Hello FTBers! My cable was out for a few weeks, I managed to keep up with current events using my cell phone, coffee shops, and an occasional loose cable signal from an unwittingly helpful neighbor. Besides, I wanted to stay out of the way while the new format was debugged, and it seems to be doing fine. It’s rare when a major overhaul goes that smooth, so grats to Ed and the design team!
Not much changed for me over the month of August. I did find a new job that pays a living wage, but it doesn’t start until the end of September. As for cable being out; after paying off my past due balance thanks to the fruits of reader contribs a few weeks ago and little backbreaking minimum wage manual labor — and I do mean literally manual labor — my access is restored. Have you ever worked cash-under-the-table part time construction jobs in the middle of a blazing Texas summer at age 52?
Whenever I hear some privileged whiner whine on about how hard they work and that’s why they should get another fat tax cut on their millions, it’s worth a good loud laugh. I can tell you what it’s like to work real, real hard for shit money, because that’s what I’ve been doing all month long. But some people, who are probably not poor, have a very different idea why people might be struggling and very old, very bad ideas about how to help. Follow me below for the punch-lines.
The saying used to go the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. A more accurate, more modern version would be the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer. Unless you happen to be in the tippy-top 0.01% with a net-worth of about five million or more and commensurate income, everyone else probably includes you; if not now, it will eventually. But whenever the topic comes up, you can count on the usual suspects chiming in with very bad ideas about why that happens and very old, debunked ideas about how to remedy the trend. Case in point, this article Economic Data Shows Same Old Song, “Richer Getting Richer, Poorer Getting Poorer. (Which by the way may have a typo or two in it regarding top and bottom demographics. But that’s another story.)
What caught my attention was the two comments posted below the article, both proudly demonstrating a raging case of
Downing Dunning-Kruger Effect. The first confidently states the way we can get the economy on track and help poor people is by … cutting taxes on large corporations and wealthy people! I’m not sure what time-line that clown has been embedded in for the last 30 or 40 years, but apparently it’s not the same one where we’ve been cutting taxes aggressively since at least 1981. Which happens to correspond perfectly to the most dramatic period in which the rich started getting richer and everyone else started getting poorer on average.
But the next comment was so funny I had to post part of it here:
The irony is that this is caused by the Obama Fed policy of having interest rates near ZERO percent. Obama will of course lie about it but it is true. Because interest rates are so low, all the money is going into the stock market, and those who own stocks see their wealth go up. Thus, rich get richer.
Who needs higher interest rates? People on fixed income who need the money to live on and if they do not get it from interest rates, then they take it out of saving. Thus, poor get poorer.
Yessiree, someone actually, publicly asserted using what could be a real name that the reason the poor are getting poorer is because the yield on their bonds and CDs have gone down. The poster blames this on Obama, naturally, which is a bit of giveaway to anyone who doesn’t see why that’s so funny ==> Just the other day I was hanging out in Dollar General listening to single moms griping about how they had to take out another Payday loan to make ends meet because their portfolio of investment grade corporate bonds and laddered T-notes aren’t paying what they used to …
Well, bullshit, to put in mildly. For starters, for the rare investors suffering a drop in lifestyle thanks to lower returns on their presumed hundreds of thousands of dollars invested bonds or bank CDs, there are probably a 100 people enjoying much lower interest rates on their mortgages and credit cards. Low rates are generally good for consumers and thus they’re generally great for business.
The reason people are poor and the reason the middle class is slipping isn’t because of a flattened yield curve in their brokerage account or overbearing top marginal tax rates. Indeed, they don’t have brokerage accounts and they pay very little in federal income taxes. The reason the poor are getting poorer and everyone else is struggling is because they have shitty paying jobs where all the benefits and gains keep going to a tiny slice at the top, they have no job at all, or in the case of those lucky-duckies barely clinging to a lower middle class lifestyle, their wages have been stagnant for years and they have zero job security. On top of that, what little they can scrimp and save from paycheck to paycheck gets chewed up by companies that have discovered new, lucrative ways to wring out every last cent from them.
Exhibit 1) For example, my checking account bottomed out a few weeks ago and is in negative balance, can’t put cash in it or it’ll just get eaten up. So I had to pay my cell phone bill in person with a money order. My phone company charged me an extra five bucks for not using an auto-draft and then charged another five bucks for having the gall to show up on time and pay at the counter in person. Viola! My $30 phone bill morphs into a $40 phone bill.
Exhibit 2) My apartment complex discovered a small balance owed from old water bills — they do water weird here. It’s sort of part of the rent but I can’t know exactly what’s it’s going to be in a given month be until after rent is due, I have to estimate it. That didn’t use to be a problem, I would just over pay and build up a surplus. But with being laid off and juggling bills comes the tendency to underestimate and over the course of the year it added up to about twenty dollars short in total. So, this month, it hit a critical and undisclosed threshold of some kind, and when I turned in my rent and estimated water bill at the end of August, they waited a few days and then notified me I didn’t pay in full. Which means they could legally charge me full late fees for every day in Sept up to now. Bottom line, my shitty, roach infested studio apartment that already shags me every month for a princely $625 was over $800 in September.
Exhibit 3) After busting my middle-aged lily white ass in the hot sun digging foundations, I scrounged enough to pay the past due amount and get my ISP back up and running this week, and I knew there would be extra activation charges and late fees on the next bill. What I didn’t know is that that bill will already be past due this coming Monday. It’ll be about $200 instead of a little over $100 thanks to the extra charges, and thanks to the apartment scam and phone scam, I won’t be able to cover it. My cable/Internet will be cut off again sometime in the next week or two — resulting in more late fees and reactivation fees. So don’t be worried if I go dark again in a few days.
I have a pretty good attitude about all this. But being poor isn’t for pussies. It’s a good illustration of an average month and the kind of bullshit hurdles faced almost daily by the poor. This is a big part of how people get poor and stay poor. It’s not because our bond portfolios are paying low rates, or because we are paying too much federal income tax. It’s because we don’t make enough money and/or we get laid off, which makes us late on bills, which results in a vicious predatory cycle of penalties and other charges that some people can’t get out of.
I will get out of it, I’ll have regular income in another few weeks and I live frugally with no kids. I can survive on a big bag of potatoes and Ramen, maybe a little bread and a few pieces of fresh fruit, and some cheap canned meat for a week or more. Which is good, because if I had to raise a kid in the middle of all this shit, this post would probably be coming from a public library, if it came from anywhere at all.