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The Voice of Poverty and Disability

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How being poor sucks (a personal example)

  • davidthegnome (1423 posts)
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    How being poor sucks (a personal example)

    So, for those here who don’t know me – a little background.

    About a year ago I did something to my back (not entirely sure what – Doctor said it was muscle damage and referred me to physical therapy I can’t afford/no insurance, etc.) and haven’t been able to move quite the same way since. I worked another six or seven months until it got so bad that I couldn’t anymore, had to leave early one night because of it and the boss (I was a bartender at the time) very kindly let me go.

    I’ve been unemployed now since… March, I think. Last week, my sister who manages a nearby restaurant helped me get a dish washing job. I’m in rough shape – but that matters less to me now than my need for money, to at least make my car payment, if nothing else. I’ve been living with my parents and they’ve been helping with pretty much everything. I do chores around the house, take care of the dog, help my sister out with her baby and drive my mom around… got some things to keep me busy but… I am getting sick of feeling like a burden.

    Monday I worked in the busiest kitchen I’d ever been in, washing dishes and trying to keep up with teenagers (I’m 32 – and not in very good shape) on what was probably the busiest night of the year for that particular restaurant. I don’t think there was a single part of my body that didn’t hurt for a few days afterwards, but I felt pretty optimistic about it overall. It was money, you know? (Minimum wage is better than nothing) Started at 10:30 AM, didn’t stop till around 10:30 PM.  This was on the Fourth of July.
    I was covered in water, filth, sweat, and my back felt like someone had been beating it with a hammer, but I felt good – I made it through the double shift, at various points I felt like I was going to pass out – but I didn’t.

    They told me that, before I can go back in, they’ll need two forms of ID – a driver’s license and a birth certificate or something. Pretty standard. So, as I haven’t gotten paid for Monday yet (two weeks until that happens) I had to ask my Father for a few bucks for a copy of my birth certificate. I remembered it costing seven dollars, he thought it would be five – but gave me a ten just in case (there is a point to this, which I’m getting to).

    So I got to the town office right around closing time (4:25 – they close at 4:30), smiled at the clerk, and asked for a copy of my birth certificate. She didn’t smile. She gave me a “I can’t wait until I’m out of here” look, then asked for a picture ID. I put it down on the counter, and she told me it would be fifteen dollars for a birth record.

    I think my eyes must have been trying to pop out of my head when I said “Wow, was only seven the last time I got one…” She gave me a pretty nasty look and said, “Well Sir, you must have gotten it a long time ago. When I started here back in 2010 it was ten dollars, and it’s gone up by 2.50 twice since then.” I shrugged, nodded, told her I’d have to come back later – and went to leave. There were a few other people at the office, some looking at me with pity, others with mild contempt. Heard one man grumble something about bums and welfare – not sure what that had to do with me, but in any event…

    As I was heading for the door, she called after me, “You can use your debit card if you want, it’s a dollar more.” I winced inwardly, feeling pretty shitty about myself and said, “No money on that either, but thank you.” I hurried to get out of the building as quickly as I could after that.

    So on my way home (I live thirty miles away from town – with my parents) I spent some time in idle reflection. The last time I got a birth certificate was more than ten years ago, so of course the price had gone up. The price of almost everything has gone up since then.

    Hmm, maybe what I mean to say is I felt like wallowing in self pity – and did. Thinking to myself how, throughout my life, I have rarely been anything but broke or almost broke, even when I worked full time or over time – now it’ll be a struggle just to work part time. Now I can’t go in to work tomorrow because I don’t have that damned birth record. In any event, if you will forgive the venting (and even if you won’t)…

    I am tired of the looks I get when people realize I am unemployed. I am tired of being rejected by potential dates before they even know my name. I am tired of being broke. I am tired of the pain I feel on a daily basis. I am tired of having to ask my family for money every time I need anything. I am also, I think… just tired in general – and maybe sick in the head, too.

    I feel a bit like an ogre right now. Like all I want to do is find a nice rock to crawl under and hide my shame and my ugliness from the world. Maybe it’s that thing about there being no poor people in America – only temporarily embarrassed millionaires – as they say. I mean, I’m depressed and have almost daily panic attacks – so I’m obviously somewhat neurotic to begin with, but this shit is making me worse.

