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May 31, 2005

Expensive Poverty

John Edwards, blogging at TPM Cafe, has a terrific post on the cyclical costs of being poor:

David Shipler, who recently joined me on a panel at UNC, tells a striking story about a single mother he met while researching his book, The Working Poor. She had no savings and low earnings, so she had to live in a drafty wooden house. This exacerbated her son's asthma. That led to two ambulance rides to the hospital. Those trips led to ambulance charges she couldn't pay. Those charges damaged her credit report. And so then she was denied a loan to buy a mobile home. That meant she had to stay in that drafty house—the house that contributed to her son's asthma attacks. And she had to buy a car from a sleazy dealership that charged her 15 percent interest.

As one little boy David met told his mother, “Being poor is expensive.”

True enough. It goes beyond the disastrous, however, and deep into the mundane. The well-off have all sorts of expense savers: Amazon, Expedia, appliances that we replace by choice (and can thus shop for deals on) rather than by necessity, new cars that don't demand constant repairs, transportation options that allow us to reach far flung stores with lower prices, and so forth. So it really is an important point: on a per-dollar basis, being poor is much more expensive than being rich, making it ever-harder to climb out of debt and into a better, cheaper, income bracket. So props to Edwards for pointing it out, and read the rest of his piece. If that's really him doing the blogging, I'm much impressed.

May 31, 2005 in Economics | Permalink

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Comments

I'm not sure if I agree with that last bit about cars. Click and Clack assert that studies by the government and Hertz show that maintenance costs plateau after six years and that you should just keep fixing up old heaps. But of course, they're mechanics.

Posted by: rakehell | May 31, 2005 5:30:48 PM

Well, it works like that all the way up the income scale. I mean, all those accountants and lawyers and financial planners who work for really rich people are presumably saving money for their employers, either by directly reducing their tax bills or by freeing their time so they can make more money doing something more productive than preparing a complex tax return. People who have money can also invest it. A side effect (or maybe it's the main purpose) of capitalism is that if you have money, it's a lot easier to make more.

Posted by: SP | May 31, 2005 5:32:22 PM

Why didn't this poor single parent mother have her child on the State's Children Health Insurance Program or S-CHIP? It's very easy to enroll. The Clinton administration said there were millions of children who qualify but the parents won't take the time to enroll them. They also suggested that maybe the states should enroll children into S-CHIP at McDonalds when the parents and children stop by for Big Macs.

John Edwards didn't suggest that the poor mother made too much to qualify for S-CHIP. So what is the real story? I do believe that uninsured people being charged more for a service or supply by doctors and hospitals is wrong. In Florida the State is investigating this hospital over-billing of the uninsured under the direction of Governor Jeb Bush. The Federal Justice Department is also on these Florida Hospital Association members' back demanding an explaination.

Posted by: Ron Greiner | May 31, 2005 8:06:43 PM

When I was broke and I bounced a check, it cost me $30 plus whatever fees the recipient charged. If I wrote another check without realizing I'd bounced the first one the fees would get ridiculous.

Now that I have money, I have "overdraft protection." If I bounce a check the bank pays it, charges me $5 or so, and adds the amount to my Visa bill.

A small, but very typical example of the costs of being poor.

Posted by: GregVA | May 31, 2005 10:00:13 PM

Rom: She may well have not known about the program. One thing the federal government is abysmal at is getting service info to those who need it. People marginalized in the system are the least likely to understand how it can benefit them...

Posted by: Ezra | May 31, 2005 11:48:58 PM

A significant percentage of street people and poor are afflicted with psychiophrenia (often treatable with medication). It's typical that they don't want drugs. Poverty is detrimental to continued survival. That's without getting into other factors and reversing the reasons that people became poor in the first place. Socialist states have public welfare. America has jails which are awfully expensive in comparison. Guess I'm just a bleeding heart liberal (although it's nice to do things that actually work).

Posted by: opit | Jun 1, 2005 12:28:27 AM

It's an insightful story except for the part about the "sleazy" car dealer. Although well-intentioned, the woman is obviously a credit risk and the dealer has to charge a rate commensurate with the risk of the loan.

Posted by: QuietStorm | Jun 1, 2005 12:50:27 AM

Man, if Senator Edwards hadn't voted for the war and the tax cuts, I'd really like him. Dude talks a hell of a game, but . . .

Posted by: Kimmitt | Jun 1, 2005 2:30:11 AM

Edwards didn't vote for the tax cuts, Kimmitt. But it's nice to know that Howard Dean's lies are still circulating in the blogosphere.

Posted by: Drew | Jun 1, 2005 10:55:21 AM

Even if this mother did enroll her kid in her state's CHIP, which I agree, would be a good thing to do, her kid would still be living in a house that triggered asthma attacks. People who have kids with asthma and are not poor can do things to reduce the triggers in their environment, things like pulling up the carpeting in their kid's room and putting down hard floors, buying air conditioners with extra good filters, making sure they have a good vacumm cleaner, etc. And then they get to live in school districts like mine, that can afford to have a full-time nurse in each school building, so if their kid needs medical help during the school day, it's available.

Posted by: Anom | Jun 1, 2005 12:57:31 PM

Edwards didn't vote for the tax cuts, Kimmitt.

I apologize profusely. You are quite correct. Edwards voted against the tax cuts. He did vote for the war and the PATRIOT Act, though.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Jun 1, 2005 7:23:55 PM

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