There are many ways to stay locked into poverty. The repeated, depleting experience of temporary employment is one factor which leads to a cycle of staying in poverty. Working for no-wages, such as trainees do on workfare benefits, is another path to poverty, as workfare does not pay for the transportation to the job, for uniforms and tools. In the meantime, while one is working as a trainee or in an unpaid internship, the rent must still be paid and the electrical bill. The money to pay for ongoing expenses is often borrowed from friends, family, and through expensive loans. As borrowing exceeds money coming-in, debt increases. There is no money for new shoes for the children or any frills. Often there is no money for heat.
There are whole groups of jobs which do not require a degree, which pay less than minimum wage and which appear to guarantee episodic employment. If you are receiving public benefits contingent upon having a job, these low -wage jobs are enough to qualify as employment. Since there are so many competing for these low wage/below minimum wage jobs, wages stay low. Who can object? Quitting demeaning, dirty and dangerous jobs which pay poorly is one way to express discontent with a job and how it degrades human labor and pays almost nothing. Quitting leads to more temporary employment experiences and to having to look for work again, and the long slog to get another low-wage, undesirable job. Debts remain and need to be paid.
And yet those interviewed in this study in Britain saw themselves not as ‘poor’, but as workers who were ‘not doing great, but doing alright’. It was a puzzle to me how individuals could go through this grinding cycle of jobs on and off for years and on and off benefits for years too. It seems a cruel joke to play on those unlucky enough to never have a decent job with good pay, good benefits, and an employer commitment to retain the employee. Those jobs rarely lead to a better job with better pay. The rare employer paid for an employee to attend school for more education, but most of the interviewees experienced a grim rotation from job to job and then to benefits if the jobs were not there when they needed them. And yet the workers saw themselves as lucky to have jobs and grateful for the work when it came to them. They appeared to accept the uncertainty of their work lives and their accumulating debts.
In my opinion, without a government program to create decent-paying, meaningful middle-class jobs, the dynamics of the free market system of capitalism are for prices to rise until the rich auction winners take all the over-priced necessities which none of the impoverished-rest can afford. Conversely, in a perverse downward competition to get hired, more and more are compelled to accept wages which do not do much more than show welfare police that a person temporarily, ‘has a job’.
Even persons with education fell into the poverty mill. No group was immune from falling.
This is the poverty trap, English Version. Middle-class Americans should scrutinize this study carefully, because it is an opportunity to look at poverty without preconceptions and prejudice. Distant views sometime help improve comprehension. The lens is somewhat less clouded by what we do not unconsciously wish to know, and somewhat more clear of fears of what we might see when the view is of struggles far off from here, across the great waters.
The symptom of poverty which pundits rail against is child poverty. All are in agreement that this is destructive. But how many agree that all jobs should pay a decent wage and that healthcare and education should be universal and free? Guaranteed income for the unemployed and guaranteed jobs could eliminate poverty for all time. Poverty does not begin with child poverty; it ends in child poverty.
Drawing is from Les Miserables, a novel by Victor Hugo.