Differences between life when you're poor and life when you're middle class



That’s a nice blog post. I read the entire post and skimmed the comments. Very interesting.

My family struggled but we were not truly poor. Even though we did not have a lot of money, my parents valued education and I went to some great schools. I always had a future.

When I was 9 years old, my family moved to a very rural area of Alabama. For middle school, I attended the local public school. The way they structured the classes was pretty non-progressive: they had each grade divided into tiers (not out loud but it was clear this is how it was done) so there was the really stupid kids tier, the middle performing kids tier, and the high achievers tiers - all these kids had the same classes together. It was also easy to spot the social class differences between these three tiers.

I was at that school for 2 years. The first year I was stuck in the middle tier, because that’s how they did it with the new kids. There were some really poor but super smart kids in that class, and some smart richer kids who were just lazy - plus a few kids that were genuinely middle of the road. I became friends with a couple of the smart, poor kids.

In these families, the family dynamics revolve not around the most promising person in the family but around the biggest fuck up. The drunk mom or the brother who married when he was 13 years old drags the entire family down with their drama. It was tough to see how these promising people were really stuck because of their loyalty to families that did nothing to help them - and where would they be without their families, when they had so little? I’m not sure how you give someone in this situation hope to escape.


The piece illustrates well why our new gilded age of feudal inequality isn’t a “jobless recovery” any more than it was a “great recession.”

The financialization of the economy and the corporate capture of the federal government have created a seemingly irreversible siphoning away of hope for more than half the country. When there seems to be no hope, it’s beyond depression, emotional or economic. We’re living in The Great Despair.


I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.

That was the only graf that bugged me, because of the false dichotomy. Not blowing $5 at Wendy’s might not make much difference this week, but it can mean the difference between getting crap clothes that’ll wear out in a hurry, and slightly better clothes that’ll last longer. Or save for a crockpot. When our kids were babies and we were both working crazy hours, my wife and I ate sooooo much stuff out of a crockpot.

Now, having said that…okay, so my memory of growing up was of being poor, but I have no idea how poor mom and dad were at their lowest. Given that dad had woodworking tools in his shed, and that they bought a house shortly after dad took a factory job, probably not very. I was surrounded all through childhood by folks who had that same defeatist attitude, though. The thing that made them different was that none of them were poor and going further into debt to pay for college, so they could not only excuse the smoking habit, they could excuse spending several evenings drinkin’.

And of course, if not for my parents being responsible and then saving up for my education, and then parents and grandparents helping out, we’d be in the same boat as the author. We probably will be soon anyway.

My wife and I got our start at just the right time, because we were able to get accounts easily. Now that we have a credit rating, right now we’re coasting along, scrapin’ by, but we have a poor-by-SF-standards-but-middle-class-by-local-standards income so we’re living comfortably. We’re extremely fortunate. When I worked at a big-box retailer, we were paid in cash. I had to look to my parents when they switched to paychecks, because I couldn’t do it on my own. I don’t know what the poorer folks there did. Nowadays so many employers want to deposit straight into your bank account.

I hope this person’s schooling pays off. It sounds like hell. To think I was grousing when I had one job and was only able to see my kids in the morning…

This was a fantastic piece! thanks for posting it. I think it addresses some of the why of poverty pretty well.

I too grew up pretty poor, though not entirely. My parents always called us “lower middle class”, but in reality, we were probably upper working class. We didn’t own a house until I was about 13, and that was with help from my grandparents. It also probably helped that where we lived the cost of living was not too high. My dad worked in factories all his life, up to a couple of years before he died, when he was constantly struggling to make ends meet. and my mom worked in retail until pretty recently when her health began to decline. They divorced a few years ago.

Parts of my family have slipped into or are slipping into poverty. Other parts are doing okay. I’d say I’m firmly middle class now, but I know that many people around are not, even people I’m related to–and there is only so much we can do on a personal level. There are other members of my family who are doing well and they refuse to help out others–because, in their minds, poverty is a personal decision, not a systemic problem. There political and social orientation tells them that. They are doing well, through solely their own efforts, so others can do the same.

I don’t know how this is going to get fixed, but as long as we have this entrenched poverty, the economy is not going to really recover. While Wall street and the tech companies might be making huge profits, in reality, we still live in a mass production-consumption economy. Until we have a population that can spend without ending up out on the street, we’re screwed. But, hey, the powers that be don’t care, as long as the right people are growing their wealth and endlessly accumulating their capital, that’s all that matters to them, and they are the ones who write our laws now.

Edited for grammar/clarity…


Rather than leave this as an edit, I don’t know if anyone will read beyond that one story so here’s a followup from the author. It’s a sad story, but the happy part is that she’s got some money to apply toward writing a book.


The whole thing reads like a parody. Is she for real? What does Planned Parenthood have to do with this? What does the Patriot Act have to do with this?
“Broccoli is intimidating?”
This has to be a joke.

I had something similar: they knew to apply for scholarships at a private school so that for the first few years at least I had an excellent grounding. Public after that, but the base was set.

This is one of the two main reasons why I am against school vouchers: they privilege the kids whose parents are already educated/savvy enough to work the system to get them the best possible education under the circumstances anyway. Those aren’t the kids who need help…it’s the kids whose parents don’t speak the dominant language, or are functionally illiterate, or work 3 jobs, or have substance abuse issues, or mental health issues, or just simply don’t know enough about education to understand what is important and how the system works. THOSE are the kids who need all the help they can get.

If we as a nation spent the money now to support universal prenatal care, well-baby care, early family intervention support, good daycare facilities and pre-schools, and a reasonably high level of education at all public schools, then in a couple of generations we wouldn’t have such a large permanent underclass anymore. That’s a win for everyone.


