Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Being Poor
by James Glaser
May 13, 2010
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I have been poor. I have been poor with children, which is even worse. I don't think being poor in the South is much different than being poor in the North, except what your utilities cost. In the North you can heat your home with a barrel stove and wood, which in many places, with a lot of physical work, you can get for free. In the South, if you want to stay cool in the summer, you have no choice, but to pay high electrical bills to run your air conditioner.

I think it is a lot harder to be poor today than when I was poor in the early 70's. Back then you could still play games with your checking account, and if you ran out of diapers or milk toward the end of the week, you could count on that day or so before your check would have to be covered by your bank. Then you could run to the bank Friday afternoon with your pay check and cover that check you wrote. That had you starting out the week in the hole already, but it helped you get by.

Today, banks are a lot faster, and they know if they can catch you playing that game, they can hit you up for an overdraft fee, and then the merchant you wrote the check to can get you also. Now if you do that and get caught, you start out that next week way further in the hole.

I have seen the same crime down here in the South that I have seen up North. Mothers, at least usually it is mothers, stealing things at the grocery or drug store. Yes, I suppose I should have turned them in, but I have been poor, and I know what being poor does to you when you have kids, especially sick kids.

Many times I have seen mothers feeding their children as they walk through the store and by the time they get to check out, that bag of grapes or nuts or candy weighs a lot less. I have seen mothers slip some sort of over-the-counter medicine into the baby stroller and walk out. Should I say something? Would I do the same if I had to? I hope I wouldn't, and I know I wouldn't if it was I who needed some medicine, but if it were for my child? I guess to be honest, if I had to, I would.

I wouldn't be good at stealing, and really the people I have seen do it were not very good at it either. Maybe the store clerks see it, too. Maybe they have been poor in the past, and know what it is like, and if they see somebody stealing obviously children's medicine, maybe they look away, too.

Yeah, it is wrong to steal, but then it is wrong for 16 year old girls to be mothers. It is wrong too for children to have grandparents in their 30's and great grand parents in their late 40s or early 50's, but it happens all too often now.

When I was young, if a boy fathered a child, he was going to marry that girl. That is just they way it was. Today, all too often the boy or young man walks away, or if he must, he pays child support, but all that does is keep him poor and with little incentive to get ahead, knowing that child support payment will increase with his pay increase. Then when he finally does marry and starts a family, two families are poor. The one he is sending a pittance to, and the one he has with only 75% of his income to live on. Yes, it is bad all the way around, and no, I don't have any answers.

It seems to me that the poor in the South stand out more than the poor in the North. Maybe it is the clothing. Up north you can hide a lot with winter clothes, and at least where I lived in Northern Minnesota, life wasn't the car culture it is down here in North Florida.

In Minnesota, winter is a sloppy time, and the salt they put on the icy roads rusts new cars and old and puts a gray line half way up the car for half the year. Winter "junkers" are in, and you might make good money, but in the winter you drive around a "rust bucket" of a car so your good car doesn't get eaten up.

Down here people want to style, and old beaters stick out like a sore thumb. Even people who can't afford to stick money into their car to hide their poverty, and I can't blame them. In their eyes that car gives them a bit of dignity.

So, do I have any solution to poverty, North or South? Just this. We need corporations to bring home all the plants that used to employ so many Americans. We need to boycott things made in foreign lands, and I don't care about all the people who tout free trade. Cheap labor in foreign lands didn't make products cheaper, they just made corporate profits higher, but I do know this, if we continue down the path we are on, poor people will be stealing a lot more than over the counter medicine and grapes for their kids.

I don't think we can afford any more prisons, and we can't afford any more generations of growing numbers of the poor in this country. There is a tipping point, and when we reach it, the stealing and crime we have today will be nothing.

Having so much poverty in America is a crime, but the poor are not the criminals.

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