Ministering in a small island town has helped me gain a new perspective on, and burden for individuals who struggle with poverty. The truth is what we call “poor” in the United States would be viewed as rich in a place where children don’t the street can’t afford clothes, and beg for food every day.
Being here has helped me understand better the issues those in need struggle with, and in a deeper sense how it affects every part of their lives.
One of the more interesting articles that emphasizes this holistic affect of poverty is Joe Carter’s “Why Being Poor Is Too Expensive” that uses a recent article “Being Poor is too Expensive” by Eric Ravenscraft as it’s major source.
Carter begins by referring to a movie where a poor african-American family plans a weekend getaway but blows a tire, and then since they don’t have a spare are forced to drive back on the rim.
Not much is made of the event by the characters in the movie, but those who are poor (or have ever been poor) know exactly what it means. If they weren’t able to pay for a small repair like a flat tire they certainly won’t be able to pay for the damage that comes from a bent rim. The car will either be abandoned or be sold for scrap. Either way, it means the same thing: they no longer have a car. Life for them will became just a little bit harder, a slight more miserable.
That’s one of the worst things about being poor: almost everything becomes a luxury good.
This idea that the smaller expenses of life being a luxury are explained further
If you’re higher up on the economic ladder you get things fixed, whether tire or teeth, before the repairs become even worse and become more costly. But when you’re poor, even small repairs are more than you can afford. And they lead to catastrophic consequences. It’s not that you’re ignoring a situation or ignorant about the inevitable disastrous outcome. You know it’s a problem and that it’ll be an even bigger problem in the future. There’s just not much you can do about it.
In other words it isn’t that they don’t want to fix the problem…they CAN’T fix the problem.
The article borrows an illustration from Ravenscraft involving transportation.
Transportation has two major hidden costs when you’re poor. First, lots of expensive car repairs are avoidable…if you have money to fix them early on. I used to ignore changing my brake pads for months. My car would start making that familiar squealing noise that indicated I didn’t have much time left before the brake pads were gone. I hated the noise, but I hated overdrafting on my account more. So, I turned the stereo up a little louder and tried to drive less.
Replacing brake pads can cost an average of $145, depending on your car. If I had to spend $145 to change my brake pads (assuming I even had that much in my account), at best I’d wipe out my food budget for the month. At worst, I wouldn’t have enough to pay utilities. So I’d put it off.
He proceeds to explain putting off replacing break pads eventually meant grinding the rotors which was of course a much more expensive repair.
Carter finishes his article by encouraging Christians to view poverty in a more personal day-to-day fashion thinking about the small expenses which to them would be luxuries.
Much of the discussion about poverty in our country tends to focus on the macro level. While it’s important to consider broad, general effects like unemployment or welfare policy, it’s just as essential to consider what we can do on a more personal level. There is so much we Christians can do for the poor, both as individuals and churches, if we simply take the time to find answers to the question, “How can I make life less expensive for the poor?”
On a personal level this article has helped me respond differently to those who visit and ask for things like food, soap, or cooking oil. In the past my American worldview would think about how cheap those things are (oil would be $5, soap maybe $10) and wonder why they couldn’t go buy those things themselves. Now it’s clearer to me how $5 would be much more than spare change for them….it’s a massive amount. May God help me remember what I view as cheap others view as a luxury.