    I don’t think I can put into words just how strongly I despise money – but also, just how much I despise myself for being weak, poor and out of work. I don’t know if society has convinced me that I am a loser – or if I actually am one. I have spent a fair amount of time debating that very question with myself.

    I’m not the worst off of Americans, I have a place to live, food and so on – but you know, I’ve gotta say, I never pictured my life going this way. Always figured I’d be happily married with three kids by now, maybe a teacher or something. The simple truth is though, I’m too tired, too weak, too depressed and too frustrated to accomplish what I want to. On the other hand… I tried, for years, I tried very hard – I busted my ass.

    So maybe I’m more of a failure than a loser.

    Okay, momentarily shelving the self pity….

    This is why we need progressive reform not just in our government, but in our society. Poverty is so often seen (and even felt by those who experience it) as some kind of character flaw, moral failing. It is assumed that if we do not have money, we are useless. It is assumed that if we receive help, or don’t work forty-eighty-one hundred hours a week… we are lazy. It is often automatically assumed that poor people are all just gaming the system, not actually poor.

    My own circumstances be damned – I have known many single parents trying to raise children in even worse situations than I am in right now. I have heard people grumble about drug testing welfare recipients, about how terrible food stamps are, about their tax dollars going to waste on helping people they think are lazy good for nothings. I am tired of it. Damn tired of it.

    I wish they could walk a mile in my shoes – or, better yet, in the shoes of a single parent who does receive assistance, works full time – and can barely get by even so. If they knew what the hell they were talking about – they would use very different words. Instead of lazy, we would hear “heroic”. Instead of useless, we would hear, “struggling”, instead of unemployed, perhaps we might hear, “A decent human being”.

    Our safety net is catching fewer people with every passing year… and it is all the worse in states like Maine, with very republican governors. There just aren’t options, there is frequently no alternative to suffering – and even to despair. Somehow, we’ve got to create one.

    Pardon my ranting and long-winded manner of getting to the point… but, my point is just this: Living with poverty is hard enough without being judged and despised for it. Without social constructs and our fellow human beings thinking – and even telling us, that we are worthless due to the simple fact of being broke.

    I would say that it is a damned heroic struggle of epic proportions to struggle by in today’s world, with or without a job. It is a damned heroic struggle of epic proportions to live each day with the knowledge that nothing is likely to get better any time soon. It is even more so, to dare to believe, to hope that we can change, that our lives, our Country, even our world, can be made better.

    I am exhausted, sad – and not feeling terribly good about myself at the moment. It just seems to me that there is too much wrongheaded thinking in the world – and worse, a lot of people just don’t give a flying fuck about any circumstances other than their own.

    My hope here at JPR, is that we can do something (however small or large) to fight the real war that should be fought. The war on poverty, the war to save ourselves from a society that has made money God.

    Thank you for reading.
    (Note: This was cross posted from GD – as a couple other posts will be shortly)

    jwirr, roody, mntleo2 and 21 othersVoiceOfReason, LiberalArkie, Haikugal, FanBoy, grouchomarxist, avaistheone1, melurkyoulongtime, em77, atomic, frylock, countryjake, polly7, irisblue, Enthusiast, KarenS, Downwinder, Coyote Walks, GoodWitch, Dragonfli, TIME TO PANIC, djean111 like this
    “There is no distinctly native American criminal class save Congress.” - Mark Twain

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12 replies
  • Enthusiast (11183 posts)
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    1. I'm sorry about the dilemma you are in, David.

    I will never forgive those in “our” party that contributed to the dismantling of the social safety net and shipping our jobs overseas. I hold Bill Clinton in the same regard that I feel about Rush Limbaugh.

    When I had a hip replacement in 2007, or whenever it was, I had a job but no insurance. My wife had insurance but they would not pay for one second of physical therapy. So I had no physical therapy. I didn’t need much in the way of physical therapy but add insurance companies to my shit list anyway.

    In the 1980s I went through a serious back incident. No one can possibly understand this until it happens to them. And the only silver lining? It often does happen to them.

