If you’re poor, you often find yourself on the receiving end of harsh judgments. Every little thing you buy is scrutinized, judged, and disassembled by complete strangers. If you’re not confined to the “deserving poor” category, then you’ll be seen as a “leech” or a “moocher” who’s too lazy to work. This image of the poor as people who waste and squander their money, spending it on goods that they don’t really “need” in order to survive, dovetails nicely into the idea of the “deserving poor” category.
This, by the way, is what’s called a “myth.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ March report is out, and the trends are telling. Before diving into the numbers, here’s a chart from the Atlantic showing some of the expenditures of the poor compared with the wealthy:
Anyone who’s been to the grocery story lately knows that first statistic isn’t surprising; it’s easy to burn through $300 dollars to feed a family of four, and that’s with coupons and smart shopping. The big three – food at home, utilities, and healthcare combined – are nothing compared to the cost of housing, which isn’t on the graph. Housing, according to the BLS, takes up a full 25% or more of the bottom 20%’s income. For the top 20%, it’s only 18% of their total income. In total, the lowest quintile spends around 60% of their budget on basic necessities to get by – food, housing, transportation. This spending trend also holds true for individuals living on public assistance – they spend almost 77% of their budget on the basics. The top 20%, meanwhile, spends only 45%.
There’s a devil in these details; according to the BLS, the amount of money the bottom quintile spent on food decreased from the years previous by almost 1.7%, rather than jumping nearly 7%, as was seen in the year before. It’s not because the bottom quintile collectively decided that they needed to diet, either; the demand is still there, and is up to 18% in 2012 from 17.8% in 2008. The truth, it seems, is that there just isn’t enough money in the budget for food – people cannot afford food.
And that, in a historical perspective, should have the wealthy sweating bullets.
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