Functional Poverty and Your Hard Earned Tax Money

This started out as a response to a Facebook comment from someone with absolutely no insight into how bright their privilege burns in their thoughtless response to a simple “be kind” meme

Clearly, it grew swiftly and viciously out of control, becoming entirely inappropriate even for the most dedicated and zealous of keyboard warriors to contribute to the echo chamber that is social media.

And yet, going through it, it’s worthy of being shared.

Could I make lifestyle changes that might save me a negligible amount of money here or there?


Without a doubt.

Will making any of those lifestyle changes have any meaningful impact on the fact that I do not live in a reality where the notion of “retirement” is anything other than a cruel fiction, or where I get to participate in the most basic aspects of the American dream?

I will never know what it is to own a single asset worth more than a few grand that the Department of Education can never opt to take from me, no matter how earnestly and consistently I make the payments they’re asking for.

The argument from this woman who doesn’t even try to come up with an original argument but, instead, vomits up the same old tired ass bootstrapping rhetoric that “those who work hard should get help, but these damn entitled scumbags scamming the system are such a damn pestilence, dontchaknow!”

And “oh, isn’t it awful how easy it is to just sit and collect welfare like a worthless, rusty tool that left itself out in the damn rain.”

Seriously? Do you know how hard you have to work to fraudulently collect welfare without either working or being disabled?

Oh, you don’t consider mental health issues legitimate disabilities, do ya?

Tell me, when’s the last time you had to come home from college to convince your mother to get out of bed because she’s once again suicidally, existentially depressed, and hasn’t left the house in six days, and people are starting to talk, including her supervisors, about firing her ass.

How many nights have you spent convincing an alcoholic to put away the SKS because shooting himself in his face in front of your siblings is not an appropriate response to running out of shit whiskey for the evening?

Don’t even talk to me. If you’ve never seen a true mental health crisis you have less than zero insight to contribute to this conversation, and you are not qualified to determine what constitutes “debilitating.”

If you’ve never had to take welfare then shut your gaping maw about how those of us who do, and work damn hard every day to be told we’re “in the gap” – that purgatory between making a living wage and qualifying for desperately needed services – should just try harder.

I’m so, so done with the people who trot out the “scamming the system” argument, having done less than zero research on the topic besides checking in with their favorite Faux News commentator and internalizing his privileged, cognitively numb position in order to vocally sneer at their less fortunate peers and pretend that the bad shit that has levelled the vast majority of those people could never, not ever happen to them.

Because they are smart. And they make good choices. And, see how they pay their taxes?

Why, that right there must constitute proof that they are this generation’s most heartbreakingly altruistic examples of humanitarian perfection!

Give me a break. You cite the minority of people within the demographic behaving badly, and then use the sloppiest form of spurious extrapolation, calling a correlation a cause and screaming “burn the witch” because another person made to look bad necessarily diverts attention from your own angry, shit-streaked heart.

I get wound up on this topic. If you’d not yet noticed. Anyhow. My response became entirely inappropriate for social media.

But that’s what the editorial beauty of the blog platform is for!

My response, ladies and fellas, to the judgemental, privileged screeching of the middle class and up masses, that welfare reform should take center stage in the efforts of national politics:

“Every one of these programs sure does need to be reviewed. I’m a single mom with two five-year-old girls. I get $52 a month in food stamps. I work 40 hours a week on paper, closer to fifty in real life, and my days are at least 16 hours long, between work and parenting solo, from Monday to Friday, and many weekends too. And for my forty hours a week? What do I bring home? After I pay for my employer-sponsored insurance, which I cannot drop or my kids lose their Medicaid, which only pays as a secondary insurer for basic wellness exams and very limited emergency services, IF you’re willing to beg and fight them? And isn’t accepted at any dental, optometric, or mental health agency in this county? And after the Department of Education garnishes my wages for student loans that I am repaying but not fast enough? I bring home $171.48. Every TWO weeks.

