for championing poor white issues. Funny thing though the universe moved me to Maine and my eyes were opened wide.
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Turns out many of the behaviors that pundits, sociologists and others ascribe to poor Blacks are identical in poor whites. Down to men who just leave, though one odd twist that I have seen more of in Maine (so not sure how prevalent it is elsewhere) is moms leaving. More than a handful of families have come across my path where it’s dad and kids, or dad and a new lady who is not bio-mom.
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Now schools in rural states like Maine may not rival an inner city school in say my hometown Chicago, but in less moneyed communities the schools don’t have a lot to offer. To be honest the schools aside from say the metal detectors looks identical.
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The thing is why is so much damn time spent on highlighting differences? Why can’t people like Marks look broader and think about poor kids in general? One of my growing pet peeves is how people section off the poor, yes there are some historical differences but in modern times, poor people and especially poor kids need help. They all need access to good schools, healthcare, they need parents who are in good shape and ready to parent. Drugs? Well drug use runs rampant in white communities too, very much like the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s and 90’s…drug of choice in communities that I serve trend towards prescription pills and meth and even the new bath salts. Here in Maine drug stores like CVS and Rite-Aid get robbed on a weekly basis. Yet aside from a few pieces here and there, the spotlight doesn’t shine much on this crisis. As I have said before on this blog the worse part of my job is because this is a predominantly white and rural state, funding for programs like the one I run are harder to come by. Never mind that with each passing year, the numbers of people we serve are on the rise.
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To some degree I believe we are all still stuck in the days of yesterday where it’s easier to see race as a barrier rather than class. We need to start having an honest dialogue and talk about the fact that poverty and its ripple effects are bad for all kids, not just poor Black kids!

Finance 101 for the poor…

I work with the poor, I have for many years. While its emotionally rewarding work to make a difference in the lives of others, truth is I don’t make much money. Over the years many of my coworkers despite their degrees have not been much better off than the clients we serve. At one shelter I used to work at in Chicago, one of my coworkers often had to grab a bag of food from the shelves we fed folks from since he often ran short before payday.

Over the years, the only coworkers I have had who were not financially struggling were ones who were either partnered to partners who earned a good income or the do-gooders who came from well off families, otherwise folks were broke. Lets just say no one goes into social services for the money.

Regular readers know I am struggling with cash, in part I work in a low paying but rewarding field and despite the fact that I am management, I know for a fact that a management position at a burger flipping gig, would pay me more. But I love my work and thankfully when the economy picks up my side business should pick back up as well.

So with all this talk of money, I found myself sitting in a class last night on financial management. Now the class was for our clients, problem is none of our clients showed up instead those who showed up were fellow service providers. See we make no money and need help.

Problem was that the class assumed everyone was solidly middle class and merely bad at managing money and needed to rethink their relationship to money. However the supposed target audience is not middle class, these are folks who if they do work are working at minimum wage gigs, type of gigs that don’t offer any extra money.

Which leads to my vent….how come there are no financial management classes for folks with no money? Look, bulk shopping does indeed save money. I know because normally I tend to stock up and thanks to that stocking up for the last few months, I have been eating out of my deep freezer thus keeping my grocery costs down with money so tight.

Problem is now that I am running a grand short every month, stocking up is not something I can do…sort of like my clients. Yet the teacher of the class despite saying anyone can benefit from her class, had a lack of understanding about how the poor truly live.

Another example was that if you save $100 a year, in3-4 years that can turn into thousands of dollars. See eventually you can get yourself a sewing machine and sew your clothes, maybe even some crafts to sell. Buy a deep freezer, and stock up and so on.

Look, really poor people have a tendency to not only suffer from a lack of cash, in many cases they suffer from a lack of time….its easy to get a handle on your cash if the problem is you are eating too many meals out and just wasting money. Problem is for the truly poor and look while my cash is tight, even I will acknowledge I am not poor…I just feel like it. The truly poor suffer from a al around lack of resources and that includes time.

Yet as I sat in this class with my mind wandering, I found myself thinking we need former poor people (not I was a millionaire who went bankrupt and now I am wealthy folks) giving out the advice. So if you or someone you know was poor, I am talking minimum wage level of poverty and you pulled yourself up, I would love to hear your tips. I am thinking of designing a class myself for my clients and would love some input.

Off to work  I go…happy Hump Day.

Driven to steal

I hesitate to post this because while I am not breaking any issues of confidentiality, as the director of the center I work at, I should probably keep my trap shut. However we are living in difficult times and well I think as times get rough we will see folks doing some desperate shit despite whatever the fallout may be.

My center serves low income, at risk kids and their families. The primary program we offer is an after-school program along with some other programming, its really a safe haven in an area that lacks for quality kids programming for the low income crowd.

We have a family, that has been involved for a while, several of their kids attend our program, on the surface the family seemed like good folks. I had no reason to have an unfavorable opinion about that, I know they struggle financially but truthfully considering that the area we serve has poverty rates that start at 50% and up depending on the block you happen to be on, its safe to say that most of the families we serve are struggling to make ends meet.

