Originally published at Sultan Knish.
Uncertainty and struggle are what we most often associate with poverty. Not knowing if you can still afford to pay next month’s bills and worrying over how much more you can cut back when you’re already barely getting by. This way of life has become more associated with the middle class than with those at the very bottom. The statistic that shows that average black household worth is at $4,955 while average white household worth is at $110,729 is often quoted, but these numbers are not comparing similar things. Comparing the naked numbers is as misleading as comparing the average salaries in Tokyo and Bombay. What matters is not how much money you have, but how you live.
The $110,729 and $4,955 don’t reflect different standards of living; but different ways of living. Much of that $110,729 is home equity. But why do you need to shoulder the burden of a mortgage, when the government will just give you housing for free?
It’s misleading to think of the $110,729 families as privileged and of the $4,955 families as oppressed.
The $110,729 and $4,955 families both have large flat screen televisions, smartphones and the usual baseline consumer toys. They could both eat equally well, except that the $4,955 family doesn’t bother watching its food budget. It just takes whatever it wants off the shelf and worries about prices later.
In terms of personal satisfaction, the $4,955 family is happier than the $110,729 family.
To understand this, think of the “Cloud”. You can buy a laptop powerful enough to store all your programs and data. Or you can get by with a mobile device whose apps connect online to a “Cloud” of someone else’s servers which store your data. The laptop is heavier to carry than the mobile device, but makes you more independent. Or you can just live in the “Cloud” confident that no matter how you mess up your device; your data will be backed up.
America is being divided between the workers and the dwellers in the government cloud.
The $110,729 families are independent while the $4,955 families are living in the cloud. Their cloud is “Social Capital.” Social Capital is their support system within their extended families and the government. Instead of using real capital, they use the collective Social Capital of family resources and government aid.
The $110,729 family pays for everything. The $4,955 family pays for very little. The $110,729 family earns and saves money because that is its medium of exchange which it uses to obtain food, shelter and clothing. The $4,955 family uses money for luxury goods like televisions or sneakers. It doesn’t need to save money because cash is just bonus points. Its necessities like food, medicine and shelter are covered by the social capital of the government.
The $4,955 family is single parent, but is built around a large extended family, mostly female, and mostly on various government benefits. That family is capable of providing valuable aid, not just in government money, but also by babysitting and helping out at home.
That extended family is one reason why Clan $4,955 has 5 to 8 kids, while the mother of the two-parent $110,729 household is tearing her hair out trying to figure out how to manage two kids and a full-time job. The $110,729 household doesn’t have much of an extended family. Their grandparents live somewhere else and are enjoying their retirement. They pitch in sometimes, but not nearly as much as their own parents did, and they have their own financial problems.
The $110,729 family is isolated while the $4,955 family is part of a social network that extends through a dozen female relatives to the entire government. Is it any wonder that the $4,955 family also has much less worries and is living an existence more associated with 19th century fantasies about an indolent Polynesian paradise than the grim modern day struggles of the $110,729 family living in the house they don’t own and worrying what will happen to their standard of living if they lose their jobs tomorrow? The $4,955 family has a lot of kids. Its kids, in traditional Third World style, are disposable. If a few go down, there will be public tears and wailing, but there will be a bunch of others left. Clan $4,955 doesn’t do helicopter parenting or hover over Shane Apple Buckbaum-Cleavens and worry about how he’s going to get into Harvard when the waiting list for a private kindergarten is so long. The $4,955 family’s kids are disposable. They bring in money to the family in the form of benefits, then they drop out of school, hang around causing trouble until they marry, drift to another city or go to jail.