Kill the poor police!

I grew up in a house with no cable television (granted cable barely existed when I was younger) and we rarely ever had more than one television set at a time. Most of the time, our televisions were only black and white and if we were lucky we were able to receive more than five channels. So it’s no surprise that I am really not a big television person.

My first taste of cable TV came in 1991 in my first apartment but I quickly realized I couldn’t afford it and pretty much didn’t have cable again until the late 1990’s when I married the Spousal Unit. The man was pretty attached to the idea of cable television and since cost wasn’t an issue, I said why not? By and large though television ain’t my thing, I prefer to kill my brain cells on the internet.

When it comes to actual television sizes, I have never owned a television larger than 27 inches and that one was gifted to us. I currently own two television sets, a 10+ year old 13 inch and a 22 inch which in TV land both are considered small and seen as strange. I learned this tidbit when my old 13 inch died last year and I went to buy a replacement and after walking around Best Buy I actually had to ask where the small sets were and the clerk looked at me like I was an alien. I did learn though that smaller television sets weren’t terribly inexpensive and that larger sets were probably a better deal.

All that said, many people like television and for people with limited financial resources television is often seen as one of their only forms of entertainment. After all, TV can entertain all the family members and is fairly economical compared to things like museum visits, outings to theaters, and visits to a first run movie theater. I mean have you been to a museum lately? A few months back, the seven year old and I went to the Museum of Science in Boston, just to walk in the door for one of us was over $20! By the time I splurged for 2 inexpensive add on’s in addition to our admission, I was out $60!

The reason I have TV on the brain is that last night while cooking dinner I was listening to Marketplace Money as I do most Sunday nights. The subject was how the poor spend money which considering that I work with low income families, definitely caught my attention. The first family interviewed was a young family with 4 kids, living in a government subsidized house, dad was the stay at home parent and mom worked since the childcare costs if both parents worked, meant work didn’t pay off. Nothing surprising there since childcare costs are crazy and if you need to put multiple kids in childcare unless you are a higher wage earner, in many instances even breaking even would be a dream.

What really caught my attention was that Tess Vigeland, the host of Marketplace Money questioned the family on why they had not one but two larger sized televisions and cable television. It seems the family paid less than $200 total for both sets and cable is their only luxury.

Funny thing is Tess’s question is in line with the questions that many ask of the poor, how they can afford cable, large TV’s, internet and cell phones. What I want to know is on what planet are people living on and when did the poor police become a very real thing?

Being poor sucks, I know this first hand since only in the good years of my childhood were we even working class. The thing is growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s it was a different world. One where getting a job only required going into a business and filling out an application. Televisions only required rabbit ears and back in the good old days things like TV’s were actually expensive.

The funny thing is that many of the items that are considered “luxuries”, but only for the well-heeled actually aren’t very expensive at all. A pay as you go smartphone via AT&T can be had for a mere $65 a month which apparently includes unlimited texts, calls and 1 GB of data for email access and browsing. Call me crazy but that isn’t too bad of a deal especially if said smartphone also serves as one’s only phone line. Hell I pay almost $30 a month just to keep my home land-line.

However the poverty police believe that proper poor people are not worthy of things such as communication devices, never mind maybe the poor person wants to better their lot in life? Sorry, you are shit out of luck. I admit I get ragey when I hear people being judged for things like internet access at home. Have you actually used the internet at the public library? Assuming you are in walking distance of your local library which many aren’t (when I last lived in Chicago, getting to my local library was either a drive or a ride on the bus), most libraries have time limits on using their computers. These limits tend to range from 30-60 minutes which if you are looking for an actual job is nothing and if you have homework, you may not have time to get the work done. Even in the lower grades of elementary school it’s not uncommon at times for assignments to be given that require access to the internet.

I am sorry, but in 2012 if you don’t have consistent access to the internet you are at a distinct disadvantage. Hell, even the daily newspapers (provided you still have one of those in your area…New Orleans Picayune anyone?) aren’t cheap. So are we basically saying that the poor don’t deserve knowledge and access to useful things and maybe even a little entertainment?

While I personally am not big on TV, even I own one and I actually pay for basic cable or extended cable because sometimes I don’t want to be online but knowing what’s happening is a useful thing and both of my kids like to watch, okay, primarily the little one.

Policing poor people is dehumanizing and frankly doesn’t do anything towards creating a more just and equitable world. Instead of judging the ways that the poor and financially insecure try to survive in a world where the deck is stacked against them, how about looking at the systems that keep people poor and create imbalances where wealth is held by few and most of us are closer to those poor folks we try to police.

PS: Many question why the poor even have kids but had my own parents used that logic I wouldn’t be here. I am glad they chose to have my brother and I even though they didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

2 thoughts on “Kill the poor police!”

  1. Agreed – I think that so much of it is a reflexive action, one where if the interviewer/reporter/whomever can figure out something that the family is doing ‘wrong’, then they can reassure themselves that they’ll never find themselves in that kind of precarious position. We do the same thing with health, unemployment, divorce – anything where we can fall prey to bad luck but really want to feel like we’d be able to stay in control if it happened to us.

    I was glad that the online version of the story linked to a piece on the psychology of poverty that points out how exhausting it is, and how a lot of the ‘good’ decisions that poor people make don’t get seen. But it’s annoying that those messages have to come from a ‘Harvard researcher’ before they get taken seriously in the story.

  2. I heard the market place money yesterday and I was surprised that even after she heard how cheap the TVs were she went on to ask an expert how they afforded those TVs. And the family explained that cable was the only way they spent entertainment dollars. They had certainly weeded out other things (I may be mixing up two families) but it didn’t sound like they were being spenders in any way.

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