Is it harder to be poor or rich?
Answer by Bernie Klinder:
Of course it's harder to be poor. Poverty is violence. It's hard to become wealthy unless you are born into it, but it certainly isn't hard to be wealthy.
Most "challenges" faced by being wealthy can be resolved by paying someone else to make it go away, or advise you on how to deal with it. There are a few things that money can't buy, but you can get close to renting those things for a while. Wealth gives you freedom and it gives you choices. You can even choose to be poor, by putting yourself on a budget and living on the same income most others do or simply by giving it away to charity and starting over from "scratch".
Poor people have few choices, and they simply cannot "choose" to suddenly be rich. The solution to anything is always easy if you don't understand the problem. And chronic poverty is not just a money problem. I spent 10 years as a Paramedic working with urban poor, and living in poor neighborhoods (because inner city Paramedics aren't paid well) and I've learned that chronically poor people are not just "poor" in money. They are often poor in education which limits their income and job choices. They are "poor" in family, and have few people who have the resources to be a safety net and help them when things get tough. They are poor in nutrition because cheap food is not nutritious. As a result they are frequently poor in health. They are poor in choices, as they have few options and often must make choices just to get through the day – they don't have the "luxury" of thinking about the impact 2 months from now, they just get by one day at a time. They have to take the jobs they can get, live where they can afford to, and generally take what they can get. But most of all, many are poor in hope: many chronically poor believe that their circumstances will never change unless they win the lottery. They can't see the path from poverty to wealth, they just see walls and obstacles – and there are many. In addition, the stress is immense: it frequently leads to substance abuse which compounds the problems they already have. It also leads to mental illness.
If you were born to a drug addicted teen mother, in an unstable household, malnourished as an infant (which hampers brain growth and limits your ability to learn for the rest of your life), then go to a substandard school with limited funds, have few positive role models, can't read and have poor math skills, surrounded by decay, drug use, urban violence, and basically raised yourself from the time you are 10 years old, what choices do you think that person has left? You might feel angry, and alone, and convinced the entire world is against you. You may not even believe that you'll live past 25. You have few positive role models.
I met hundreds of kids with stories that would break your heart. Most people born into middle class can't even imagine what these people live through day to day. And this is in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It's worse in other countries.
There are some that manage to break the cycle and move from abject poverty to working poor. They work 3-4 part time jobs, stretch every dollar, make good choices, and improve their lives a little bit every year. It's a very hard road with many setbacks. There are people who arrive here as immigrants with nothing but the shirt on their backs and make a good life within a few years. But they rarely do it alone (they get a lot of help from the immigrant community), and they learned their trade and business skills back home. (My father did this, we are first generation immigrants.)
We cannot shovel the poor into ghettos, throw some food stamps and money at them and hope they figure out how to be rich some day. They need a hand up, not a hand out. And we need more people to understand the problem so we can work collectively as a community and a society to reduce poverty on a global scale instead of just asking "how come you're not rich?"
Hope this was helpful. Serious questions and comments are welcome.
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