Friday, January 15, 2016

The NPR White People's Introduction to Poverty

According to several recent reports on NPR, middle class white people are falling into poverty at a rate unseen since the days when children still worked 18 hour days in garment factories and gentlemen wore spats. 

As I write this, in January of 2016, expensive prescription opioids are being thrown over for cheap heroin faster than your grandmother can flip flap jacks; artisan meth manufacturing has become a growth industry; over half the US population takes anti-anxiety/depression meds (until they can't afford health insurance anymore); and the most suicidal group of people in America are now middle-aged Caucasian men. 

If you listen to a lot of NPR (I do), then there's a real good chance you already are a white person, and you might think, wow, this is news? You might think you'd damn well know if you were falling into poverty or not, thank you very much. Falls of any kind suck and most human beings do notice them, even white human beings. 

But you'd be wrong. 

Many of the universal features of poverty are more or less unknown to middle class white people, and the few aspects of poverty we do understand tend to get chalked up to someone else's laziness or lack of character. So when these things happen to US, after we feel we've been GOOD and done everything RIGHT, it seems that we freak out comically and grab for the hypodermic or start attending Trump rallies and taking over bird sanctuaries. 

It's not that we are bad people. We are not bad. 

It's just that many of us have never been poor before. We take it personally because it's new and we don't understand what it means. We think it's about us. Isn't everything about us?

We're just ignorant, that's all. But we can learn. I believe we CAN learn. 

I personally have been poor more than I've been anything else in my life, and I don't let it freak me out anymore. All you really have to do to stay mellow is recognize that you ARE poor and that it just is what it is. It really isn't about you. It's about other people hogging all the goddamn money--something they won't ever ever quit doing just because you don't like it.

Once you realize this, once you learn to go with the flow and just lean into it, you can even grab a chunk of serenity now and then during the giant lull between your shitty temp jobs, should you be so lucky to get any. 

So if you are white and confused, please don't jump off a bridge or start foaming at the mouth at Mexican dishwashers just because new, unpleasant things are happening to you. Instead, check out the following list, and if you recognize yourself in more than one of these normal facets of poverty, take a deep breath and adjust your expectations to zero. 

You'll feel a lot better, I promise.

So here goes.

You might actually be poor if:

You've ever pilfered toilet paper from public stalls or napkins from fast food places so you can wipe your ass until payday. 

You enjoy a filling Sunday meal composed of three different starches. (Noodles over mashed potatoes with biscuits! Beans with rice and cornbread! Boxed Mac & Cheese with white bread!)

Some of your favorite sweet treats contain no actual food. 

You can't get a bank account and have to cash your sporadic paychecks at storefront loan shops.

You rent sleeping space in your step-uncle's trailer but some other guy is always in your bed.

You shop for new furniture and household items on trash day.

You are an adult person and have more than four roommates. 

Your TV only gets three channels and two of them are in Spanish.

Your last three jobs required a hairnet, a stupid hat, or a name tag that says "I like to help!"

You've ever taken expired veterinary meds instead of going to the doctor.

You've had your electricity or water shut off more than once.

Crack addicts won't break into your house because they are afraid you'll rob them.

You buy black market laundry detergent.

You sell black market laundry detergent.

You have four jobs and three of them are conducted out of your garage.

You dream of the day when you can move back into a luxurious manufactured home community.

You think the women shopping at Walmart are hot.

Your idea of a romantic evening involves a candlelight spaghetti dinner with canned Ragu sauce, Velveeta, and a fresh bottle of Wild Irish Rose. 

You think that someday you really might win the lottery. 

Your beloved is missing more than three teeth. 

You consider ketchup packets and soda crackers to be versatile cooking staples. 

I could go on, but I think you get the drift. 

Maybe none of this seems all that funny, or maybe you are still clinging to the delusion that "middle class" refers to any person making between $12,000 and $240,000 a year. If that's how it is, carry on, don't mind me. I'm just a bitch.

But if, on the other hand, you are starting to realize that the other side of 'lonely at the top' is 'crowded at the bottom', then pull up a chair, pop a malt liquor, and pass the soda crackers. 

Mumbly peg anyone?