Things the Poor Do

20 Things the Poor Do Everyday
That the Rich Never Have to Worry About

By Benjamin Irwin [2]


This post first appeared on Ben Irwin’s blog.  [3]


Financial advisor and evangelical Christian Dave Ramsey probably wasn’t expecting this much pushback when he shared a piece contrasting the habits of the rich [4] with those of the poor. In her response on CNN [5], Rachel Held Evans [6] noted that Ramsey and Corley mistake correlation for causality when they suggest (without actually proving) that these habits are the cause of a person’s financial situation. (Did it never occur to them that it might be the other way around?)


Ramsey fired back, calling the pushback “immature and ignorant.” This from a guy who just made 20 sweeping assertions about 47 million poor people in the US — all based on a survey of 361 individuals.


That’s right. To come up with his 20 habits, Corley talked to just 233 wealthy people and 128 poor people. Ramsey can talk all he wants about Corley’s research passing the “common-sense smell test,” but it doesn’t pass the “research methodology 101” test.


To balance the picture a bit, I wanted to take a fact-based look at 20 things the poor do on a daily basis…


1. Search for affordable housing.

Especially in urban areas, the waiting list [7] for affordable housing can be a year or more. During that time, poor families either have to make do with substandard or dangerous housing, depend on the hospitality of relatives, or go homeless.

(Source: New York Times [7])


2. Try to make $133 worth of food last a whole month.

That’s how much the average food stamp recipient [8] gets each month. Imagine trying to eat well on $4.38 per day. It’s not easy, which is why many impoverished families resort to #3…

(Source: Kaiser Family Foundation [9])


3. Subsist on poor quality food.

Not because they want to, but because they can’t afford [10] high-quality, nutritious food. They’re trapped in a food system that subsidizes processed foods, making them artificially cheaper than natural food sources. So the poor are forced to eat bad food — if they’re lucky, that is…

(Sources: Washington Post [10]; Journal of Nutrition, March 2008)


4. Skip a meal.

One in six Americans are food insecure. Which means (among other things) that they’re sometimes forced to go without eating.

(Sources: World Vision [11], US Department of Agriculture)


5. Work longer and harder than most of us.

While it’s popular to think people are poor because they’re lazy (which seems to be the whole point of Ramsey’s post [4]), the poor actually work longer and harder than the rest of us. More than 80 percent of impoverished children have at least one parent who works; 60 percent have at least one parent who works full-time. Overall, the poor work longer hours [12] than the so-called “job creators.”

(Source: Poverty and Learning [12], April 2008)


6. Go to bed 3 hours before their first job starts.

Number 15 on Ramsey and Corley’s list [4] was, “44% of [the] wealthy wake up three hours before work starts vs. 3% of [the] poor.” It may be true that most poor people don’t wake up three hours before work starts. But that could be because they’re more likely to work multiple jobs [12], in which case job #1 means they’re probably just getting to bed three hours before job #2 starts.

(Source: Poverty and Learning [12], April 2008)


7. Try to avoid getting beat up by someone they love.

According to some estimates [13], half of all homeless women in America ran away to escape domestic violence.

(Source: National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009)


8. Put themselves in harm’s way, only to be kicked to the streets afterward.

How else do you explain 67,000 63,000 homeless veterans [14]?

(Source: US Department of Veterans Affairs [14], updated to reflect the most recent data)


9. Pay more than their fair share of taxes.

Some conservative pundits and politicians like to think the poor don’t pay their fair share, that they are merely “takers.” While it’s true the poor don’t pay as much in federal income tax — usually because they don’t earn enough to qualify — they do pay sales tax, payroll tax, etc. In fact [15], the bottom 20% of earners pay TWICE as much in taxes (as a share of their income) as do the top 1%.

(Source: Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy [16], January 2013)


10. Fall further behind.

Even when poverty is the result of poor decision-making, often it’s someone else’s choices that make the difference. If you experience poverty as a child [11], you are 3-4 times less likely to graduate high school. If you spend your entire childhood in poverty, you are 5 times less likely to graduate. Which means your future has been all but decided for you.

(Sources: World Vision [11], Children’s Defense Fund, Annie E. Casey Foundation)


11. Raise kids who will be poor.

A child’s future earnings are closely correlated to their parents’ earnings. In other words, economic mobility — the idea that you can claw your way out of poverty if you just try hard enough is, more often than not, a myth [17].

(Sources: OECD, Economic Policy Institute)


12. Vote less.

And who can blame them? I would be less inclined to vote [18] if I didn’t have easy access to the polls and if I were subjected to draconian voter ID laws that are sold to the public as necessary to suppress nonexistent voter fraud.

