I was the poor kid. Or at least I thought I was. At 13 not ever buying clothes at a store and instead shopping at Goodwill meant we were poor. Parents who stressed about money and fought over the budget behind closed doors meant we were poor. No family vacations or coffee runs meant we were poor. Bologna and mayonnaise sandwiches at least had to indicate our level of “poorness”.
Turns out my family was not poor even in the slightest- we were just broke.
Perceived Notions of being Poor
Poor is a relative term that is gravely misused…
Let’s talk about language and the perceived notion of poor. The standard dictionary definition of poor is: lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society.
Based on this definition, poor is a relative term that is gravely misused- especially in my case as a child. I was never hungry, I always had a roof over my head and clothes on my back even if they were used. I believed I was poor because I had decided what was normal based on the circle of people around us.
American society has this nifty way of turning luxuries into necessities within a matter of a few years, and in some cases less. Not being able to pay the bills to keep the lights on and not being able to go out for drinks on a Friday night or buy a new smartphone are two drastically different things. Often a luxury turned to “need” based on American Consumer culture can begin to warp the notion and use of the word Poor.
This doesn’t mean that being broke isn’t hard, or that it does not change how we live our lives. However being broke is temporary, non-life threatening, and something that you can escape from. Being poor or living in poverty is a way of life, offers little choice to get out and most importantly is held in place by societal structure.
…the idea that being poor is simply a mindset and all that is needed is to not spend money on lifestyle inflation negates what is actually happening for those in poverty.
I decided initially to write this post after reading a article detailing a “Rich vs Poor Mindset”. While I find mindsets extremely important to success, this sort of segregation of rich vs poor overlooks the many ways in which society is structured to monopolize money for the few and elite.
That article and many others in this rich vs poor mindset phenomena states that a rich mindset understands that a surplus of resources (money) can be used to accelerate education, business, and your future. While a poor mindset immediately see the surplus of resources (money) as an opportunity to inflate their lifestyle.
While being poor causes an undue amount of stress and can lower functionality of decision making, leading to things like tunneling, the idea that being poor is simply a mindset and all that is needed is to not spend money on lifestyle inflation negates what is actually happening for those in poverty.
According to the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund 70% of the Nations Poor are Women and Children. This is in part due to the wage gap, childcare costs, segregation into lower paying jobs, family care-taking, costs of healthcare and especially pregnancy. These are major structural issues facing some of those living in poverty and have nothing to do with buying a Pumpkin Spice Latte because you have a few extra dollars one day.
Being poor does not change based on current status in class. For example a middle class college student is most likely broke as hell. Not poor, but broke- because when they graduate and find a career their status and income will immediately change based on this new phase of life. Or if they get in a bind, they have a safety net – which includes someone they could call for some help or cash.
Those living in poverty typically do not experience phases of life that create a trajectory to move up. If you are thinking the solution to poverty is to work harder, get up earlier or find a new job- think again. Most individuals who are poor have multiple jobs and juggle some of the most laborious jobs out there.
The Words we Use
Living paycheck to paycheck and being broke still includes one word: LIVING. Those who are poor are SURVIVING and this is something that must be considered.
Language in this case is very important. If the word poor were to be exchanged for the word broke in the above article it would have a very different meaning. Living paycheck to paycheck and being broke still includes one word: LIVING. Those who are poor are SURVIVING and this is something that must be considered when deciding whether you are broke or poor.
So why did I write a whole post about two words that seem to be synonyms but instead hold very different connotations based on our society? Because language and the words we use matter. They become the foundations to progress and they push for awareness. Because social activism requires that we consider our words and perceived notions of being poor.
Have you all thought you were poor and instead were just broke growing up or even right now? Did you grow up in poverty? What was that experience like for you?