Being poor in America isn’t for the faint of heart. You need your wits about you because you can’t afford a doctor if you get sick or a lawyer if you get scammed. One of the biggest predators of the disadvantaged, along with pay day loan sharks, are for profit schools. They lure students into their mediocre systems with talk of easy money, then they load young people with debt while skimming from the top of the grants that come from the Department of Education. (“For-Profit Schools are a Bad deal for Both Investors and Taxpayers,” by Sheila Bair, Fortune, January 2015, pg. 39.) As Sheila Bair observes, these schools, “Like any crony capitalist… privatize profits and socialize losses.” Worse, while these institutions cover only 12% of the student population, they account for up to 32% of federally backed loans. Bair believes students emerging from these schools are poorly educated, have a poor record of getting hired and yet are saddled with huge student loans. (Ibid, pg 39.) No bright future here for the poor who are attempting to escape the cycle of poverty.
The old myth that some conservatives cling to is that the poor stay poor because they lack gumption. Rather than work, they prefer the easy living afforded by the government. According to a new Pew report, however, the truth is quite different. They conclude that it’s very expensive to be poor in this country – so expensive that few escape their condition despite working at more than one job. The problem is they are taxed more than the wealthy. “The poorest one-fifth of Americans pay an average of nearly 11 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the 1% pay 5.4%” (“The high cost of being poor,” by Charles M. Blow, excerpted from The New York Times in The Week, Jan 30, 2015. Pg. 37.) Add to that disparity a further disadvantage. Many don’t have bank accounts so they pay to have their checks cashed and when they want credit, they end up paying more in interest.
As one who grew up in poverty, I have to question the notion that the rich work hard for their money and the poor are lazy. A chunk of wealth in this country is inherited. True the percentage has declined from 29% to about 19% in 2008 (Click) Still, it is a significant percentage.
The other day, I sat down for coffee with an elderly woman at the retirement center. She was elegantly dress and coiffed and her welcoming smile led me to believe she was eager for conversation. I began by asking about her children — always a safe subject I thought. She told me she had two daughters and that one was a lawyer. I returned her smile and in an effort to encourage her to talk more about this off-spring, I inquired about the kind of law her daughter practiced. When she heard my question, the woman frowned as if I’d deliberately stepped on her bunion.
“Get your head on straight, girl. She has a trust that pays $16 million dollars a year. Why would she work?”
She has a point which pretty well sums up the difference between some of the wealthy and most of the poor.