(Source: The Center for Voting and Democracy [19])


13. When they do vote… vote pretty much the same as the rest of us.

Following their defeat in 2012, conservatives took solace by reasoning that they’d lost to a bunch of “takers,” including the poor, who voted for Democrats because they want free handouts from big government. The reality is a bit more complex. Only a third of low-income voters identify as Democrats [20], about the same for all Americans, including wealthy voters.

(Sources: NPR [20], Pew Research Center [21])


14. Live with chronic pain.

Those earning less than $12,000 a year are twice as likely to report feeling physical pain [22] on any given day.

(Source: Kaiser Health News [22])


15. Live shorter lives.

There is a 10-14 year gap [23] in life expectancy between the rich and the poor. In recent years, poor people’s life expectancy has actually declined — in America, the wealthiest nation on the planet.

(Source: Health Affairs, 2012)


16. Use drugs and alcohol pretty much the same as (or less than) everyone else.

Despite the common picture of inner city crack houses, drug use is pretty evenly spread [12] across income groups. And rich people actually abuse alcohol more than the poor.

(Source: Poverty and Learning [12], April 2008)


17. Receive less in subsidized benefits than corporations.

The US government spends around $60 billion on public housing and rental subsidies for low-income families, compared to more than $90 billion on corporate subsidies [24]. Oil companies alone get around $70 billion. And that’s not counting the nearly $60 billion a year in tax breaks corporations enjoy by sheltering profits offshore. Or the $700 billion bailout banks got in 2008.

(Source: Think By Numbers [24])


18. Get themselves off welfare as soon as possible.

Despite the odds, the vast majority of beneficiaries leave the welfare rolls [25] within five years. Even in the absence of official welfare-to-work programming, most welfare recipients enroll in some form of vocational training [26]. Why? Because they’re desperate to get off welfare.

(Source: US Department of Health and Human Services)


19. Have about the same number of children as everyone else.

No, poor people do not have loads of children [26] just so they can stay on welfare.

(Source: US Department of Health and Human Services)


20. Accomplish one single goal: stay alive.

Poverty in America may not be as dire as poverty in other parts of the world, but many working poor families are nonetheless preoccupied with day-to-day survival. For them, life is not something to be enjoyed so much as endured.


These are the real habits of the poor, those with whom Jesus identifies most closely.





























No Pity For The Poor`

A Town Without Pitypercentage-of-people-in-poverty

By   Thanks too the New York Times.

Published: August 9, 2013
America was once the land of Lady Liberty, beckoning the world: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Damon Winter/The New York Times

Charles M. Blow

No more.

Today’s America — at least as measured by the actions and inactions of the pariahs who roam its halls of power and the people who put them there — is insular, cruel and uncaring.

In this America, people blame welfare for creating poverty rather than for mitigating the impact of it. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in June found that the No. 1 reason people gave for our continuing poverty crisis was: “Too much welfare that prevents initiative.”

In this America, the House can — as it did in July — pass a farm bill that left out the food stamp program at a time when a record number of Americans, nearly 48 million, are depending on the benefits.

In this America, a land of immigrants, comprehensive immigration reform can be stalled in The People’s Branch of government, and anti-reform mouthpieces like Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan can warn that immigration reform will be the end of the country.

And in today’s America, poverty and homelessness can easily seep beneath the wall we erect in our minds to define it.

A December report by the United States Conference of Mayors that surveyed 25 cities found that all but 4 of them reported an increase in requests for emergency food aid since 2011, and three-fourths of them expected those requests to increase in 2013.

The report also found that 60 percent of the cities surveyed had seen an increase in homelessness, and the same percentage of cities expected homelessness to increase in 2013.

But poverty isn’t easily written off as an inner-city ailment. It has now become a suburban problem. A report this week by the Brookings Institution found that “during the 2000s, major metropolitan suburbs became home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in America.”

Nor can economic insecurity be written off as a minorities-only issue. According to survey results published last month by The Associated Press:

“Nonwhites still have a higher risk of being economically insecure, at 90 percent. But compared with the official poverty rate, some of the biggest jumps under the newer measure are among whites, with more than 76 percent enduring periods of joblessness, life on welfare or near-poverty.”

How did we come to such a pass? Why aren’t more politicians —  and people in general — expressing outrage and showing empathy?

