Life on the Edges: Sacrifice
As part of our theme for 2018, #StandInTheGap, we will be featuring a special series on our blog called 'Life on the Edges' which is the real story of Kandace and her daily experiences living, thriving, surviving and working to get her family out of poverty. Kandace will share her experiences twice a month for "Life on the Edges'. We hope that you'll follow this series and Kandace's story and learn more about poverty from a first hand account and that you will join us as we #StandInTheGap for people and families like Kandace's. For a little background on Kandace and an introduction to this series read our post 'Kandace with a K', and then learn how you can get involved with our #StandInTheGap project.
I often get into heated online debates, because people are so sure that the answers to life’s problems are as easy as 1, 2, 3.
For instance, I was recently in a discussion in a group where a woman was pushing the “poverty is a mindset” narrative. She tells me that she and her sisters grew up poor; and that each are now “upper middle class” (even though the middle class is rapidly disappearing) and were able to escape poverty via college, marriage and starting a business.
Here’s the thing though: people should be able to survive without having to do things they don’t want to and/or things that can cause more harm than good. College isn’t a good fit for everyone; nor is it affordable. That’s why there are people with expensive Bachelor’s degree barely getting by with an entry-level job. Not everyone has the know-how, resources or desire needed to start and maintain a business that may or may not succeed. If corporations are going bankrupt left and right, what is the neighbor next door supposed to do when business fails for them? There’s no bailout on Main Street. As for marriage, the staggering statistics on abusive relationships, divorce and domestic violence in this country speak for themselves.
The word “sacrifice” often comes up when I have conversations like this. People who aren’t living paycheck to paycheck assure those of us who are that if we just sacrifice, we will be free from poverty. According to them, you can practically stop being poor on a whim! If that were the case, would poverty not have been eradicated centuries ago?
We as a society cannot solve the problem that is poverty until we shift the focus and the blame from those who suffer because of it to those who benefit from it.
Now, we have to watch how we navigate conversations about hard work and poverty. A person’s worth should not be based on the profit they can bring an entity. There are people who are putting in more than their fair share and still can’t afford to live. There are people who cannot work much, or at all. People in both of these groups still deserve to live without worrying about having a roof over their head or food to eat.
In a country that loves to counter discussions about the state of human rights with “all lives matter”, how can that be when we have hundreds of thousands of people who are homeless; and even more who live with housing insecurity? How can all lives matter when an estimated 1 in 6 Americans face food insecurity? When the basic needs of food, water, clothing and shelter are priced higher than what many can afford, how can all lives matter? We have people dying each and every single day because they are denied necessities because they can’t afford to add to some person or company’s profit margin.
I don’t disagree that sacrifice can help in the fight against poverty. I just believe that the sacrifice should come from those who have an excess; not a deficit.
Of course, this is a controversial stance to some. This is where people like to come and talk about how hard they worked to amass their wealth. I hate to break it to y’all, but hard work is not the sole indicator of how much financial security one will have. A lot of it is happenstance and luck.
Non-poor people hate to acknowledge the fact that those of us in poverty often work just as hard as they do – if not harder. I work very hard, taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves; only to scramble on an almost daily basis to make sure that my child and I are taken care of. I’ve got the chronic pain and past due notices to prove it. It’s a very rewarding passion of mine, emotionally. Financially, the payoff isn’t always there. Long, irregular hours. Mandated scheduling. Heavy workloads. Constantly dealing with people. Bodily fluids. Behaviors. Most people wouldn’t take my career path for all of the money in the world; and yet, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.
People tell me all the time that I should go to nursing school. If only these same people knew all that being a nurse entails. If only these people knew that a licensed nurse has only 12-18 months more worth of an education I do and makes, in my area, as little as a few dollars more on the hour. Even if I did want to go back to school to become a nurse, who is paying for the education? I already have over $20,000 worth of student loan debt from the last time I pursued a career that I wasn’t meant for. Who is paying for my living expenses? I already don’t make enough to get by, and don’t see how reducing or eliminating my work hours to go to school will make things better. Who is paying for the extra childcare? Better yet, where is this extra childcare? I have been looking for additional childcare that is affordable, so that I can work more hours.
Why don’t you sacrifice, Kandace? Oh, I do. I skip 1-2 meals every day. My 3 year old and I stay home most of the time because going out costs money. We don’t have cable or internet. I haven’t done a full grocery trip in months; opting instead to pick up items on sale or when desperately needed. Last month, our water shut off for almost a week -- because it was the only bill I could afford to be late on. Last week, my car was impounded and I was almost arrested because I had expired tags and no insurance. This week, our electricity and gas were shut off because there was only enough money to pay the rent and the babysitter.
Hard work ≠ wealth. Hard work ≠ financial security. Hard work ≠ pathway out of poverty.
Let me drop a truth that is a hard pill for many to swallow: poverty is profitable to those who don’t live in it.
Groceries cost more in my low-income neighborhood than they do at the same retailers across town. Financial institutions get away with charging higher interest rates and fees ($35+ overdraft fees, for example) to those who don’t have the money to do what they need to outright. For instance, the car I financed has a balance remaining of over $9,000. It has a maximum Kelley Blue Book value of $3,275. Jobs in my neighborhood pay less than comparable jobs in other neighborhoods do. Mega corporations are not upgrading their locations as nicely or as quickly as they have across the regional area. Property development doesn’t happen as often in my area; because developers buy up vacant properties at low prices. They then realize that their target market doesn’t desire to be in this part of town; and instead of selling them affordably to those of us who do want to be here, they hoard them or mark them up more than what they’re worth -- because it’s more than we can afford.
The $650 in rent I pay each month could very easily be a mortgage payment; but being entrenched in poverty means a strong likelihood that I may never have a home of my own. That means that meeting my family’s basic need for shelter will always be at the mercy of someone who doesn’t have to worry about not making ends meet; because they will turn a profit.
Those who benefit from this blatant exploitation do so because they do not have to experience it.
Maybe if they did ... maybe if they had to sacrifice, they could be more understanding to the plight of those in poverty; and choose to work to ensure that everyone has enough to live.