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Discovering the Poor

   Everyone's talking about the poor. Or maybe it's The Poor. I bet Time and Newsweek have cover stories this weekend on The Poor, or perhaps on Poverty, a word that hasn't been used a whole lot in recent years. There was once a War on Poverty, back in the era of LBJ and Vietnam, and apparently we lost that one, too.

    Yesterday in the Boodle, Linda Loomis posted a question:

    "The key word that jumps out from me in today's Achen-thought is 'poverty.' Have any of you ever seen it? Lived it? Tasted it? Gotten up close and personal with it? Know (or knew) it on a first-name basis? Envied wealth, opportunity and the world of privileged cronyism connections?"

    There were some answers. This from Mo:

    "Having lived as a struggling actor for several years I've lived with poverty several times. Also grew up poor... poverty that overwhelming feeling, that crushing can't breathe pressure on your chest when you realize your electricity or phone are getting cut off tomorrow and you have no way to pay for them... that feeling of what in the world are you going to do to get $$? when you write a check KNOWING that there's no $$ in the bank but you have no food in your house. but my mother has experienced absolute poverty of growing up in the jungles of panama..."

  From an anonymous commenter: "I'm a regular reader of this blog, and I have lived in poverty. Like, not enough money to go to the laundromat--never mind being able to afford a washer and dryer. I remember gathering up loose change around the house to get together enough money to buy hot dogs and Wonder Bread for dinner. I was not unhappy in my poverty, because I was educated and engaged in artistic and political endeavors. I always felt superior to rich people, never envied them. However, I was often made aware that the Outside World judged me as inferior because I didn't have a car or a bank account or a credit card. And I am painfully aware that it costs money to be poor: poor people actually pay more for the same goods & services compared to rich people. The stores in poor neighborhoods have higher prices. Rent to Own is much more costly than paying cash. The check cashing store charges 10% to cash your paycheck. And so on. "

  From LP: "I've definitely experienced poverty before, and will never regret it. You never know what you have until you have nothing at all. These are the kinds of things you start to appreciate when you are living on borrowed and temporary everything - couch, food, job. Try sleeping in the back of a toyota tercel at five feet seven inches. That's pain, especially after a few weeks."


  My answer to Linda is that, when I was growing up in Gainesville, raised by a single Mom, I learned that we were poor, and believed we were poor, and would sometimes tell people, "We're poor," as though it were an irremediable fact of life, fundamental to my family's identity. It was what we had instead of ethnicity.

    But now I know we weren't really poor. We were a long, long way from poor.

    We just didn't have any money.

By Joel Achenbach  |  September 9, 2005; 11:36 AM ET
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