Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Are You Really Broke?

Class is something we really do not discuss, because we live with the lie that the majority of people are middle class.  The middle class lie is so pervasive that many put themselves into debt to acquire the trappings of a class location that they are not a part of.  Today we have far more people in the category of working class and working poor than we ever have before, and yet there is such shame with owning this label. On the other side of this equation are those that constantly claim to be broke and yet live in relative comfort with a fridge full of food.  If you can walk into a grocery store and purchase whatever comes to mind, you are neither poor or broke.  Food is something poor people reduce in times of economic retraction.

Quite a few years ago, I was visiting a friend of mine when her mother returned from grocery shopping and announced how many slices of raisin bread each person was allowed to have.  At three dollars a loaf, raisin bread was considered a treat and therefore, the bread had to be equally divided to ensure that each person got a fair share.  More recently, I went to the grocery store with an acquaintance to pick up a few items that the unhusband forgot when he went shopping.  I watched with shock as he walked over and started picking out meat that had clearly turned in colour -- that the grocery store was selling cheap to get rid of.  I listened as he told me how he planned to marinate this meat, to bring it back to top quality and then I stared into my cart with its fresh vegetables and good cuts of meat. I also listened to his plan to freeze the milk that he was buying because it was on sale.  Never in my life have I frozen milk, I simply purchase it when we run out.

Yesterday, I went to the bank before our family went on a torture trip  back to school shopping.  As I waited in line, I looked up to see a backpack hanging from the wall.  It seems the bank is running a fill a backpack charity drive, to help students afford their back to school supplies.  When I shopped, my only worry was whether or not the backpack would be big enough and if the boys liked the particular design.  I loaded up that cart with paper, shoes, clothes, pencils etc., without a single worry.

In the days to come, I will register the boys for hockey and dance.  I will of course continue to pay for their karate.  I believe that extra curricular activities build character and because I want only the best for my children, I will not think twice about the money.  Even as I write this, there are parents applying to Gales for funds to put their kids in some kind of activity for the season.

There have been plenty of times when I thought that I was poor, because I could not afford the latest new thing.  I could seriously use a new dining room table and the furniture in my living room really could stand to be replaced yet again, but does any of that make me poor?  I purchase things on a whim and I have a small nest egg, yet in comparison to others, there is always some sense that one should always have more.  The urge to consume is what keeps our capitalist society running. We get rid of perfectly serviceable items, because they no longer convey a message of prosperity. 

I think that even as we change from a middle class society, to a working class society, too many people still fail to understand what being poor actually is. This is not to say that we should not be dissatisfied with the uneven division of assets, but that we should really understand what poverty actually is.  As westerners we often fail to recognize that even the least amongst us is privileged.  The idea that poverty is something that is extremely relative, is often outside of our thought process.  As I said at the beginning, claiming to be broke and yet living in what many around the world would consider to be opulence, is a raging example of our privielge. This does not mean that the financial issues that we deal with are not  difficult or even extremely challenging, but it does mean that we have to put things into context to truly understand our actual place globally -- so when we say that we are broke or even poor, we can understand how erroneous this statement may be.