10 Things The Working Poor Truly Understand, And One Harvard Study Figured Out

Poor Americans face tough choices. Here are 10 things that only the working poor really understand.

In America, “average” income is not what people think it is, because average is not what most people get. Around 50 percent of the country, 1 out of 2, live on less than $29,000 a year. That “less” can get pretty darn uncomfortable, often requiring sacrifices. Anyone who has ever lived below that number understands this.

“Sacrifices,” may conjure up images of going back to basic cable, downgrading to a cheaper monthly payment on your car, or not going out to eat. That isn’t what we are talking about here.

We are talking about things from school activities to literally not putting as much, or any, food on the table just to keep a roof over your head. In fact, a recent Harvard study “discovered” that many of the poorest Americans, 70 percent of us, spend over 50 percent of their income on housing alone. This means they spend 53 percent less on everything else than families who don’t spend half their income on housing. This accounts for millions of Americans.

According to Reuters:

Based on income, 70.3 percent of the poorest families, or those earning less than $15,000 annually, spent more than 50 percent of their wages on rent or costs to own a home in 2015, according to the latest annual study.

“Households paying half their incomes or more for housing have little money left over to cover other basic necessities,” Harvard researchers wrote.

These low-income families on average spent 53 percent less than those without such cost burdens from housing in 2015, the report showed.

For the working poor, though, this is simply life as usual.

What does “53 percent less spending” really look like, in everyday life for families living in Poverty in America? Here are 10 things that only the working poor really understand:

  1. That letter announcing sports, chess club, Concert Choir, holiday parties — even for certain required classes — looks a lot like disappointed kids and another bill you won’t be able to pay to the school. (At least not without giving up meals or days worth of transportation cost to work.) Sure, it’s only a 5 dollar gift for the “Secret Santa” program, but when those 5 dollars are the difference between making it work or not, your child (save a great — also underpaid — teacher taking pity on them) will be left out of the festivities.
  2. You know at least three ways to make cheap Ramen noodles almost nutritious; red meat, fruit and fresh veggies are considered “treats.”  Yes, treats.
  3. Every time you leave your home you are depleting your finances and your resources. For more “well off” people, a quick trip to the store for toilet paper or a drive to that nearby scenic view doesn’t really figure into the budget. For you, taking your kids to their friend’s house could mean you don’t make it work next Friday.
  4. Speaking of toilet paper, you’ve done without. There is just no way that we can assure that we will have enough to make it. One bout of the “stomach flu,” or just the neighbors coming over to hang out with their kids for an afternoon can set your “budget of butt-wipe” awry. So, you also know all the things that can be used instead.
  5. You know you are literally one “day off” (for either a sick kid, sick self, or no transportation) from having your hours cut or losing your job altogether. Nothing like being poor to make you more poor.
  6. Even the best “thrift shopping,” ever, won’t allow your children to dress like the others. “School shopping” means trying to get as much of the supplies list as possible, knowing that you are going to get at least two snotty notes asking you to provide kleenex — which you used up already fixing #4 if you had it — throughout the year. It also means trying to find the least wrecked, used jeans for kids who grow out of them before you will be able to afford more.
  7. Vacation doesn’t mean anything really “relaxing” to you. It is simply a word that literally just signals a really super tight month. The kids will be home from school, or you won’t be working, and you now have a greater financial need and less pay. Increased meals, mixed with people who want to go somewhere or do something but can’t because money is too tight, make for even more stress.
  8. People who spend hundreds on designer clothes are idiots to you — Not to mention exorbitantly expensive TVs and ostentatious vehicles. Sure, you’d love to own one, but even if you won it in a contest, you’d be selling it. And you aren’t going to be winning it in a contest anyway, not even if the contest is “free.” If you won something really nice, you would likely still have to pay taxes on the prize before it was awarded. It makes being in the contest useless when you can’t afford the taxes on an awesome prize, anyway.
  9. Medication is expensive, even if you have Medicaid or insurance. Buying things that are considered “over the counter” like sore throat spray, band-aids, and even vitamins can be prohibitively expensive. Speaking of vitamins and supplements, those just aren’t covered by food stamps, or insurance, usually.
  10. You are going to be treated like crap by someone who is better off financially today. Whether it is that rich guy cutting you off in your beater car, making you miss the light causing you to be late for work (he knows his insurance will cover it if he hits you, you know you can not afford the deductible, or you are trying to stay under the radar) the supermarket cashier when she sees your coupons and EBT card, or the person you are trying to convince to hold off shutting off your electric because you had one of those “days off” this month, you know the look. Worse than that, your children (if you have them) know it, too.

Most Americans often live without things that others take for granted. Things like dental care, glasses, and even tampons or pads, and necessary medications — all “luxuries” because you can still breathe without them. All of them belong on this list, too.

You work, as much as you physically can, and you budget everything, not just the pennies: toilet paper, food, clothing, gasoline, even time. All knowing that much of the country sees this financial hardship as “laziness,” despite all your physical and emotional energy being spent long before day’s end, just on trying to make it to the next paycheck.

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