Tag Archives: poverty

Rich Teeth, Poor Teeth: Life Along the Dental Divide

She means well, but I dread the dental hygienist. The judgmental tone in her voice is probably just exhaustion; the only dentist I can afford to see has an office that’s a in perpetual spin of budget-seeking patients. I’m one of scores of people who’ll sit her the chair today, and whenever I leave, I hear someone standing at the dreaded reception desk trying to argue their way out of a bill in an embarrassed tone.

Sometimes I’m in that corner too, wheeling and dealing for a way to swing basic treatments with money I don’t have. To my shame, I often go months or even years between routine cleanings, opting to spend money on debt or bills or food instead.
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Dorothy Allison on How America Devalues Those Who are ‘Other’

At Lenny, Kaitlyn Greenidge interviews Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard out of Carolina, on growing up poor, finding her voice, overcoming the stigma of poverty, and being a lesbian in Donald Trump’s America.

And then define, what is your own unique story? It’s a struggle for every writer. And to value your story is a struggle for every writer. The problem is, of course, that if you live in a culture that inherently devalues the poor, the working class, the darks, the queer, the other, and you are all those categories, then you are fighting the voice of your culture at the same time that you are fighting all of the other difficulties of developing a voice and telling a story.

It’s a miracle that we ever manage, but my conviction — and I’m old enough to have evidence to support my convictions — is that the best American literature is working-class literature. The strongest voices are those voices, those people who have come out of the poor and the disadvantaged circumstances to claim their right to tell a story. And they tell stories with such passion and brilliance. You don’t have to read far to realize the power of those outlaw voices and how they dominate American literature.

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Unlocking the Genetic Code of Poverty

an abandoned warehouse in appalachia

Christian H. Cooper made his way from Appalachia to Wall Street, and from poverty to wealth. But is it because he worked harder than the family and friends still struggling in East Tennessee, or was it luck? In Nautilus, he digs into the emerging science of epigenetics to look at the way poverty actually changes our genetic expression, and therefore our physiology. If poverty has treatable physical aspects, what does that mean for economic policy, social policy, and politics? What does it mean for the American ideal of meritocracy?

Now, new evidence is emerging suggesting the changes can go even deeper—to how our bodies assemble themselves, shifting the types of cells that they are made from, and maybe even how our genetic code is expressed, playing with it like a Rubik’s cube thrown into a running washing machine. If this science holds up, it means that poverty is more than just a socioeconomic condition. It is a collection of related symptoms that are preventable, treatable—and even inheritable. In other words, the effects of poverty begin to look very much like the symptoms of a disease.

That word—disease—carries a stigma with it. By using it here, I don’t mean that the poor are (that I am) inferior or compromised. I mean that the poor are afflicted, and told by the rest of the world that their condition is a necessary, temporary, and even positive part of modern capitalism. We tell the poor that they have the chance to escape if they just work hard enough; that we are all equally invested in a system that doles out rewards and punishments in equal measure. We point at the rare rags-to-riches stories like my own, which seem to play into the standard meritocracy template.

But merit has little to do with how I got out.

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Who Says Healthy Food Can’t Be Accessible and Affordable?

Patterson stepped out the back door onto a sunny patio where three neighborhood men worked as “ambassadors” — greeters, really, but also unofficial security guards and community liaisons tasked with convincing neighbors that Locol really was for them. Watts has such a deep history of economic betrayal and abandonment, such pervasive skepticism about outsiders making big promises, and such well-founded fear of gentrification — a billion-­dollar “urban transformation” plan has the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti — that acceptance of a splashy new restaurant created by two famous outsider chefs who are not African American was not a given.

Patterson embraced an ambassador named Anthony “Ant” Adams, a 44-year-old poet who was in the middle of telling a visitor about getting shot five times with an AK-47 during a 2007 attempt on his life a few yards from where he was currently standing. Patterson then walked past an ATM/lottery/tobacco shop where floor-to-ceiling bulletproof Plexiglas separated customers from the cashier and inventory. He entered a store called Donut Town & Water, where a young man sold doughnuts, water, and other convenience foods, also from behind Plexiglas. Patterson ordered coffee to go and said, as if exhilarated by the speed and audacity of his own thoughts, “I can’t remember if I told you that Roy and I might start a coffee company, too. We’re bringing back the great $1 cup. The fancy coffee industry is not going to be happy with us. We’re going into institutional food, too. We’re already talking about prisons and hospitals and schools. It all comes back to this question of ‘Why does our society always serve the worst food to the neediest people?’ It makes no sense. And everybody always says, ‘That’s just the way it is, there’s no other way,’ but we are going to prove that whole paradigm is fundamentally false.”

