When poor people have nice things
Many folks get upset or enraged when someone in the checkout line who has a smartphone pulls out a food stamp card to pay for groceries.
This guest post comes from Andrea Whitmer at So Over Debt.
There's a graphic circulating on some of my friends' Facebook profiles that really gets on my nerves. I told myself I wouldn't write about it, but I saw it again last night and I just can't help myself. The graphic says, "Maybe someday I'll be able to afford an iPhone like the person in front of me at the grocery store. The one paying with FOOD STAMPS!"
Anytime that picture (or something similar) is posted, it gets about 50 "likes" and a long string of comments from indignant people who have personally witnessed a poor person owning something of value. The rage is evident: How dare someone on food stamps have a smartphone! Why should they even be allowed to have a phone at all? Our tax dollars blah blah blah blah.
Here's the thing: We can all think of at least one person who games the system. After working as a therapist for almost seven years, I can think of quite a few. But no one knows the life situation of every single person on the planet, no matter how much they think they do.
A good friend of mine got fired from her job just days after her husband was laid off. Both of them had iPhones on his parents' plan, which cost them $50 a month total. Now, what makes the most sense -- breaking that contract at a cost of hundreds of dollars, or scrounging up the $50 a month in hopes that one or both of them would find another job soon? They didn't have to sign up for assistance; they were both lucky to get jobs before their emergency fund was drained. But if they had, they would have been in the grocery checkout line with iPhones in their pockets. (Post continues below.)
I speak from experience
The only assistance I've ever personally used was Medicaid for my son at two different times during his life. But I will tell you, during both of those times I had cable TV. I had Internet access at home. This last time I had an iPhone (gasp!). I also owned several items that could have been pawned or sold for a decent amount of money.
Was I living it up? No. Not even close. But as someone with two college degrees and tons of ambition, I also never planned to continue collecting that assistance forever. Why should I empty my house of all the things I bought with my own money, only to have to buy them again when the crisis was over? That doesn't make sense.
Now, I could understand it if I had a Lamborghini or two in my garage. But when you're used to a fairly middle-class existence and something happens to you -- no matter what it is -- you assume that your situation will improve at some point. It's not like the poverty police come take all your stuff in the middle of the night. You still own all the things you did before. If you had nice clothes, you'll still have nice clothes. If your cousin bought you an expensive handbag last Christmas, you'll still have that handbag. No one drops off a tattered, dirty wardrobe for you to put on before you leave your house.
I know what you're thinking
I can just hear the comments now. "Well, I know someone who did X and Y," or "I saw a lady buy Z at the mall." I know. I've seen it too. That's not the point.
The point is, some people are in situations that we know nothing about. Some people own nice things from a better time in their lives and choose to keep those things during a setback. And some people make choices after becoming poor that we wouldn't personally make. Talking smack about those people on Facebook isn't doing anything to eradicate poverty, or to change the fact that there is widespread abuse of our current system.
If you get upset when you see a poor person with nice things like smartphones, all I ask is that you consider this:
- Maybe they just got laid off last month and they already owned the iPhone.
- Maybe a family member pays the phone bill.
- Maybe they're picking up groceries for a disabled neighbor with the neighbor's food stamp card.
- Maybe the phone was a gift and it's jailbroken on a prepaid plan.
- Maybe you should worry less about what someone else has and more about yourself.
To many people, I could be considered "poor" right now (even though my bills are paid and I'm saving money). And guess what? I own several nice things. Some of you will judge me for that, and there's nothing I can do about it. But I will continue to be disgusted when people criticize another person's choices, especially when they can't possibly know the full set of circumstances.
More on So Over Debt and MSN Money:
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