“If someone can’t live on what they make, they should get a better job. If they can’t get a better job, they should go back to school.” These kind of naive and careless expressions are heard often by those of us trying to promote social justice and combat poverty. So many people fail to grasp the greatest reality of being in poverty: That you have less time than you have money.
I have been broke, but I have never been poor. So what’s the difference? The difference is that I always had time to improve my circumstances. When you are a young adult, going through college, you may have little to no money, but you are not poor. Your family, community, and social systems are conspiring together to give you time to improve your standing. Those in poverty seldom have anyone but themselves to rely on.
We may have 24hrs in-a-day, but none of us have 24 hrs of “brain time.” Let’s be honest, even the most professional among us can only really focus on an intense mental activity for at most six hours without sleep. Even as a writer, I need to be completely undistracted for at least four hours a day to be productive. Those in poverty aren’t just always distracted, they are consumed with worry and anxiety. Imaging never even having one hour to yourself to think?
Money is like oxygen other people give you permission to breath. Without “breathing room” single mothers can’t get good care for their children as they try to get an education. Without space and time to think, poor families can’t do anything but move from one crisis to the other. This is the most misunderstood difficulty of being poor, and it is helping those in poverty overcome the “tyranny of the moment” that is most important to being truly helpful.
Guest post by Yaholo
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