Monday, August 14, 2006

The Working Poor

Every month, when I sit down to pay bills while considering ways to cut back on entertainment / technology dollars, I do think about what it costs to simply exist day to day today. Raises quickly get swallowed up with ongoing maintenance repairs, taxes, food costs, gasoline let alone the entertainment/ technology budget. I get frustrated when our Cingular rollover minutes get exhausted on our family plan and thus we make a more concerted effort to call after seven pm or weekends to ward off a $70 overage surprise. And for the second year in a row, NFL Sunday Ticket is not in the budget, as much as I want to watch up to thirteen NFL games every weekend as if three were not enough.

I start thinking about my daily cost of technology and entertainment - $7.00 a day. And if I was making minimum wage, between rent, groceries, utilities and transportation, I'll be in a world of hurt. Let's not even talk about child care. I think that today with Metro schools opening, many parents are rejoicing that their children have graduated from full time child care to public school enrollment out of sheer economic pressures. Been there, done that.

My mother in law asked me to investigate a $49.00 charge on her phone bill - turns out accepting two collect calls of 2 and 5 minute durations were the culprit from someone with no access to a home or cell phone.

Up and down Charlotte Pike here in West Nashville, I see Title Loans and Advance Check Cashing locations opening up in vacated fast food restaurants. "Tote the Note" used car lots line the street just as they do on Gallatin Road, Dickerson Pike and Murfreesboro Road. Who uses these places? The working poor?

USA Today published a article how the working poor struggle to pay bills:

"Food server. Home health care worker. Grocery clerk. These are the kind of bread-and-butter jobs that once sustained a family with decent benefits and solid wages. Today, these jobs are more likely to bring a life of poverty.

The ranks of the working poor are swelling as more families slip into poverty, health benefits are lost and low-wage employees bear the brunt of many corporate cutbacks. That means more employees -- many of them in service jobs that are essential to the economy -- are working full-time, only to find they can barely support their families."

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed.

She ask the question on her blog Could You Afford to be Poor?...

Poor people are less likely to have bank accounts, which can be expensive for those with low balances, and so they tend to cash their pay checks at check-cashing businesses, which in the cities surveyed, charged $5 to $50 for a $500 check.

Nationwide, low-income car buyers, defined as people earning less than $30,000 a year, pay two percentage points more for a car loan than more affluent buyers.

Low-income drivers pay more for car insurance. In New York, Baltimore and Hartford, they pay an average $400 more a year to insure the exact same car and driver risk than wealthier drivers.

Poorer people pay an average of one percentage point more in mortgage interest.

They are more likely to buy their furniture and appliances through pricey rent-to-own businesses. In Wisconsin, the study reports, a $200 rent-to-own TV set can cost $700 with the interest included.

They are less likely to have access to large supermarkets and hence to rely on the far more expensive, and lower quality offerings, of small grocery and convenience stores.

wikipedia on Nicked and Dimed

I don't have a solution. I'm not sure where my heightened sensivity to the working poor will lead me, but as Barbara says, "If you're rich, you might want to stay that way. It's a whole lot cheaper than being poor."

photo credit: On the Edge


ceeelcee said...

Nicely put, Wonderdawg. The whole concept of charging folks to save their own money in a bank and then stacking onerous overdraft charges when you obviously don't have enough money in your account baffles me.

I think it may be a profit thing...

Greedy bastidges!

Sam Davidson said...


EXCELLENT POST. I appreciate your perspective on this. Sometimes, everything is NOT your fault!


Anonymous said...

I hope that more people such as yourself relize the struggle to make it (live comfortably)now days gets harder and harder. I have no clue how someone on min. wage is able to live. This impossability is made more and more evident as I try to live on almost three times that and also have the luxury of my wife's second income. GREAT THOUGHTS!