Taking the Scenic Route

Thursday September 22, 2005

22nd September 2005

Thursday September 22, 2005

posted in Uncategorized |

A short while ago I posted the “Being Poor” writing.  A few days later the same piece was posted at MDC.  It turned into a long thread, that eventually got pulled because somebody started posting a bunch of mean-spirited crap on the thread.  After reading the thread (before it was pulled) I felt like the subject garnered further discussion, so here are some more of my thoughts on the subject.

One of the things that frustrated me was that a person on the list kept insisting that being poor was totally a choice and if a person wanted to rise out of poverty, they could.  I found this thought process to be very short sighted.  When I posted about my experiences, I got a response that I was not one of the people that they were talking about.  (since we were using what assistance we got as a safety net while we were actively working to pull out of the situation.)  Normally, that kind of statement makes me feel less crappy about the situation, but this time, after reading the other comments by this person, I felt like they didn’t really understand a lot of people who were living in the cycle of poverty. 

Yes, in an ideal world, the only people that would get assistance would be people in similar situations to us.  People with the ability to use it wisely while working to make a future where we can be the ones who are putting more into the system than taking out again.  I honestly believe that is the majority of people on assistance.  However, there will always be people on assistance with very little ability or knowledge to get out of the situation.  We had some things against us, which makes me appreciate how difficult it can be for people who can not get past similar or more difficult situations.  We also had some things going for us that many, many people don’t.  I am going to use my experience to illustrate my point.

Things that affect your ability to get off of assistance:

  • Physical pain.  I used to have severe pain from Endometriosis.  It was very hard to work (heck, walk) through the pain at times.  It is also very difficult mentally because it can cause rather dramatic mood swings, and coupled with infertility, can make dealing with people very difficult at times.  I was fortunate.  I was able to get treatment and I had my parents to help both with emotional and financial support when I needed it.  I also had a dr. who was very generous with the samples and there were times when I didn’t have to pay a dime for rather expensive (to me) Rx drugs because of his kindness.  I do not take my physical health for granted.   I understand that many people face more serious, and more permanent physically devestating illnesses with no hope of getting away from the pain.  I can only imagine the level of stress and hopelessness that would come with that.  Disability is devastating.  A lot of people on disability have good days and bad days.  Just because they have good days does not mean they are ‘using the system’.  Employers are not going to tolerate the ‘bad days’ no matter how good of an employee you are because it makes you fairly unreliable.  They can’t hold down jobs, especially good jobs with good benefits.  (employers also shy away from people with disabilities, even though they are not supposed to, because it may affect their insurance rates.  It might not be legal, but you better believe it exists.  I was in a position to hire people but had to go to my manager for final approval.  It was never spoken, but made quite clear that I was to take the less qualified candidate when a more qualified one had obvious disability.  I was horrified, but in no position to change the system at the time because I was a fairly new manager and, unbeknownst to them, newly pregnant) 

Physical pain, again, this time with my husband.  He has dental problems.  It causes him a great deal of pain at times.  It makes it hard to concentrate at times.  It also affects his ability to have confidence at interviews, when first impressions are so important.  He always feels like people are going to see his teeth and be turned off by him.  Fortunately, in his field (computer science) physical appearance is not as much of an issue as it is in many fields.  The problem is when the interviews are with business types who are interviewing for tech positions, don’t really understand the job they are hiring for, and use their industries standards to make a decision (which includes how you look).  That is why he is finding much more success in academia at this point.  People there are much more interested in how your brain works than how you dress or look (which is obvious if you have ever looked at computer science and math profs at most universities … the stereotypes do come from someplace after all.  lol).  What they are looking for in first impressions is much different than other people too.