Part of our current condition is obviously partisan. Republicans have become the party of “blame the victim.” Whatever your lesser lot in life, it’s completely within your means to correct, according to their logic. Poverty, hunger, homelessness and desperation aren’t violence to the spirit but motivation to the will. If you want more and you work harder, all your problems will disappear. Sink or swim. Pull yourself up. Get over it. Of course, that narrow conservative doctrine denies a broader reality: that there are working poor and chronically unemployed — people who do want and who do work and who do want to work, but who remain stuck on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.

In this regard, Republicans have all but abandoned the idea of compassionate conservatism and are diving headlong into callous conservatism.

But another problem may be more broad-based: the way that many Americans look at the poor with disgust.

As Susan Fiske, a Princeton professor who has studied people’s attitudes toward the poor for more than a decade, told me on Friday:

“The stereotypes of poor people in the United States are among the most negative prejudices that we have. And people basically view particularly homeless people as having no redeeming qualities — there’s not the competence for anything, not having good intentions and not being trustworthy.”

Fiske’s research shows that people respond not only to the poor and homeless with revulsion, but they also react negatively to people they perceive as undocumented immigrants — essentially anyone without an address.

If some people’s impulse is to turn up a nose rather than extend a hand, no wonder we send so many lawmakers empty of empathy to Congress. No wonder more people don’t demand that Congress stand up for the least among us rather than on them.

As Fiske so aptly put it: “It seems like Washington is a place without pity right now. A town without pity.”


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Why People React Differently to Panhandlers (Hard Times USA)

Passersby explain why they respond the way they do to people asking for help.  Thanks to Alternet.

Photo Credit:

February 11, 2013  |

“I live my life under the Golden Rule,” Bob told me, after I asked her why she gave a dollar to a man holding a “Please Help” sign. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Bob said she was living in a homeless shelter with her newborn son. She knew all about panhandling and how people “just don’t understand.” And so, she said, “I give when I can.”


Bob was the first person I spoke to about her response to being asked for help. I observed and talked to numerous people in San Francisco near City Hall (where a large number of homeless people populate) and Powell St. Bart Station (where panhandlers work the city’s shopping center).

It is approximated that there are at least 10,000 homeless people living in San Francisco, and about one million in the United States, though these figures are most likely underestimated. Good portions of them resort to panhandling as a means of survival. And just as there are a variety of reasons people end up on the street, there are a variety of ways passersby react to their requests for money. Some people give to panhandlers. Some ignore them. And while some don’t give, they acknowledge them with a smile or a “sorry.”

Why do people react the way they do to panhandlers? While there are theories and studies concerning people’s perception of those in poverty, perhaps the best way to find out how people perceive those asking for help is to ask them.

Like Bob, some people said they gave because they could identify with the panhandlers. They felt inclined to help because they were fortunate to be in a better financial position.

One woman said she gave because she knows anyone could fall into homelessness. “I feel sorry for them because I have kids, and someday they may be hungry and nobody gives to them,” she said.

The woman said she has a lot of bills to pay, but gives anyway, “because maybe they are hungry or want a coffee. And I can buy one, and they can’t.”

A young man who gave also shared the sentiment that if you have more than others, you should give. “I never lie. If they ask me, ‘Hey do you have a few bucks to spare?’ and I do, I give,” he said. “I think it’s weird to lie to someone, especially if you have it and you’re more well-off than they are.”

For some who gave, other social factors played more of a role than poverty itself.

“I guess it depends on how much I identify with the person,” said one young woman who gave money to an elderly woman. “If I see a woman, or a person with an animal, I could more easily imagine myself in their position and feel a personal connection to what they may be going through. If I can’t feel a connection, it makes it easier to walk by and not be motivated to act.”

Another woman said she typically doesn’t give, but felt particularly sympathetic to the same elderly woman.

“She looked elderly and desperate. You know, I usually don’t give if they look young and able-bodied, because I work hard for my money,” she said, therefore granting this woman understanding of her misfortune — a misfortune, she believes, that can’t happen to others who “work hard.”

In fact, throughout my hours of observing people’s reactions to both the elderly white woman and her black male friend panhandling outside of the subway station, not a single person gave money to the black man. (At the end of their panhandling session, the elderly woman gave him half of what she earned.)

This observation reflected what Paul Boden, who was once homeless for several years, and is now the organizing director for the Western Regional Advocacy Project, once said: “I think the poorer and darker-skinned and dirtier a person is, the bigger that private space bubble that Americans love to walk around with gets.”

Others had different reasons for giving. One man said he gives to homeless people who ask for money because of his faith, which coincides with researchthat found religion motivates people to give.