Well we have had a fund-raising activity going on, I can’t describe it since it would give away too much information but lets just say its a big activity and respective families can sell a certain product and raise a lot of money. Money that goes towards a really great cause. Well this family I noticed had not been around for the past few weeks, which I thought was strange but knowing how transient low income folks can be, it really did not register as strange on my radar. That was until yesterday, when it was brought to my attention via the group we are partnered with, that this family seems to have raised a lot of money in the name of the cause but have yet to turn in the money, folks are mad because they have not gotten the product and coupled with the fact that the kids have been MIA from the program, you can see where I am going with this.

So I called the family and basically was given a convoluted story that sounded crazy, but the bottom line is they don’t have the money and there are a lot of folks who spent money to get a product who won’t be getting. From my professional perspective, I have no idea how we will handle this. On the other hand from a personal perspective, I see a family that most likely started out with good intentions, the money started coming in and temptation arrived at their door.

I was reminded of a time many years ago when I was married to the now former spousal unit when we made some less than correct choices in order to stave off the collectors, buy Pampers, etc. Times when I stretched the truth and did what I had to do to survive. Its one of the reasons that when I heard this situation, I just wanted to talk to the family because I have been poor and I know lack of resources will make you do some really questionable shit including stealing from a kids group. Thankfully I never did anything on that magnitude but the line between this family and where I once was 15-16 years ago was not that great.

I think that as the economy spirals out of control, good people may find themselves tempted to do all sorts of shit they ought not to do and I am not talking taking a few paperclips from your job. However these same hard times while they can bring out the bad in us can also serve as a way to find the good in ourselves and we need to seek that good at a time when we can no longer count on the mall trips and other things to make us feel good about ourselves.

As for the family, well…I don’t know what will happen. If their kids come back they will be welcomed since its not my policy to turn away kids but I wish the parents would come clean.

Romanticizing poverty.. no, it really sucks

Thanks for the well wishes, its really boosted my spirits to know that folks actually read this blog. Its my space to blow steam and let loose, its funny because my day gig involves writing but I really enjoy blog writing since I can just write in a stream of consciousness, and not get bogged down with grammar and shit.

Today as I called the local health clinic again (aka, the place ya go when you got no health insurance) I was reminded of the many folks I know in real life and online who sometimes like to romanticize poverty or being broke. Well as I called yet again trying to get through to my provider, being put on hold again and basically being treated like my time is not valuable because well I don’t have health insurance, clearly I must have an hour to sit on hold. (yesterday I lost 4-5 billable client hours waiting to get a callback from these jokers since a client asked me to attend a meeting on their behalf but I was trying to see the doctor yesterday instead I am still waiting  for a callback)  I was reminded of why being broke sucks donkey balls as my teenager would say.

Now I know even when you have health insurance, you can still can get treated shabbily, overall though as an adult once I got health insurance, my experience has been if I call and say I am ill, the front office folks work to get me seen right away. Well this little clinic in my area that works on a sliding scale (see, its not free.. I do pay something) clearly believes if clients are having a medical emergency they can just avail themselves of the emergency room. Now I don’t know about you but for me the ER is the place you go when you think you are in imminent danger and need help right away. Maybe its because the spousal unit spent years as a medical writer coupled with my social service background, but frankly too often folks of limited means use the ER and its not the best place to go. Yes, I am not well but I know the ER is not where I need to go.

So as my head has been too hazy to work and I have spent most of this week on hold, I was reminded of folks I have met who think being broke is cool, that living off less is fine. Well the events of the past several days reminded me that while frugality is cool, not having enough to meet your needs really sucks. Growing up I rarely saw a dentist, why you ask? My folks had no cash to pay and no dental insurance, at 17 I had to get a tooth that could have been repaired pulled because it was more affordable for my parents. I spent my 20′s spending thousands of dollars fixing my teeth and getting then in shape. Now I know my folks did the best they could, but as parents it was their responsibility to take care of basic needs. To me dental care is a need not a want since bad dental hygiene can have repercussions health wise.

No, when you are broke in America it means not having enough and not having enough especially when it relates to health-care can have disastrous effects. Its one thing to earn just enough money to get by and needing to be frugal, we can all benefit from a bit more frugality in our lives. Yet knowing folks who rely on food pantries every month to feed their kids and who are ok with that, well that’s plain old fucked the fuck up.

As for me, I am going to try and be patient and also thankful that while this time is humbling, the reality is I will have health insurance again next month so getting my medical needs addressed in a timely fashion will happen soon enough, I just need to get through this month. So here’s hoping a sista doesn’t keel over anytime too soon.

Being poor and a lifetime legacy

The past few days I have been hanging at a fellow blogger’s site where the issue of Black woman and money came up. Its one of those times where a blog reading really hit a place in me and made me sit back and think, rather than trying to continue that dialogue at the other bloggers spot, I figured I would let that conversation serve as a launching pad here at my house, casa Black Girl.