Physical Issues 

  • Physical Pain.  Anybody who has dealt with long term physical pain, chronic or curable, should have some understanding of how this affects your ability to work.  If it hurts to breathe, it is going to be really hard to maintain concentration, be able to respond appropriately to frustration, deal with physical demands of even small tasks, and be a pleasant person to be around.  Now, make that pain chronic, with very few or no options for pain control.  Think of how depressing that would be.  If you can take pain medication, it is likely it has some nasty side effects that just add different obstacles to your ability to function.  There are people who are on disability who have ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’.  If you only see them on the good days, you are going to have a very skewed perception of their lives.  (hence the nasty comments about how they might be ‘abusing the system’)  No matter how many laws we put in place, employers are still going to find ways to fire people who can’t perform the duties on some days, even if they are normally stellar employees.  It doesn’t really matter if there are doctor’s notes and reasonable explanations, you won’t be considered ‘reliable’ and they will find something to fire you for (or get you to quit so they don’t have to pay unemployment out).  It is not fair.  It is human nature though.  
  • First Impressions.  This has a huge, huge impact on your ability to get a job in the first place.  In order to make a good first impression, there are some basic needs that have to be met that many people can’t. 
    • You have to have nice clothes that fit well.  Requires:  owning or being able to borrow clothes that are appropriate (including undergarments, hose with no runs that show, and shoes, and shoe polish if necessary), being able to launder, press, or dry clean clothes (electricity, access to laundromat, money for soap/fabric softener, access to iron/starch, surface to iron on), not having weight fluctuations since the last time you wore the clothes, no holes, stains rips or tears…and well hidden repair work (either new items or ability to sew, money for thread, needles, buttons, ect),   and, finally, understanding what is appropriate in the first place.
    • Nice appearance beyond clothes.  You have to smell nice (requires access to running water, shampoo, soap, deodorant, and maybe perfume/cologne in small amounts).  Hair has to be neat (money for hair cut, or somebody with some talent at cutting hair who will do if for free, and depending on your hair, you might need gel/mouse/conditioner or clips/pins/barrettes and maybe a dye job or touch up work…all cost money).   Fresh breath is also important, so you will need toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, and maybe some mints.  (of course, you also need to have decent dental/oral health or none of these things really matter much) You also might need to have a razor (that doesn’t shred your skin), shaving cream, make-up (and knowledge of how to use it correctly) and possibly tweezers/itty bitty scissors.  Basic grooming is actually very expensive, even when you only get generic and only the basics.   
    • Other less changeable issues.  Some issues can be hidden effectively during interviews, but some cannot.  Hair loss/bad hair, bad teeth, bad skin, and weight issues can all make it very hard to deal with interview situations.  You go into the interview feeling like you already have a strike against you and it is hard to be confident and relaxed when you feel like there is a neon sign highlighting the things you wish you could be different.  It is hard to smile when you hate your teeth, it is hard to pull your hair out of your face when you feel like hiding your recent breakout on your cheeks, it is hard to feel beautiful when your clothes are tugging at you or falling off your body.  It is also hard to concentrate when you are trying to hide that run in your hose or walk (I have had walking interviews) in shoes that don’t fit well.  In general, you are able to deal with all of these issues when you have money, and are going to have a much harder road if you have no money.  This doesn’t even take into account any obvious disability. 
    • Resume/application:  requires literacy and readable, if not neat, handwriting.  You also have to have a phone number and address.  (for some service, min. wage jobs this isn’t as much of an issue, but try getting anything with benefits and decent pay without those things).  People do pay attention to where you live in town too…a nice address will get you in a lot sooner than a part of town that is known for being ‘poor’.  Have to have references, better if they are in the company you are applying for, good if they are in the same industry, and the longer you have known them the better.  This requires connections, even if it just knowing the mailboy, to even get a shot at an interview sometimes.   For better jobs, you have to have a good resume.  This is something that people pay money to have somebody do in many cases, and difficult to do well when you are on the outside looking in.  Trends change so quickly that it is very difficult to keep up.  In many industries, they require a hard copy (which means getting them professionally printed on nice paper, again a financial issue) and an electronic copy (requires knowledge of both layout and tech aspects, and access to the technology in the first place). 
  • Transportation.  You have to be able to get to the interview, as well as the job.  Depending on where you live, this requires access to public transportation, or a working car.  Having a car means you have to pay for gas, insurance, and keep it in good enough repair you won’t get pulled over and you are able to get to work on time on a regular basis.  If you job requires driving, it might have to look decent too. You also have to be able to obtain a liscence, which requires knowlege & the ability to pass a written and driving test, no restricting convictions, up-to-date proof of insurance and tags, and a car that can pass inspection. 

On a basic level, you have to have money to make money.  You have to be able to cover these basic needs to get or maintain even a minimum wage job.  Some places also require you to maintain a particular dress code/wardrobe, which cuts into your paycheck.  My parents have had to help us with clothes/transportaion/hygene items just to get through the interview and first weeks (before your paycheck) so we could even GET to the paycheck.  A lot of people don’t have that kind of support. 

Social Issues

These are much harder to overcome because they are not as visable.

  • Mental stability.  Whether through genetics or circumstance, some people really struggle with issues that make it difficult to maintain a job.  You have to have a certain level of mental health to be able to deal with frustrations, setbacks, interpersonal relationships, and pay attention to what you are doing and your environment.  It could be as simple as the person never being taught coping skills, a person that is very intellegent being bored out of their mind, or as complicated as ADD, depression, or schitzophrenia.  Some people are also infinatly more sensitive to various work environments…too hot, too cold, too noisy, too bright.  That propensity is finally being recognized by modern medicine (sensory disorders), but many people think they are being unreasonable, and for those who aren’t dealing with the severe end (where they would qualify for disablity) they are fighting just to keep from losing it in many work environments.
  • Social Support.  This is probably the biggest factor that goes unrecognized by those who are not in the midst of it.  Social support includes things like:
    • Growing up around people that value education.  Since education is generally the most accessable way out of poverty, if you grow up around people that encourage education and instill a desire to learn you are going to have a much easier transition into educational programs.
    • Growing up around people that have time for you and value you as a person.  It is hard to learn to value yourself when you grow up feeling unvalued.  This is the biggest challenge facing single parents who are working several jobs just to try to keep afloat.  The little time they have with their kids, they are often tired and it is very difficult to parent well when you are exhausted and overworked, even under the best of circumstances.  This is why we need to support single parents.  They need support, both physical and emotional, so there is something left for their kids.  Without that, they are very vunerable to generational poverty.   It is also nearly impossible to find a way out when you are so tired and overwhelmed you can’t see tomorrow, much less the long distance future.  If you can’t do that, you can’t make effective plans to pull yourself out.  As a community, we need to reach out to these kids, we need to keep funding for after school programs, we need to make sure the kids around us feel valued.  I am going to sound like a complete and utter liberal here, but I think the best thing we could do for our future is to make sure all children have at least one parent that can stay home with them full time, at least until school age.  If they are single parent households, that means totally supporting the family until the kids have the option of school.  I also think there should be a large tax break/credit for stay-at-home parents.  I beleive that, overall, the value of having an attentive parent at home with the children pays off in the future with lower rates of deliquency, better self-esteem, and a more promising future for the next generation.  It is not a perfect solution, but I have faith that most people would rise to the challenge of parenting as vocation.  (Notice I said ‘parent’ though this, not “mom”.  I sincerely believe that this is not a gender issue, but a family one)
    • Knowing that success is possible.  This might sound trite, but you have to be able to visualize yourself as successful before you can even begin to work towards that.  You must have the ability to move the dreams of your future into concrete goals with a plan to get there.  Even one person in your life that believes in your ability to make it happen can mean all the difference. 


This entry was posted on Thursday, September 22nd, 2005 at 4:15 PM and is filed under Uncategorized. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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