Wealth and Poverty
How it works
When one thinks of poverty, often times “poor” is used to describe the unfortunate state. While I believe these are synonymous terms, I will take a different route in describing what I formally believe poverty truly is. To me, poverty is the state of lacking financial resources to meet the nation’s minimum standard of living, which I believe is the minimum level needed to acquire basic necessities: food, water, and shelter. This standard is also used by the government as a gauge to determine if a household is eligible for federal subsidies such as Social Security and Medicaid (Sraders, 2018).
As of January 11, 2019, the poverty guideline for a one person household is $12,490, while the poverty guideline for a two person household is $16,910 (ASPE). I will focus my thesis on the one person guideline due to my experience living in poverty in a family friend’s basement with my widowed mother since I was eight years old. These adversities have not only shaped who I am as a man today, but they have also shaped my view on poverty’s inception and the conditions it entails. My childhood tribulations have allowed me to link poverty to three catalysts: a devastating loss in the family, lack of education, and no prior history of family wealth.
When I was eight years old living in Houston, Texas my father, the breadwinner of the household, passed away from brain cancer. Because my mom was a part-time special education associate at the time earning very little money, she could no longer support the house. Graciously, our family friends in Fort Collins, Colorado offered for us to live temporarily in their basement, at least until my mom was able to get her feet under her. I was very conflicted with the move away from home, as the last thing I wanted to do was leave my childhood friends behind and live in someone else’s basement. At the time, I didn’t fully understand how poor we truly were. While my dad earned a below average income as a machinist, I never considered us “poor.” Throughout my childhood in Houston, I was able to experience many of the same delights my friends were, such as birthday parties, vacations to South Padre Island, and Christmas presents every year. After the loss of my dad; however, things were noticeably different. I certainly began to feel “poor.” I vividly recall cycling through the same four to five outfits each week, receiving less and less as each birthday and Christmas passed, not experiencing vacations unless I was invited by a friend, and living off frozen meals for dinner. After my mom struggled to find an affordable place to live, our family friend offered us to live with them permanently. We had no choice but to accept. After a year in Fort Collins, my mom and I moved with our family friends to Dallas Center, Iowa, still living in their basement. Although we moved to a more affordable location, my mom and I still stuck around the poverty guideline as she never earned more than $16,000 as a special education associate at Dallas Center-Grimes High School. Our journey into poverty was certainly kick started by the unexpected, devastating loss of my dad, and I am confident that many other families around the country are poverty stricken due to a devastating loss in the family.
My next catalyst of poverty is a lack of education in the family. My father is originally from Coventry, England and received no post-secondary education during his time across the pond. Due to the poverty stricken state of his family, his migration to the United States was driven by a pursuit of financial stability and opportunity. Similarly, my mother also received no formal education beyond high school. The lack of a college education severely limited the earning potential of my parents, which should be no surprise according to recent data by the Bureau of Labor Statics. In 2017, median weekly earnings for those who earned a bachelor’s degree were $1,173, significantly more than the $712 those with only a high school diploma earn (Torpey, 2018). My father, working as a machinist, and my mother, working as a special education associate, possessed jobs that yielded meager earnings, a circumstance resulting directly from their lack of postsecondary education. This correlation only magnified after the passing of my father, as the difficulty of maintaining a household as a widowed spouse without a college degree only rises.
My third and final catalyst of poverty is possessing little to none family wealth. As previously mentioned, my dad migrated to the United States from England for the sole purpose of breaking the poverty cycle in his family. Furthermore, while my mom did not come from a poor family necessarily, no family wealth existed that would prevent us from being near the poverty guideline. In addition, I believe this third catalyst is a fundamental driver of the cycle of the wealth gap. High-earning families are able to pass on their wealth to their offspring, allowing them to pursue a college education and continue the family trend of staying in the upper middle class. On the contrary, families in poverty do not possess resources to provide to their offspring to facilitate their financial stability in hopes to buck the poverty trend in the family. As a first-generation college student, had I not been fortunate enough to receive academic scholarships, I likely would have continued down the poverty cycle that has stayed in family for years on end.
Living on cheap, frozen meals, working to help support my mother throughout middle school and high school, and rotating through just a few outfits are some of the unfortunate conditions that entailed living in poverty with my mom after my dad passed away from brain cancer. The poverty stricken nature of my childhood can be attributed to the loss of my father, my parents’ lack of education, and no prior family wealth. Not only do I believe these are the three critical elements of myself growing up poor, but I believe these are the three catalysts that help drive the ubiquitous epidemic of poverty.