This I Believe

Teri - St Pete Beach, Florida
Entered on December 12, 2007

This I believe

I believe that life in America has become tougher for the poor. I was taught that hard work pays off and the poor just don’t work hard. I have always paid my bills, worked my way into better and better jobs, earned degrees; increased my wealth. I have been blessed and lucky.

I have a daughter who has not made the same choices and she has taught me that one misfortune and a couple of poor choices can land you in a place that is very hard to get out of.

When Catie didn’t pay for her car, she lost it and then could only get to the convenience store on the corner where deodorant and detergent cost twice as much. But I paid my bills and I drive across town to shop at the big box store where these same things cost half as much.

When she didn’t have a car it took longer and was much harder to get to work, and the third time she was late her boss let her go and she had to find a job where tardiness is easier to tolerate. I have a car, and can leave the house at the last minute, race through traffic and arrive at work just in time-continuing my climb up the corporate ladder.

She did not have a bank account and had to use check-cashing outlets that took up to 10% of her paycheck as a fee. I go through the drive-thru of my bank, toss my check and driver’s license into the drawer and have some money left over for pizza and a movie.

Without a bank account she had to pay extra for money orders, for rent and other obligations. I sit down on Saturday morning with a cup of coffee and balance my checkbook while writing checks to the bank for my auto loan and mortgage.

When she used a credit card too much, a $2,500 debt became a $11,250 debt through late fees, over-limit fees and attorney and court fees. I make all of my credit card payments on time and the card is available for that little something I just have to have when I’m shopping at the mall.

When she got involved in drugs, she ruined her teeth and health, and wouldn’t be hired because she didn’t look presentable. I have managed to stay away from addictions, and I look good enough for public interface and my smile creates more opportunities for me.

Catie is lucky, she has a family who will support her while she turns her life around. We will get her medical and dental care and provide a warm bed and hot meal until she finishes college and can provide them for herself. But what of the less fortunate? What about those who do not have family willing to help them? Those who can least afford to shop at a convenience store shop at it the most. Those who can least afford check cashing fees and payday loans use it the most. Those who can least afford usury credit card fees and interest rates are charged the most.

I used to believe that the poor were lazy and because they were lazy they deserved to be poor. Now I believe that in America, once you have fallen off the tightrope, it is nearly impossible to turn your life around, and without a helping hand the odds are stacked against you.