In many of my postings I have made clear reference to the fact that I grew up as I like to say poor on a bad day, working class on a good day. My little brother can attest to the fact that ours was a house that getting real Oreos and real Frosted Flakes was cause for celebration, in hard times we once had to resort to using newspaper because we had no toilet paper and mustard in tuna because that’s all we had to eat and to this day I hate English muffins because they remind me of food we got once from a food pantry. Yet in the midst of hard times my folks worked to keep me and later my brother motivated to make decisions in our life that would chart a different course for us and considering that they turned out 2 decent adults, they did an ok job. However there were some life skills they didn’t have and therefore didn’t pass on to either of us and both of us still are paying the price for their lack of financial skills.

See, my folks rarely had 2 nickels to rub together, pretty much in 33 years together they lived paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes affording tony areas like Chicago’s Lincoln Park, though when we lived there, we had no furniture and slept on the floor. However living in a good area does make doors open since as a young child I had access to great parks, the zoo and museums and more importantly good schools. Unlike by the time my folks moved to the south-side of Chicago in the late 80′s when gang warfare made the area park a place that you avoided at all costs. An area that lacked a full service grocery store and the library was inadequate, a place with nothing for kids to do since going out and playing wasn’t all that safe.

Anyway living paycheck to paycheck mostly off my Dad’s earnings since my Mama was a stay at home Mom for many years meant, there was just enough money, never extra and sometimes not even enough. We never took a family vacation, closest we ever came was the family reunion on years that my folks could scare up the gas money and staying at a hotel… well I never stayed at a hotel until I was an adult staying on my own dime.  The way my folks lived meant they didn’t use banks, they either cashed checks on the bank the checks were drawn or they used the check cashing joints which in Chicago are known as currency exchanges. I don’t ever recall seeing my parents sit down and write out checks, I only recall one time they had a checking account and it was a short lived affair. No, they got money orders to pay bills at the currency exchange, I recall the times when they didn’t have enough to make ends meet and seeing Mama on the phone with the utility company trying to keep a utility from being shut off.

Watching the way they lived meant in my early adult years I modeled the behavior that was shown to me, for years I didn’t have a bank account. I lived in a cash economy, when the spousal unit and I started dating I remember he was stunned that I didn’t have a checking account. At the time, I was making good money as a sales rep, living in a nice area of Chicago yet I still handled my finances the same way I had seen my parents. It had never even dawned on me to open up a bank account, though it was not long after we started dating that I decided to change course and use a bank rather than a mattress for saving money. On a slightly different note though, if the economy keeps going the way it is, more of us may be going back to that mattress.

In my early adulthood I often chose to buy at places that advertised low monthly payments rather than paying attention to the long term, again it was because it was the behavior modeled to me and it wasn’t until I was exposed to anything else that I realized there were other options.

I share this because over the years especially in my lines of work  when I did direct service human services work, I would encounter folks who didn’t get why po folks made the choices they did, why go to rent a center and be overcharged when  in a few months you could save and own a TV outright? Well as someone who has been in various places economically, I understand all too well the focus on short term fulfillment over waiting. Being poor sucks plain and simple. Life is hard when you are poor and sometimes the need for some sort of frivolity is what keeps you sane even when its not in your best interest. I suspect this is one of the reasons for addiction issues being high in areas of scarcity, folks wanting an escape and often cheap booze, drugs or cigarettes provides that momentary relief. Or some choose to have tv’s and gaming systems to keep them sane.

Yet what about folks who are no longer poor yet still engage in poor folk behavior? Honestly and I say this as a parent, I think the way we are raised impactsus more than most of us would like to say. For me having kids over the years has brought back a lot of the memories of scarcity. One of the worst memories I have is of being 10 and taking ballet lessons which by some miracle we got for free, yet at recital time my folks didn’t have the money for the outfit so Moms rigged something up courtesy of the thrift shop, as you can guess I was laughed at. Its those memories that for many years drove me to overspend in regards to my son’s needs and making sure he would never be the laughingstock. Its those memories that for years drove my desire for designer purses. It was my way of saying I am just as good as so and so.

Thankfully I have dealt with those demons for the most part but they still rear their ugly heads from time to time though just last month, they resurfaced when mini me was interviewed for a swanky Montessori preschool. So I know they still exist its just that I am in a place where I have learned to identify them and work on them.

Frankly I think financial education should be taught in high school, seriously how many folks don’t know how to properly balance a checkbook? I have friends who grew up with abundance who regularly bounce checks because they don’t keep track of things. The difference between them and a poor person is that my friends have access to resources and can transfer money from a savings account, wait till payday or get a loan from the parents. Options that folks on the edge don’t have.  In the ideal world, parents would teach their kids these things and I know I do, along with other fundamentals like cooking and taking care of oneself. I didn’t learn domestic skills at home since my folks wanted me to aspire to higher places yet when I found myself at 18 and married, it was a hard lesson to learn. I also suspect that if more folks actually knew how to cook from scratch at an elementary level we would all be better off health-wise. 

Poverty does not stop just because one stops residing there physically, the lessons that are often modeled for a child growing up poor still live within you even when you become a college educated professional. By the same token my observations of folks who grew up with privilege regardless of race, even if they hit hard times the lessons that were modeled to them still reside in them. Our upbringing impacts us more than we realize which is why for those of us raising kids, we must be mindful of the lessons we model for our kids.