The Cost of Poverty, Literally

Here’s a sobering piece in the Atlantic on how much money poor Americans lose just by trying to manage their finances. A not-so-fun fact:

Approximately 70 million Americans don’t have a bank account or access to traditional financial services. That’s more people than live in California, New York, and Maryland combined. It’s more than the number who voted for Barack Obama (or Mitt Romney) in the 2012 election.

The writer calls for “financial education” and says “it’s also an opportunity for technology,” suggesting that

mobile apps can begin to replace the infrastructure of banks, allowing us to send money to friends, family, and businesses, and manage the sum that’s left over.

And the conclusion:

Ultimately, the solution to this problem will require the financial tech community to adopt a familiar economic philosophy. Poverty is painful, and it’s the responsibility of a fair society to make it feel easier.

Sure, mobile apps might help to manage limited funds, but this really wins the aim-low prize of the day. Technology can help make poverty “feel easier”? Simply by circumventing the check-cashing places and payday lenders who gouge the poor?

Here’s a better idea: Go directly to the problem and eradicate poverty. Insist on mandated living wages in all states. Make housing affordable for all. Provide childcare and healthcare.

American culture loves to view technology as a panacea. The writer of this article doesn’t necessarily do that, but he contributes to the problem by privileging technical solutions that address the symptoms, rather than humanitarian solutions for the real problem. Technology can help to solve these problems, but it can’t fix them. Only we can.

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On the Marriage Prescription for Single Mothers

Mainstream media rarely offer nuanced discussions of single mothers and poverty. Case in point: the dire current trend of marriage as a solution for impoverished parents. Although not perfect, this Washington Post article does better than most by acknowledging that marriage is not a panacea and depends to some degree on factors other than values.

Prescribing marriage, claims the writer, Emily Badger,

ignores what marriage might actually look like to a woman living in a neighborhood with high rates of poverty, unemployment and incarceration. It’s true that marriage can bring stability and emotional benefits to the children of middle- and upper-class families. But that’s not because the institution of marriage itself is universally beneficial. It’s because certain kinds of marriages are beneficial, such as those between adults who don’t have to worry about getting evicted, who can afford to pay their medical bills, who don’t contend with the surrounding stresses of violence or joblessness or having to get to work without a car.

Still, focusing on marriage for any group ignores the reality that even marriages in middle- and upper-class families do not necessarily bring stability, emotional or otherwise. Is the implication here that middle- and upper-class families have successful marriages because they have enough money? If so, that’s not a very convincing argument for how marriage benefits children, but it’s a great one for how good jobs and the community supports associated with them support families.

That’s not to say that there is no valid argument supporting marriage as beneficial to children. But I’ve not seen an argument that addresses marriage per se and that does not end up reducing the complexity of marriage as a social institution.

Which brings us to the real usefulness of this article: It begins to point us toward economic disadvantage as the root of the problem.

The marriage argument is dangerous because it draws attention away from things like the gender wage gap, unemployment, and the ideology of corporate welfare–all of which are the real drivers of poverty.

Poverty that seems to be encroaching daily on the middle class and that will never stop until we do something about the voracious corporate greed controlling so much of the planet. Yeah, that poverty.

 

Betty Fokker’s New Book

One of my fav bloggers is Betty Fokker, and she has a new book out! Betty is totally relentless against the forces of injustice. She blogs about all manner of feminist stuff, including body issues, racial justice, the class war being waged on the poor, and whatever else needs a fierce striking down. And she does it all with great humor and, I must say, a formidable arsenal of creative insults reserved for the worst offenders. Check out the book and her blog. Oh and wish her a happy birthday, too!