    After my back issue was corrected two guys I know suddenly came down with very difficult back problems of their own. They both said almost the exact same thing to me, “Damn, now I know what you mean about your back pain!” I seriously believe they thought I was faking it. Which is sort of stupid because I continued to work and never even applied for worker’s comp or disability. I had surgery and it was the surgery that allowed me to get over my back problems.

    I have a number of other health issues but I wanted to relate those two incidents because of how they related to your situation, to a small extent.

    The wealthy have always said the poor were lazy, always. The ones that say it the loudest are those that inherited their wealth. As far ago as Dickensian England and probably before the well off have looked askance on the poor. And just as with an injured back, they won’t understand it until it  happens to them.

    "The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything. There would be no place to hide."  Frank Church "When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it." - Frederic Bastiat, 1848
    • FanBoy (7983 posts)
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      6. It's terrible that the silver lining = "It often happens to them".

      People imagine there’s some big well of “help” out there, and think they personally fund all of it.  If they only knew, the main people getting the “help” are those who work for the “helping” agencies.

      The salary of one mostly useless administrator in our program is almost equal to the minimal cash “stipend” all the clients in my program combined get for working 20 hours a week (minimum wage).

      And I haven’t see one person in my program who wasn’t able to work pretty well, and some at very high levels.


  • cleverflamingo (133 posts)
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    2. you lay it out so well

    I can relate to just about everything you have written here. You express it so eloquently.  You and dragonfli both speak the truths of poverty so well, I don’t know what I can add except a heartfelt, Right on! For the whole of my adult life, I have lived right on (and off) the edge. Even during the “good” times, the abyss is within view.  I am in a good period at the moment, employed and making rent, BUT my car is about to die (my dashboard looks like an xmas tree), every stitch of clothing I have has a hole or is threadbare, an outstanding warrant for my vehicle  inspection sticker, and as a result of that, an out of date ID, etc ad nauseum…. you understand those endless cascades of Official obstacles. I also have severe back issues, carpal tunnel in both hands, bad hips and feet, I work as a waitress. I am good at it, but i HATE it and I have to keep my hours low or I snap (and/or can’t walk). I could make more money and be more comfortable financially if I worked more, but the physical and emotional toll of that outweighs the money. There are no other jobs that offer the $/hr +schedule flexibility, plus restaurants understand broken people (sad lol, they create many of them)…. Anyway, I am rambling at this point…. It shouldn’t be so hard. It’s like juggling live hand grenades. You keep them all going as long as you can, but inevitably, something happens and the timing gets off, or life throws a new one in and the whole thing comes crashing down with devastating results…. It shouldn’t be so hard.


    Thanks for writing it out so accurately and emotionally, and for creating this place.  I hope it can help all of us. :hugs:


  • grouchomarxist (240 posts)
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    3. lots of people in your shoes

    i was disabled for years and the stigma was nearly unbearable.  you learn not to care what people think.

    ironic that someone like you should be stuck in the diswashing job.  it’s a weird catch-22 i’ve discovered: the easier jobs can use your handicap to discriminate against you, while the harder ones, that no one wants, can’t use you at all.  totally backwards.  you’d think the state would intervene to keep people off the disability rolls, but instead they keep slashing them.  i gave a scathing review to voc rehab recently (“totally useless”) and have been lobbying my congresspeople as well.

    i wash dishes too and feel absolutely no urge to keep up with anyone.  i don’t think you should either.  just go at a steady, respectable pace, and if they call you lazy, smile and ignore it.  i’m sure you’re creating plenty of value for the franchise already.

    most people haven’t had our setbacks, and if they judge you, they’re obviously ignorant.

    • FanBoy (7983 posts)
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      5. I agree — voc rehab apparently does no rehab whatsoever anymore — nor do

      they help people find jobs.

      They give you a useless test of what you’re supposedly good at and then say “now go find a job” while pawning you off to a private agency which pays its employees diddley.

      that’s the story in my state, anyway.

      • grouchomarxist (240 posts)
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        7. where i live

        they’ll make at least a half-assed attempt to keep you in the ablebodied labor market.  but otherwise our stories are exactly the same.

        i didn’t get a test until about three years into the program and then the advice was just, “hey here’s a fafsa now find yourself a place to study”.  i think my counselor means well but his hands are tied by the lack of resources & available interventions.