Honestly, I think things are worse now then they were when we were young (I’m assuming we’re of a similar age–I’m in my middle 30s, so late Gen-X). Since we were young, they’ve gutted welfare, shaved off of medicaid/care, and we are living in an age of austerity in all but name. I just heard a story this morning on NPR about the Philadelphia public school system, and how it’s being slimmed down and gutted. This is true across the country, and hits the poverty stricken areas hardest. Here in Atlanta, one only need look at the disparity between the Atlanta Public Schools and say the City of Decatur schools.

I think that in general, there are lots less choices for people at the bottom of the economic ladder. I doubt that saving for college, for example, is an option for many poorer families. I have maye half of my students who are working full time, because their parents couldn’t afford to save for college. And of course, it tends to be the middle class kids whose parents might have been able to save for their kids who get the Hope Scholarship because they all went to good public schools (like City of Decatur) and were able to spend their times concentrating on their work and get good grades.

I think the only people who get paid in cash any more are people in the grey markets. Everyone is shifting to direct deposit now. Additionally, I think that more often than not, they want applications online. Imagine not having ready access to a computer when you are looking for a job. Sure, you can go to the library, but what if you’re car breaks down?

Certainly, people can dig their way out of poverty, but I think luck is just as much at play as hard work. And lots of time, people just get pushed down because as the author of that article points out, they are read as “poors”. I too wish her all the best. She sounds like she has a tough life right now. Sadly, she’s not the only one.

Edited for grammar…


I’m not sure you really understood the point of the paragraph: The author was discussing the mindset of being poor. She’s not saying that saving $5 wouldn’t actually be important in the long run, but that when you’re that poor, you can’t think about “the long run.”

The closest Planned Parenthood to me is three hours. That's a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can't afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don't want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas.

Perhaps you are unaware that millions of poor women use PP as their only medical provider (Pap smears, etc.) because it’s all they can afford? And then there’s the other reason…

We're aware that we are not "having kids," we're "breeding." We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.
Especially since the Patriot Act passed, it's hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a check and get money orders to pay bills.

[quote=“JonCarter, post:7, topic:14733”]“Broccoli is intimidating?”

I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate high school. Most people on my level didn't. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you'll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they'll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That's not great, but it's true. And if you fuck it up, you could make your family sick.

Are you actually that utterly incapable of understanding what she wrote? Which parts should the author have used smaller words?

You actually have no idea what Planned Parenthood “would have to do with” being pregnant?

You have no idea what the Patriot Act “would have to do with” ID laws for getting a bank account?

Edit: Unnecessarily-rude sentence removed. Not feeding anymore.


How much do condoms cost?

Other than broccoli being intimidating, the rest I think is on the mark. She did say this was stream of consciousness.

Planned parenthood is a way to get low cost reproductive care if you’re a woman. In addition to abortion services (which as she points out, women who get abortions are stigmatized for, especially if they are poor), they offer general women’s care–pap smears and the like, as well as birth control and pre-natal care. For women who can’t afford to go to an Ob-Gyn, this is a godsend. She is also pointing out how there is tighter guidelines for getting a bank account apparently harder. In fact, I just heard a story on NPR last week (I’ve said this too much today) about how bank branches are closing and consolidating, leaving people in the lurch for a local branch. If you don’t have a car, imagine if your bank branch moved 10 miles away. Or they push you into online banking.

This is not a joke… this woman is serious. Not everyone has the privilege to dick around all day on the internet, pointing out how others are lying.


Yeah, I"ll say this: as bad as things got in the 70s and still were in the early 80s–honestly, the big-box retailer I mentioned earlier? It’s in a small town, and when I was about 6 I watched guys strip a car of parts in that parking lot in the daytime–my mom didn’t go back to work until I was 8 years old. And I just saw a discussion on Fark where someone told how much their education was costing them. I went to the same university and as expensive as it was then, it was a fraction of what it costs now.

Where my wife teaches seems like paradise compared to a lot of districts, especially since we live within easy driving distance of this school district, but it’s pretty incredible how different it is now than it was just 10 years ago.

I think what she was saying is that Wendy’s turns into the “perk” of life. To save that $5 to get to decent clothes would take a while. Everyone wants to treat themselves now and then and the $5 meal is what gets her through. Have you noticed that clothing has one up in price? Even the crappy stuff made from flimsy material.


Ha! I was much nicer. But this is probably what he deserves… :wink:

Honestly, we are both feeding the troll. He is I think intentionally being obtuse here. Of course he understands planned parenthood (or maybe he thinks they are an abortion factory, like his pastor told him). Maybe he doesn’t understand the patriot act, though, cause he has money and is not a brown person with a funny name… Who knows.


Because during a year of perfect use there’s still a 2-3% chance. It’s like hitting the anti-lottery for someone when they’re already down.


What’s wrong with the Cairo school district? Your link went to the home page for the schools, not a news report indicating problems there.

I’m not saying things did not suck back when we were young, just that I think things have declined for many people–probably in different ways, though.

Oh, I can bitch all day about the cost of college, let me tell you. I feel you there, brother. I’ve been at this school thing for a decade now, and let me tell you, my fees have gone up tremendously (from $400 or 500 to over a grand – I’m at a 2nd tier state school), while in the past 5 years there have been hiring freezes, forced furloughs, and pay freezes for the faculity–and as far as I’m concerned the faculty are lucky and most of them recognize this, too. Those of us who are grad students, at least in the humanities have it worse. I’m lucky I don’t have to live on my stipend, like some of my friends do, because I’d be screwed and deeply in debt. That is now the outcome of getting a degree–deep debt. And likely, no secure job.

Different meaning worse?