Posted on 11 Comments

A taste of poverty

Update Oct 29, 2008: The Federal poverty levels have been increased slightly.

What’s it like to be poor? It sucks. I am a very talented and technical person but our income ebbs and flows with project demands and is often at the mercy of a company’s accounts payables department which may have only specific days of the month that checks are cut.

"The technology market continues to grow, which keeps pushing wages up," says Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing at Yoh. "Hiring managers are continuing to look for specialized talent to help them keep up with maturing technology. For example, a candidate with .Net developer skills and pharmaceutical experience is far more engaging to a hiring manager than a candidate with the skills but not the market expertise or experience."

A trend is also seen towards reaching beyond geographic boundaries for talent, no longer insisting the technology consultants be on site.

[Source via Maszman Speaks!]

I like that "trend is … reaching beyond geographic boundaries" as my telecommuting skills rock! I have started trying to make a move from consulting back to the corporate world which could stabilize our cash flow issues but I have learned that doing so is a fulltime effort. That is, fulltime with no pay. I was recently pre-qualified for a part-time technical job. The interview process had two more steps. One, I had to write a piece of code and if they liked the code, two, I would have a face to face interview. The interviewer asked that I set aside 5 days for the code project…unpaid. Frankly I tried to squeeze it in but if I could afford to set aside 5 days to write a freebie for a large company, then I wouldn’t be looking to switch from consulting to corp. Of course, it may be easier just to remain a contractor.

I was wondering if other contractors have encountered "discrimination" from companies wary of hiring independent contractors as fulltime employees.

They also brought up the fact (without me asking) that they have an extremely high contractor to fulltime employee ratio and their contractors tend to leave. During the interview they also expressed concern about my contracting background. Several days after the interview I received an email saying they are passing me up.

I often saw posts to job boards saying that anyone that previously worked as a contractor need not apply. A friend of mine worked as a contractor and he found it hard to get permanent type jobs again.

I was told by someone who made an offer (that I eventually turned down) that they wouldn’t have made me an offer if they knew I was a contractor. Her reasoning was "contractors don’t feel as attached to the product".


Americans perceive the federal government’s definition of poverty as being too low. The government says that a family of four with an income higher than $17,029 is not poor. However, more than three in five Americans (64%) say that a family of four with an income of $20,000 is poor, and two in five (42%) say a family of four earning $25,000 is poor. [Source] [How Americans view the poor]

Poor people waste lots of time on the phone trying to negotiate with nasty people. This time on the phone would be better spent earning money. I just called an important creditor to explain that my client’s check did not arrive in the mail as expected (just spoke to them..they haven’t mailed it yet) and wanted to see if I could wait one more day to pay their $315.88 bill. They said sure but at that point the bill would increase to $691.29 plus a $40 penalty and they would require an addition $100 from me meaning that because I’m poor instead of paying $315.88 I am required to pay $831.29. Read that twice. "Because you don’t have money, we force you to pay more!" Note that’s a 44% penalty! They tack $140 onto a $315 bill.

Americans are divided over the causes of poverty. About half the public says the poor are not doing enough to help themselves out of poverty, and the other half says that circumstances beyond their control cause them to be poor. Low-income Americans — that is, those making less than twice the federal poverty level, or about $34,000 per year for a family of four — are only slightly more likely than other Americans to feel it is due to circumstances. [Source]

Definitely circumstances! And examples like the bill above only make circumstances worse. It is a simple harmonic motion. When one bill doubles, triple, quadruples, or has all the chits called in, other bills get skipped and then they take their turn in the cycle of doubling and so forth. Accidentally bounce a check and the bank will absorb the next paycheck of a poor person. "Well, that check caused a bounced check fee, then they tried processing it again so you got another one and of course we have to charge you an over draft fee and since you are carrying a negative balance there is a fee per day until you bring your balance current? Oh, you only wrote the check for $6 for milk. Well, I’m sorry but the fees amount to roughly $300." The wealthy are rewarded. "Since you maintain a balance over $1500 we waive the monthly checking account fee."

…people with incomes between the poverty level and twice the poverty level also reported serious problems … For instance, about 40% of the people in that group say they or someone in their immediate family fell behind in their utility payments or couldn’t pay for medical care in the last year; and more than a third say that at some point they had too little money to buy enough food. [Source]

What of health? Meanwhile, my wife urgently needs some medical treatment. She is in pain and I can’t do a damned thing about it. That’s right. Because we are poor, we don’t have health insurance, therefore we have to pay much more than people with money to take care of ourselves. Will I get her taken care of? Certainly. Somehow. But not only will I have to fight the creditors and the health providers (they don’t like uninsured people) but I will have to fight my martyr of a wife who won’t make an appointment because she doesn’t want to spend the money.

