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According to Republicans, if you are poor than you are poor because of your own personal decisions. These kinds of statements come out of the mouths of people who won the "sperm lottery" through some combination of being born white, to rich parents, or in a safe neighborhood with good opportunities. Nevermind that unless you were born rich, nearly every path you take towards success in this country will lead to a middle-class life at best.

For those of us living paycheck to paycheck, the truth about this "bad choices" meme is plain to see. Debunking this notion is a simple matter of...Math. I'll show you why below the fold.

$8 hr, living @ home

For someone who is making $8 per hour, the Math looks like this:

$8 * 40 = $320 /wk, before taxes

We'll assume that 20% of that is taken out after federal, state, and local taxes are added up: $256

$256 * 4 = $1024 per month

IF this person is able to live at home with parents, a bills breakdown may look like:

Gas $40 /wk * 4 = $160 per month (assuming a high gas mileage car with only a 10 gallon tank AND that you have a short commute...double this if driving a pickup truck)

Internet $60 per month (must have for job searching, college, etc.)

Food $50 /wk * 4 = $200 per month

So we're looking at $420 per month on basic things right off the bat.

-  160  gas
-    60  internet
-   200 food

This is assuming that the car is paid for, and doesn't even take cable, car insurance, any loans, or any miscellaneous expenses into account. Still, it looks like staying at home with mom and dad is a viable financial option.


$8 /hr, living independently w student loans

Now lets suppose that you have graduated college, have student loans, and live on your own. A pretty typical post-graduate setup. You searched for a job in your field, and thanks to Republican policy moving low-tech jobs to China and giving high-tech jobs to the lowest (Indian) bidder, you're shit out of luck. After 6 months you finally land something... another $8/hr job.

So now not only do you have rent, food, & gas to cover at a minimum, but you also have a nice $300 per month student loan bill to cover. That's assuming that you "only" got off with a college degree for ~$40,000. That bill is a LOT higher if you are stuck trying to pay off a law or medical degree if you bought into the notion that these degrees ALWAYS pay off...

Rent is going to vary by region, but lets say that you find something for $400 per month. I'm low-balling a lot of these numbers. You can pretend that its actually $800 per month, but you got a roommate who is the perfect tenant, paying exactly their share of the rent on time every month.

-  160  gas
-    60  internet
-   200 food
-   400 rent
-   300 student loans

If you making $8/hr and have to live on your own, even with my low estimate numbers, you will be short ~$100 every month. Note that I still haven't factored in anything like a car payment, any medical costs, or god forbid you actually want to watch TV or have a working phone!

Where is this $100 coming from? This is where the corners are cut. Perhaps the food expense can be cut by $50 by hitting up the fast food dollar menu a few times a week. Of course the immediate cost savings from using that menu are offset by the numerous expenses and consequences of obesity, but that's another topic for another diary. How about cutting internet service? If the person in this example has access to a local library, then that might be doable. Maybe some of the student loans can be stalled while looking for better work. If you cut internet and skimp on food then you cover the gap and even have $14 left over to stick in a savings account that earns .25% interest, IF the bank will let you have an account under a minimum $25 balance.

Also notice in how many places this financial "plan" can fall apart. I'll get to that in a minute...


$18 hr, living independently w health insurance & student loans

Look at you! You finally landed a decent job with a college degree, and you are now at the entry or mid level pay grade for your position. You have a cubicle to sit in, company-provided health insurance, and you're banking $18/hr for your M-F, 8-5 troubles. You are grossing $720 per week, but ~$200 of that is gone after taxes and your new shiny health insurance deduction.

$520 * 4 = $2080 per month take-home income

So where are you at now, financially?

-  160  gas
-    60  internet
-   200 food
-   400 rent
-   300 student loans
-    60 cable (finally!)
-    70 phone

OK, now we are in financially sound territory, right? Of course, this is assuming that none of the previous bills are higher than my low estimates. With a higher paying job may also mean a longer commute to reach said job, which means another $100 or so on that gas bill. Rent could easily be $800 on its own now, considering that you may have decided to live solo by now. In any case, barring extra bills (see below) you should have some money left over to stick in a bank account...


But life is never that simple:

Most of us will end up in a hospital at some point in our lives, either through a disease, blunt injury, car accident, or other factor. I had a fainting issue caused by a medication I was taking that would knock me out at random times. I hit a counter top the wrong way and gained a nice large open gash on my face. Being away from home, I had to go wherever my friend knew the closest place was, and the location was going to be out-of-network no matter what. I was taken in, had blood taken numerous times, got stitched up, and was good to go after 5 hours or so in the hospital. I now have over $2000 in bills that my health insurance DIDN'T cover thanks to a side effect of a drug that I had to take, all because of medical conditions that I didn't choose to have.

And I'm one of the lucky ones! Imagine if I had to be stuck in the hospital for a day or more? How high would my bills be then?

I also made the "choice" to continue to drive an older vehicle. The occasional repair and maintenance was worth it to me compared to the added bill of a car payment. That plan fell through last week when the transmission went bad on my current car. Now I have to choose between paying for a transmission rebuild that costs more than the value of the car OR buying a newer used car and hoping that it lasts for at least a few years.

Here's how the car dilemma works: Most cars have MAJOR issues starting right after they turn 10 years old. Engines leak oil, transmissions burn out, belts and brake systems start falling apart at higher rates. These cars are also affordable for college students and those who can't afford $200+ per month on top of their current bills to drive anything better. I got lucky with this current car thanks to a hook up by a friend. Not everyone is lucky. Not everyone has a "choice" between clunker or car payment.

So people on lower incomes are buying cars that are all but guaranteed to die within a year or two of driving them. The cars themselves aren't worth much, so when they break down there is no leverage to trade in. If the person buys another clunker he or she is just rolling the dice again and right back at square one. There's no winning play in this game.

This is the same deal with the hospital bills. You can't "choose" to never get sick, never have an unintended side effect from a pill, etc. These things happen. The only difference between those of us who are living from paycheck to paycheck and those of us who have car elevators is that when the former are hit with these bills they are completely screwed! You can't "choose" between food and health, yet that is what Republicans want us to do with their anti-poor stance.

A car is also a necessity. Nearly all suburban areas in this country have NO public transportation, or like in my town, merely a bus system that doesn't take you anywhere close to work. All of the stores are miles away. Driving is not a "choice" in these communities, but a necessity.

Here's why people become poor, not by choice, but by the circumstances surrounding low-income living coupled with a bit of bad luck.

This is close to my real situation. Obviously I am rounding a bit for privacy's sake

-  160  gas
-    60  internet
-   200 food
-   450 rent
-   400 student loans
-    0 cable (I quit TV months ago)
-    70 phone

- 250 medical bills
- 200-250 car payment
- 80   utilities
- 20   cat care (food & litter)
- 100 car insurance


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