In the California Sunday Magazine, Daniel Duane narrates the difficulty of establishing a new way of serving fast healthy food in the impoverished neighborhoods that the conventional industry has helped trap in a food desert.

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I’d Gladly Pay You Tomorrow For a Hamburger Today, If Only My Debit Card Weren’t Frozen

US dollars and euros, paper bills

Brett Scott explores the emerging cashless economy in Aeon magazine. Is ubiquitous digital payment the harbinger of a glorious future, or a smokescreen for powerful interests that want to control (and undermine) choice and capitalism?

This is no longer a deal between me and the seller. I am now dealing with a complex of unknown third parties, profit-seeking money-passers who stand between us to act as facilitators of the money flow, but also as potential gatekeepers. If a gatekeeper doesn’t want to do business with me, I can’t do business with the seller. They have the ability to jam, monitor or place conditions upon that glorious core ritual of capitalism – the transfer of money for the transfer of goods. This innocuous device exudes mechanical indifference, reporting only to invisible bosses far away, running invisible algorithms in invisible black boxes that don’t like me.

If we are going to refer to bank payments as ‘cashless’, we should then refer to cash payments as ‘bankless’. Because that’s what cash is, and right now it is the only thing standing between us and a completely privatised money system.

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How Would Jesus Treat Tech Workers Moving into an Impoverished Neighborhood? Love Them.

“Many of them have chosen to live here and just don’t know how to make a connection,” James Lin, Glide’s senior director of mission and social justice, tells me—they have a neighborhood, in other words, but scarcely know their neighbors. Enter Glide. The church had both the cred and the networks to facilitate an introduction between its oldest and newest residents. As cofounder and minister of liberation, Williams has stood astride poverty and fame for half a century; he marched in Selma, he’s counted the Mandelas and Obamas and Oprahs and Bonos of the world as friends. A newly arrived company looking for an ally on these blocks, or perhaps a broker, could do far worse.

To Felicia Horowitz, wife of tech luminary Ben Horowitz and a devoted Glide supporter, the tech industry has to work extra hard for community acceptance—even as far more insidious local industries mostly escape public reprobation. Chirag Bhakta didn’t mutter about predatory lending bros ruining the neighborhood. At the center, Horowitz sees an abiding tech truth. “We’re outsiders. That’s what it comes down to. We always have been,” Horowitz told me.

In Wired, Chris Colin writes about the determined reverend whose church provides services to the Tenderloin’s most disenfranchised residents, and helps gentrifying tech industry workers engage with the marginalized neighbors their presence directly effects.

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What’s Left at the Bottom of Pandora’s Box

Writer Dale Maharidge and photographer Matt Black traveled through California, Ohio, and Maine, talking with, working alongside, and photo-documenting the working poor for Smithsonian magazine. They found lots of things they expected — long hours, low pay, financial uncertainty — and one thing they didn’t: hope.

Brown earns less than his wife, who is an administrative assistant and show coordinator for a software engineering firm. On paper, he said, their combined income might make it appear that they’re doing fine. But then there are the bills.

The biggest ones?

“Mortgage and tuition,” Brown said, which amount to some $17,000 per year. “My stepson is in junior high school,” Brown explained. “He’s in a private school because our public school is garbage. That costs $8,000. You got to walk a fine line growing up black and poor. An education is an important thing. If we want to break the cycle, that’s where it starts, right there.”

As for the other expenses, food runs “three to four hundred a month.” The couple has one car, with a $350 monthly payment. Brown usually takes the bus to the Evergreen Laundry to start his 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift. They live paycheck to paycheck. “Save? I’m using everything I got to keep my head above water. It’s still always a struggle. I still ain’t made it where I don’t have to worry.”

