Why It's Way More Expensive To Be Poor (From A Dad Who Struggles)

I get so scared sometimes.

Why It's More Expensive To Be Poor (From A Dad Who Knows) Serge Bielanko

There's an almost fabled aura hung around the neck of being poor in America, mostly because so many of us aren't poor ourselves.

The poor — the honest-to-God, struggling-to-survive human beings who do in fact exist in large numbers, scattered like autumn leaves blown up against fences, over vast stretches of cities or down forgotten rural roads where you and I never travel — they're like gnomes or wizards in a weird way. 


We hear about them but over time it's pretty easy to stop believing in them as real, as true. Because ... well, you know, where are they? 

I mean, they aren't in Starbucks, unless they're maybe behind the counter. And they're hardly ever in the kind of bars we meet up with our friends in. They sure as hell aren't shopping at Whole Foods, either. The places you go, they don't go. Am I right?

Listen, I'm not judging anyone. But as you walk slowly through the local farmer's market on some bright Saturday morning as you carry your little reusable bag full of organic greens and locally made cheese, and sip your freshly made mango smoothie, how many poor people do you think you're passing by? We both know the answer to that. 


Bernie Sanders cares about poor people. (Or at least he appears to.)

That's probably why he never pulled in the numbers that Trump did. People don't want to hear about the "down and out" so much. It's a bummer.

​Even a lot of people teetering on the poverty line would rather listen to Trump talk about building walls to keep out immigrants instead of thinking about the rock bottom scraping the soles of their sneaks. But I dig Sanders and his vision, and I laugh at people who think he's a Socialist sort with notions and thoughts that could never take hold in our country.

So many of us have convinced ourselves through the simple process of mantra-esque repetition that sweeping political changes which could benefit everyone are impossible in a land designed to offer every opportunity imaginable if the citizens just get up off their lazy asses, go get a job, and start climbing the ladder toward that good ol' Rockefeller sky.


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It's all crap, though. You're way more likely to end up poor than you are to end up rich. It's pretty plain to see. 

The other day when Sanders tried to explain why it's pretty damn expensive to be poor in these United States in the 21st century, he touched upon a lot of truths. 


If you don't own a home, Sanders pointed out, you don't have that wonderful piece of property security to build your financial world upon. And what are the chances of poor people owning a home anytime soon? None.

Is that because they don't deserve to own a home? Is that why it never happens? Or is it because they were born into a system where they were already discounted from that particular dream? 


I don't own a home.

I'm 44 years old, divorced. I've never collected unemployment or taken any kind of government handout; I've always worked my ass off at every job I've ever had. I've got three beautiful children who are with me half the time and we live in a pretty small rented house.

I like it here. We're a family here. I'd love to own this joint, make it our own. But I can't ever see that happening for me, for us. 

I struggle to make ends meet and I'm not embarrassed or ashamed to tell you that. I'm a kickass father and a pretty good dude, I've never been in jail, never been in trouble, and I try my best to get through each day, week, month and year by keeping food in the fridge and oil in the heat tank.


But it kills me at times. I can't even afford to buy my own healthcare right now. It's been deeply discounted and yet I'm still not able to make it happen without missing car payments or childcare payments or paying my electric bill.

And I'm not even all that close to the actual poverty line, either. I do OK; I get by. But it's harder and harder and I wonder what it must be like for those with even less than I have. 

Even though I don't know their names and where they're living at any given moment, I've always had this part of me who worries about how other people manage to get food on their kids' plates each evening. 

That notion had always seemed so American to me: to worry about those folks, to be concerned about the well-being of others. 


But it doesn't seem all that American anymore.

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The poor move in different circles. They aren't like me and you. They probably can't even imagine walking through a farmer's market; it's just too much to wrap their head around. Buying organic turnips that cost as much as 20 boxes of off-market mac-n-cheese isn't an option when the money isn't money at all; it's just this gust of wind that hurdles through your window every now and then only to tease you in front of your face before it flies directly out again and is gone forever. 

I get so scared. I teeter on the line sometimes and I don't want to.


When you're at the bottom and you're pretty much hopeless for your future — when the very thought of money or opportunity just reminds you of how much you pale in the eyes of so many others — what else are you going to do? 

You watch music videos or kitten compilations. You sit through car commercials for cars you know damn well you'll never own, just to take your mind off the reality choking the light out of your once-bright eyes. 

Bernie Sanders is right about why it's more expensive to be poor. But you want to know something else?

The real reason it's more expensive to be poor is because of the taxes you have to pay on your heart and your soul and your pride. That's a crime against humanity.


People shouldn't be forced to pay out that much until every dangling shred of their dignity is gone. If I couldn't provide for my kids, I don't know what I'd feel. I'd probably wish I was dead, to be honest — and that seems too high a price to pay for being poor. 

Most of us don't know what it feels like to look a child in the eyes and tell them that there's no more bread, no more milk. (And sure, you can be a hardass here if you want. You can get all Trumped up and frown and be jaded, and tell me that the handouts and the help only lead to more handouts and help.)

But I don't buy that.


Go ahead: close your eyes and picture that scene I just described, and see it like some commercial on TV with the sad violin wallowing the background and the Sally Struthers or Sam Elliott voice narrating the whole sad shebang before it all melts into the next commercial.

Maybe you're like me and you feel the outskirt sting of true possibility. Maybe we both know that it could be us one of these days. Maybe I could be poor. Maybe you could be the poorest of them all.

Imagine that. 

Imagine how shredded and shattered you must feel when you're out of money and there are two kid eyes staring at you wondering why you can't make some magic happen. Better yet, imagine your kid looking at their kid some day and feeling the same damn thing. 


So yeah, it's more expensive to be poor. But we're not just talking about money here at all. 

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in March 2019.

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Serge Bielanko is a writer and musician who has been published on Babble, Huffington Post, Mom.me, Yahoo, and more. Visit his website for more of his work.