May 18, 2009

It Costs More to Be Poor

The Washington Post reported today on something we know all too well here at Bread for the City:

The poorer you are, the more things cost.
The article acknowledges that this is a subject that the media rarely considers. Like how the poor don’t have the means to get to suburban grocery stores or warehouse chains, like Costco. Also reported are the sapping effects of being “unbanked”: when you must turn to a check cashing store to redeem your paycheck, you’re going to lose a hefty chunk of it in the process.

I asked Bread for the City staffers about other ways that our clients see their precious few resources sapped:

  • Transportation. Low-income people often must travel farther to work. The article noted that this often involves inordinate amounts of time spent waiting for buses, etc. Not reported are changes like the recent bus transfer ticket phase-out, which also have an inordinate impact on the poor: riders now need a SmarTrip card in order to transfer from one bus to the next, so the cards are a new expense and become subject to theft.

  • Energy. Many of our clients live in old buildings with poor insulation, old windows, leakages, etc. Bread for the City offers some utility assistance through FEMA, and we can attest to seeing bills that are far more expensive than our own.

  • Medication. Without good insurance, the cost of prescription drugs alone can sap an entire pension check.

  • Child care. To survive on low wages in an expensive city, most people need to work very long hours at two or even three jobs. In turn, much of a working mother’s pay check is spent on keeping her children cared for in her absence.
Poverty is in so many ways a self-perpetuating trap.


megan said...

This is a really good post, but I got tripped up on phrasing of the last point. While the reality is that many women are raising children alone and spending money on childcare, there are many men who are also spending their paychecks on childcare.

Writing all of the other points in gender neutral language and then feminine vocabulary for solely the childcare point both erases the men who are caring for children and implies that it is solely the mother's responsibility to care for the children.

Matt Siemer said...

Hey Megan,

Though I can't wait to see what my guy Greg's answer is to the valid point you raise, I would say that taking childcare from an engendered perspective is probably accurate for the statistics in low-income communities. Women are, far and away, more likely to be single parents caring for dependent children. Not to mention that Bread for the City sees more women than men (63% women to 37% men).

The language can certainly be misleading, so for clarification: we would never advocate that rearing children is the sole responsibility of the mother.

Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

Greg Bloom said...

Word to you both. And indeed, I have seen some single guys with kids here at BFC.

In this instance, the childcare bullet did in fact come from a discussion about how this trend at hand especially effects women (see: the cost of birth control for the uninsured) but it would have suited the post to clarify that point. My b.