I asked, Are you poor?

“I used to be poor. Poorness to me is you’re in a position to do things you don’t want to do,” he said, such as selling crack. “I might not make a lot of money, but I’ve got a job, I got a family, and I don’t have to be lookin’ over my shoulder. From where I come from, it’s night and day. What I’ve got that I didn’t have is hope.”

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How A Simple Mistake Can Put You on the Street: Why Grandpa is Homeless

At Pacific Standard, Rachel Nuwer reports on the aging homeless population of California and how something seemingly innocuous — like forgetting to renew your driver’s license on time — can instigate a downward spiral into poverty and homelessness that skyrocketing rent and street-inflicted trauma can extend, sometimes indefinitely.

Life was stable for Herb until 2013, when he “got lazy” and neglected to renew his truck-driver license. He didn’t realize the severity of his error until he applied for a new license but could not pass the written test. Although Herb quickly landed a job as a security guard at a fast-food restaurant, even working overtime didn’t provide enough for him to make ends meet. He fell behind on rent and was evicted.

Herb experienced that unfortunate reality firsthand. Last winter, his car got towed, taking his security-guard uniform and most of his remaining possessions with it. He never got the car back — he didn’t have the funds. Unable to dress for work, he stopped going, and spent the next two months on the streets. He panhandled, flashing his veteran’s ID as he asked for spare change, and was sometimes reduced to eating out of dumpsters. To survive the winter chill, he slept bundled up in several layers of pants, shirts, and blankets. Once, a cop tried to shoo him from a doorway, and Herb begged him to take him to jail instead, so he would have a warm place to sleep. The officer told him, “I’m not taking you to jail, but you can’t stay here.”

“I was really down,” Herb says. Yet he still counted himself lucky. “A lot of the people I met on the street were on meds and should have been hospitalized,” he says. “They really couldn’t take care of themselves.” But even a strong, able-bodied person like Herb will soon be broken down under those conditions. At one point he began suffering from severe chest pains, so he checked into Oakland’s Highland Hospital, where he remained for five days. “The stress got to me,” he says. “The hospital people told me, ‘Herb, just being on the streets is messing you up.’”

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Who’s to Blame for Trump? Media’s Socioeconomic Blind Spots

young women holding signs at a donald trump rally

It wasn’t poor whites who criminalized blackness by way of marijuana laws and the “war on drugs.”

Nor was it poor whites who conjured the specter of the black “welfare queen.”

These points should not minimize the horrors of racism at the lowest economic rungs of society, but remind us that those horrors reside at the top in different forms and with more terrible power.

Among reporters and commentators this election cycle, then, a steady finger ought be pointed at whites with economic leverage: social conservatives who donate to Trump’s campaign while being too civilized to attend a political rally and yell what they really believe.

—  Who are the most fervent Trump supporters? Not necessarily the poor- and lower-class white communities you might think from reading the news. Writing in The Guardian, Sarah Smarsh — political liberal and native Kansan — picks apart the class bias fueling the one-dimensional media coverage of poor white communities who are “blamed” for the rise of Donald Trump. Spoiler alert: even in red states, there’s diversity and nuance.

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A Country Verging on Collapse: A Reading List on Venezuela

A manufacturing entrepreneur is jailed over toilet paper in his factory’s restrooms. An American attorney and figure in a once-thriving expat community in Caracas is killed in a violent robbery. There are so many stories of people trying to live amid Venezuela’s instability and chaos. Here are five.

1. “Venezuela Is Falling Apart.” (Moises Naim and Francisco Toro, The Atlantic, May 2016)

“What our country is going through is monstrously unique: It’s nothing less than the collapse of a large, wealthy, seemingly modern, seemingly democratic nation just a few hours’ flight from the United States.” The day-to-day stories of Venezuelans reveal the collapse of the country on all fronts.

2. “Emptying the Tower of David, the World’s Tallest Ghetto.” (Boris Munoz, Vocativ, December 2014)

Boris Munoz reflects on the future of Venezuela as seen through the Tower of David, the infamous 28-story slum in Caracas that has long reflected the country’s hopes and failures. Read more…