Throughout my time observing, however, most people who gave said that they sometimes help out others “just because.”

“I just had some extra change today,” one woman said with a shrug.

Similarly, most people who didn’t give or acknowledge a person asking for help said they do give “sometimes.”

Since someone asking a person for help is such an emotional encounter, it is difficult to believe there aren’t more complex factors at play. David P. Levine, associate dean at Denver University and a psychoanalytic scholar, said he doesn’t think people just give people money because they are asked for it.

“If people say [that], they just don’t want to think about what their motivations are very much.”

And perhaps for good reason, as trying to uncover one’s motivations can lead to unwelcome discomfort. One woman, who walked past a panhandler, said with a disappointed expression, “There are just so many people asking for money in the city, I guess sometimes I think it’s easier to ignore some.”

And most do. I stood by as a steady flow of people holding cell phones, iPods or shopping bags poured past panhandlers. One person commented, “These ones down here, they are professional panhandlers. They’ve been here for years now. I used to work here in the mall, and every day I’d see them. They must make a lot of money doing it, I think.”

But from my observation, that was hardly the case. About one person every half-hour dropped a dollar in a panhandler’s cup. Most just swarmed past. And a good portion of people actually claimed they didn’t even see the panhandlers.

Some said they didn’t give because they didn’t approve of the way they believed their money would be used. One man said he used to live in the Tenderloin, a San Francisco neighborhood with a large homeless population, and is therefore familiar with the panhandlers and their lifestyles.

“I mean they primarily use the money for drugs and alcohol, unfortunately,” he said. “So I tend not to give to them. In other cities I do, but not in this one. Mostly because I lived in the Tenderloin for a while.”

Others admitted that they were sometimes fearful of panhandlers.

“Sometimes I give. And to be honest, sometimes I get scared,” one young man said. “I’m new to the city, so I guess it all depends on how I’m feeling.”

Among the overwhelming majority of people who walked past panhandlers and the rare few who gave, was a small handful of those who didn’t give, but acknowledged the panhandler in some form.

One young man, who said, “Sorry, I can’t,” to a panhandler, told me, “I usually react kindly. I never ignore. I don’t think it’s wrong to not give your money if you don’t have it — I’m just out of college. But I do think it’s wrong to ignore someone.”

A fair portion of people who acknowledged the panhandlers, but didn’t give money, shared this outlook.

“If I could afford to always give, and to give generously, I would. But I can’t. And having to shuffle through the money in my wallet that I need to find a dollar bill I can spare sometimes makes me feel more ashamed than not giving at all,” one woman said. “So usually I just say ‘sorry’ and keep walking. But I’m not going to make another human being feel invisible.”


“At first, [being constantly ignored] wears on you,” said Bob’s friend, Christina, who was homeless and panhandled in the past. “But then you get so used to it, and it’s just whatever.”

Christina, her husband, Shane, and their newborn daughter were staying in a hotel, waiting for their affordable housing paperwork to go through. San Francisco has 40,000 households on the waiting list for public housing.

Bob said that before she was homeless, she used to ignore people asking for money on the street.

“I used to be one of those stuck-up people,” she said.

Christina claimed that people who appeared wealthy, especially, lacked understanding and gave her “rude looks.”

Another panhandler I spoke to named Ed, who was also waiting for government assistance to obtain affordable housing, reiterated this feeling.

“Lately, from what I’ve been seeing, it’s my working-class folks that will help me out,” he said. “You get a lot of rich people coming out of concerts and things and they’re like…” — he jerked his nose up toward the sky and walked a few steps.

These experiences corroborate with research that has found that wealthy Americans are not the most generous. But the research also found that those who live in areas, such as in cities, where poverty is visible, tend to be more charitable.

In San Francisco, poverty awareness and the ability to identify panhandlers played a big role in motivating people to give and/or acknowledge those asking for help. Still, many of those who gave as well as those who didn’t, were unable to explain their reasoning behind their actions.

That is why it is necessary to continue the conversation. The more we hear people’s stories and converse with them about how they treat those less fortunate, the more likely we can really start to deal with poverty. After all, the first step to truly address poverty is to examine our own reactions to it.

For Christina’s husband, Shane, it took his own struggle with being homeless to engage with poverty. He said he now makes a point of acknowledging panhandlers.

He said, “Now, I try to always say ‘sorry’ or something like that, and not ignore them.”

Alyssa Figueroa’s previous article,Do You Ignore Homeless People? was the first in this set of articles exploring how people react to panhandlers.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @alyssa_fig.

Thanks to Alternet.