  • FanBoy (7983 posts)
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    4. I hear you; I'm in a similar situation, and it's very hard to keep one's chin

    up and keep plugging away.  The unconcern and outright cruelty of human beings is one of the worst features; for myself, it’s the worst.  Plus (for myself) knowing that the situation is *engineered* to be so, while so many folks are telling me it’s something about ME that’s the problem: I’m flawed somehow: stupid, lazy, crazy, whatever they got.

    In my case, family that I’m now dependent on rubbing it in about how I’ve been a failure since the git go and they were always right…makes me hate them and want to go shoot myself (not really, but close).

    Then there’s the cruelty of those who are paid to HELP – and imagine themselves to be some kind of expert, which if I’d just do what they tell me….

    E.g. the folks who get a decent salary to “find jobs” for us lesser mortals but wind up finding the same jobs I found myself, only weeks later, when they’re already filled….I find this person on the internet polishing her own resume by participating in Rotary and such with all the other upper middle class “bright lights” that make me puke my dinner…  That give me useless advice about my resume etc as if having the wrong format (functional v. chronological v. whatever…) was going to be a big dealbreaker…

    The problem is actually FEW FREAKING JOBS IN THIS TOWN & I’m old.  But they can’t get paid for that so they waste our time giving safety lectures and taking stupid quizzes and supposedly “upgrading our skills”.

    Fuck em all.  I’ve met two people in the “helping” business who were real humans, the rest are some kind of aliens, or on their way to it.

    • grouchomarxist (240 posts)
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      8. sorry to read this

      where i am they say there’s nobody to do the work and then hire seasonal workers from overseas & work them into the ground for minimum wage.  it’s utterly disgusting.  i can’t believe that everyone over the age of 50 isn’t even worth minimum wage.

      the victim blaming is hella old too: depression is the NORMAL response to our life situation.  however you might feel on 200 mg daily of prozac most certainly is NOT.

      • FanBoy (7983 posts)
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        9. I have a couple of advanced degrees, but I'm too dumb to do anything without

        their (the for-profit corps’) useless “training” — by people with no advanced degrees (not that I think degrees are the be-all and end-all — just that they’re supposed to mean you’re not completely moronic, anyway….)

        • grouchomarxist (240 posts)
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          10. the labor market is really effed up and i don't know what we can do about it

          i’m in the position i am now because everyone wants to hire people with experience.  in the meantime i’m too smart for the job and am making everyone around me miserable for it.  there has to be a breaking point but i don’t know what that is.  i’m sure people find my nihilistic attitude regarding the workplace tiresome, but it’s an impossible situation.  i just can’t bring myself to care anymore.

          • VoiceOfReason (985 posts)
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            11. "Personal responsibility"

            Reagan started this stigmatization of the underclass.  RW media and talk radio talked about it all the time.  They then turned avarice into a virtue.  666.

            "Men who do evil brilliantly are often admired"  Voltaire BERN BABY BERN!!  War is madness!
  • FanBoy (7983 posts)
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    12. as i have a similar situation and very similar feelings and recently went

    through a long down period for similar reasons — just now coming out of it — I know how you feel

    for myself, what helps is to not take on what I imagine or even ‘know’ the meaning that others ascribe to me or my existence — and to be wary that I’m not ascribing to others the meaning I myself have assigned to my existence — and to watch my thoughts/my thinking and know that’s all it is, just thoughts and my mind going because that’s what minds do, they make thoughts.  but those are just thoughts, like a machine cranks out product x, my mind cranks out thoughts — not necessarily truth — often remnants of my aching shoulder or last nights dinner e.g, or my own life experience

    I’m not expressing it well, but it does help after a while — I find I can let things go more easily and not live in them and agonize over them and exacerbate them with my own reactivity — when I do the work and stay with them instead of trying to push them away in fear.  they tend to dissolve like clouds which is essentially what they are

    and I hear you on the need for a war on poverty — which is actually when put into practice a war against a lot of other social ills as well — it’s the stress and fear of rising inequality that turns people into self-interesting machines to a large degree

    wishing you peace, better health and a good work experience