Are you looking forward to a tax return? So is Navient. They’ll be getting my entire $4,048 return again this year, and every year of my life, until the end of time, because at this point there is no way for me to keep far enough ahead that every dollar I pay doesn’t turn into another two in interest.

I barely have time to get a full night’s sleep most nights, and when I do? I assure you, I do not rest easy.

I got a $200 LIHEAP grant this year. It knocked out around one third of the balance I still haven’t been able to pay down from last winter’s heating bill.

But every month, when I take that Access card to the checkout, don’t worry. I make sure I do it early in the morning or late at night, so you won’t have to see me using “your hard earned tax money” to subsidize my clearly entitled and unmotivated lifestyle.

I sneak into the grocery in the dark and I load up on the meat that’s turning gray, with coupons on the package, so I can get the most I possible with my outrageous entitlement, and then I run straight home to portion it out and freeze it, and hope it lasts the month.

I drive a 2003 Matrix with 175,000 miles on it. But when I have a low-speed fender bender on the icy roads of a two hour delay morning, taking my kids to daycare that even with a subsidy costs me 2/3 of my entire disposable income each month, I won’t be able to come up with the money to fix it, because I can’t afford collision and the repairs would cost at least twice what a car that age, with that many miles, is even worth.

But, if I do manage to find a down payment and get financing on something newer, I’m going to have to really be careful then, because the baby boomer in line behind me will scowl as I use my $52 SNAP balance to buy cupcakes for my daughter’s classroom birthday party, or classroom Valentine’s treats, so she can participate just like everyone else, so she can feel like she’s as good as the kids whose moms don’t go to Erie whenever they can catch a ride, to sell plasma, because thirty bucks is thirty bucks. And then, in the parking lot, the man scowling behind me as I pay for 32 Little Debbie snack cakes for my kid to hand out to her friends at school, will make some half-assed passive-aggressive comment just loud enough that it carries across the lot, two spaces away, to me about how I can afford a car like that but I’m using my food stamps for junk food. God forbid I get busted splurging on a bottle of coffee creamer or, gasp, a quart of ice cream.

If I would just work harder, I wouldn’t need to rely on handouts, and if I’d just give up the one or two small, and believe me, they are miniscule, luxuries of my life, the pinpricks of light in a truly dark existence, I’d be a symbol for working poverty more deserving of their pity.

And being worthy of the pity of others is what all we poor bastards aspire to, isn’t it?

If you’ve never been that poor, you don’t get to decide how a person who is ought to do better by your subjective definition of the term “better.” Better for whom? Better for you? More reflective of your ideals and aspirations and values?

Because, what? Paying taxes – a civic duty, recall – makes you my personal benefactor?

Okay. Hop in line, clown. There’s no end to the people who consider themselves “above” me, telling me how I ought to live my life according to their value system. How my unique circumstances do not matter at all, and that the measure of my “success” is how closely it mirrors their own ideal lives.

And instead of spending your emotional energy resenting and critiquing the poor, maybe, for just a minute or two, be grateful you don’t have to know what it is to choose between heat or running water until your next $171.48 paycheck gets here.

I’m sorry, I’m just so tired of the “scamming the system” narrative. It’s ancient, uninformed, and entirely hyperbolic. For every one person scamming the system there are ten more working their asses off every single day just to get by and being demonized for taking what little help they’re able to get.

It’s unendingly astounding to me how “insightful” those who’ve never walked one mile in threadbare shoes are on the idiocy of the poor for “choosing” inappropriate footwear.

It’s not a choice in the vast majority of cases. But you’d never know that if you just continue to perpetuate the same old tired “holier than thou” narrative. Maybe try out the “there but for the grace of God go I” approach instead for a while.

Quit scanning so damn hard to find the one example that confirms your bias and start opening your eyes to the multitude of complex lives being lived hand to mouth for reasons you can’t begin to imagine, and despite the best efforts of the ones living them.

Christ, you guys. We have to be able to do better than this.”

6 thoughts on “Functional Poverty and Your Hard Earned Tax Money

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