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

It's Rough Being Poor
by James Glaser
August 29, 2009

Some things are the same if you are living up North or down here in the South. Being poor is one of them. Sometimes it is hard to see the poor. Sure, there are the old singlewide mobile homes that are a tip off, or the city yard that has no grass or flowers, and there is an old beater up on blocks, but the real number of poor people is hard to estimate.

Wanda had to go to Quitman, Georgia, which is about thirty miles from our house. She was switching her cell phone from Alltel to Verizon in hopes of getting better reception at the house. Verizon sent her a phone, and Quitman had the closest office. Cell phone companies never let you use your old phone. You always have to buy a new phone if you switch companies. That keeps phone sales up. Don't get me started about cell phone companies.

Well, in that office we saw something we had never seen before. People kept coming in and paying five or ten dollars to keep their phone activated a few more days. It was Friday, pay day, and they were trying to keep their phone going until the next pay day. I guess, those were the people who still have a pay day.

Across the street from the phone company office is a Family Dollar Store. For those of you who have not had the Family Dollar Store experience, the best way to describe it is, "a step down from Wal-Mart." While Wanda was getting her phone changed over, I could see whole families walking out of Family Dollar, each member carrying something—bags of groceries, big bottles of bleach, and laundry detergent. They were not getting in a car, but rather were walking home with their purchases.

In America, when you get down to the point that you have no car or can't afford to drive the vehicle you do own, you have become one of America's poor.

I always pretty much agree with the Libertarian philosophy of smaller government, but I must say I like the fact that in this country there is a minimum wage enforced. I saw a lot of hardworking people whose pay check never got much over $400.00 for two weeks work. Some of these people had worked for the same company for decades, and the only pay raise they ever saw was when Washington increased the minimum wage rate.

If the government didn't force them to, there are people, employers, in America that would try paying people just as little as they could. The working poor in America, North and South are in such a hole, they will never get out. Prices constantly go up, but their wages are set by law, and many employers are more than willing to take whatever advantage they can, even if it is on the backs of the really poor. So, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Poor people are not bad people. In fact, many of them are the most honest people you will ever meet. Ask any tradesmen who is harder to get paid from—a poor working stiff or a doctor or lawyer? Hands down, the working stiff is right there with your pay, while the other two try to talk your bill down. That isn't a joke, it has happened to me several times. It got so bad for a while, that I wouldn't work for white collar business men unless they agreed before I started to what I was going to get. Even then some would complain. Those people would later on want me to work for them again, and I would explain that they had made my list of people I would never work for again. That never seemed to embarrass them, as a few years later they would ask again. I guessed that they had gone through every other worker, but even ten years later I would tell them they were SOL.

Seeing poor people lets you know we have a long way to go in this country before we have any sort of right to tell the rest of the world how they should live. Of course we still do that very thing.

Like I said, it is rough being poor. Our politicians are insulated from coming in contact with poor people. The poor have their place to live in every community, and the rich have theirs. People with money avoid driving in poor neighborhoods. Out of sight, out of mind. Poor people have their stores and the wealthy have theirs. Maybe the only time the two meet is when there is only one office for you to visit, and that is across from the Family Dollar in a town down the road from your house.

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