Sure. We know poverty can result in homelessness or ill health, or poor school achievement. Hunger and poor nutrition can also result from poverty. But in a thousand invisible ways, living below the poverty line takes its toll. For example:
- Tolerating toothaches. Of those earning less than $12,000 per year, only 43 percent saw a dentist in the past year, whereas 82 percent of those earning more than $120,000 did. About 24 percent of American adults have untreated cavities.
- Aching feet. Workers in low-wage jobs are more likely to spend the day on their feet working in retail and fast food. Usually a worker’s shoes are the cheapest ones possible, providing less comfort and support.
- When something breaks, one just makes do. Tape the broken taillight. Jerry-rig a strap for a kid’s backpack.
- From tickets to trauma, every unexpected expense can cascade into crisis as one borrows from Peter to pay Paul.
- Bartering for favors. Others can buy services. Without cash, one often has to barter for favors—rides, child care, car repairs, haircuts, etc. What one’s friends are less likely to be able to provide, when one lives in low-income communities, is a lead to a good paying job, or an impressive job reference.
- Fearing income loss from one’s own illness, or job loss from a child illness. Those working in the lowest-paid jobs are also the ones the least likely to earn paid sick days. Of those in the lowest paid 25 percent of the workforce, only 32 percent earn paid sick days. Of those in the highest paid 25 percent of jobs, 84 percent earn paid sick days.
- No margin for errors means don’t take chances on something new that could incur unexpected expenses. A new school or activity for one’s kids, a pet, even marriage could bring unexpected and unbudgeted costs. Someone else might be able to financially cover for their mistakes or miscalculations; struggling families cannot.
- Hiding poverty. Revealing that one is living in poverty seems to empower others to exercise fully their judgmentalism, second guessing everything from how one spends money to the life choices one has made. Trying to get help from the government can let the government intrude in one’s life at a micromanagement level. Those with children have special vulnerability. For some reason we shame those living in poverty, but admire those who lived in poverty and managed to escape it.
- More chronic stress. One wrong move, one unexpected illness, one accident can easily derail a life. That pressure takes a toll on physical and mental health.
The Colorado Center on Law and Policy, our partners and supporters, work to change the systemic barriers to economic opportunity and to protect the safety net for those who need it. But meanwhile we can all cultivate a generosity of spirit, knowing we are blind to most of the challenges people face.
By Chaer Robert