Data released today by the Census Bureau show that the number of uninsured Americans stood at a record 46.6 million in 2005, with 15.9 percent of Americans lacking health coverage. “The number of uninsured Americans reached an all-time high in 2005,” said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It is sobering that 5.4 million more people lacked health insurance in 2005 than in the recession year of 2001… [Source]

Repeat story for Wednesday. Overall though, we are doing better and recovering from the disasters of the past that put us into our challenging situation. We will overcome. It is hard to prosper though when your situation preoccupies the mind because that hinders the productivity needed to change the situation. Oh, I was just offered a position at $14/hr which would be roughly $560 a week then take out roughly 30% for taxes and what not leaving around $300 take home from which you have to pay for lunches and gas which would mean somewhere between $200-300 per week to pay for bills, food for family, school expenses, etc. The math just doesn’t work out. And the poor get poorer.

In one in eight of the poorest families, two adults work full time but do not earn enough to afford our region’s soaring costs.

These are the people who wait on us at the department-store checkout line, prepare our lattes, care for our children while we work and vacuum beneath our desks while we sleep. Our economy would grind to a halt without them.

But with low wages and slim benefits, their jobs are often merely a veneer separating them from disaster. An unexpected car repair, a weeklong illness or the cutback of a few hours a week at work can quickly put basics such as groceries or heat out of their reach.


Are you middle class? I implore you! Don’t slip. (but you are still getting screwed)

11 thoughts on “A taste of poverty

  1. Dude, I’m a professional poor person. I make more now than I ever have, and am a bit above the federal poor house, but well, well below the actual poorhouse.
    Wish I had some advice for you, but I don’t. Don’t gamble with health. It wouldn’t have saved BJ, but its still mighty scary.
    That 14/hr job will have insurance. Swallow your pride, take it, get benefits, and do jobs on the side. I love you Doug, but you’re a damn fool not to do it.

  2. The work that I’m doing right now actually pays more than the $14/hr job. The $14/hr job actually didn’t include insurance. Recruiters now-a-days seem to do a lot of fishing. That reference was to an email that I got from a recruiter asking if I’d entertain it.

    Our feast or famine lifestyle has given me a taste of poverty. We have had many times the needs have come before the checks have arrived. I look at the working poor far different than I did in the past. I ponder how dramatically quality of life can different over a fist full of dollars. I wonder if I will ever be in a position to help a family in need. No! I will put myself in a position to help families in need.

  3. realise that the difference between the rich and the poor isnt money. it isnt even about having money in the bank, though there are benefts to that as you mentuioned. not it is about atittude and intention. intend to get rich, intend not to be poor, set after the (well documented) ways on achieveing this and leave theat poor state behind. yes continue to help families in need, thats only something those who arent desparately in need can do but you need to start the attitude before you get rich or else you become miserly. look critically at all the hats yopu wear and choose to employ others to do the lower paid ones. dont fix your own car not matter how much money you can save doing it – its not about the money – its about the opportunity cost of the time you could have saved and did something that paid better. realise that cathy’s time in your buysiness alsio has to have the same value attached to it. start by reducing the menial tasks she has to do like laundry and c;eaning, and then m,aybe she would have time to take the phone calls, manage the bills and some of those tasks for you – leaving you more time for programming etc.
    this is an upwards spiral out of poverty – and i know because i am following my own advice. The more we employ others to take on the lower level tasks – including the grunt worjk of the code writing and development means i am freer to manage the clients expectations, chase new work and oversee several developers.

    oh and by the way the object between the code money and the calendar keeps crashing this browser and doesnt work.

    oh and contractors are welcome in australia – we have a booming it industry at the moment paying top dollar – come over for a 3 month stint!

  4. Doug thinks he HAS to control and do everything himself. That way, anything that goes wrong or breaks is all his fault.

  5. “..the object between the code money and the calendar ..”

    That’s the streaming cam. It’s a java applet. I wonder if you were looking at it when I had it turned off. Think I’m about to replace yawcam with webcamxp anyway.

  6. Yeah, I’ve been meaning to bitch about the java cam, it doens’t work too well, and takes a while to load. Neither here nor there.
    If the $14 an hour doesn’t pay insurance, screw it, its useless. But what you need to do, Doug (don’t you hate it when people say “what you need to do”?) is button yourself down to a job that’ll have insurance. If I can do it, in the IT industry, with nowhere near the credentials you have, surely you can.
    Seriously man. Its not worth the risk. It really, really isn’t.
    I worked a job I HATED (sales) for 3 years, around the time I first started the ‘tumor, but I did it because it was a regular paycheck and had insurance. It sucks, you wake up everyday depressed, and hating going to work, it leaks over to the rest of your life, etc etc etc, but at the end of the day, you know you did the right thing.

    Anyway, I’ll shut up now. 🙂

  7. The java cam is gone! Now I can work naked again. 😉

  8. I’m sure Cathy’s thrilled.

  9. You know, sometimes it just doesn’t do anything for me and other times, a get a little goosebumpy.

  10. I can believe it. Hell, I’m goosebumpy.

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