Thursday, May 21, 2009

Recently the Deseret News ran an article describing our poverty project. In response to this article, many people posted comments online that perpetuated the misconception that because poverty in America isn’t as extreme as poverty in developing counties, it isn’t a real or serious issue. Here are a few of the comments:

“Only in America can people pretend to be poor for a little while. Go to Africa, Indochina, Central America. Experimentation is a real EYE opener.”

“The american people don't know what poor and even being in poverty is. Our version of poor is condisered wealthy in a real poverty stricken country. The american people will always have this poor class in its society and its always been looked down upon as a choice these people make.”

“I agree that Americans (most Americans) truly don't get it--about being poor. I've been to a third world country--and have seen what real poverty is.”

It upsets me that people make light of poverty in America because it isn’t as bad as other regions of the world. No, we don’t have large populations of people who lack access to clean water, sanitation or basic education…but poverty is not a competition. Unlike countries such as India, Kenya and Bangladesh, we have the financial means to end chronic poverty. The resources exist in the United States to ensure a minimum standard of living for all of its citizens. No child in America should wonder where there his/her next meal is going to come from, or where he/she is going to sleep each night. All full-time workers should earn a liveable wage. Healthcare should not be a luxury for those fortunate enough to have it provided through their employer.

I don’t think either Shawn or I are unaware of the extreme hardships faced by people living in developing countries. Having spent significant amounts of time working with NGOs in Thailand, Kenya and India, I don’t think I have yet to experience the “real eye opener” that is suggested above. I choose to focus on ending chronic poverty in America because it is something that is achievable with enough social and political will.

Just as the dynamics of poverty differ between the developed and developing world, so do the solutions. Unlike other countries, progress in America is not mired in rampant political corruption, lack of infrastructure, overpopulation or widespread disease. Change in the United States and in Utah is stymied by lack of awareness and by widely held misconceptions about poverty.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Running errands can be difficult without a car. I finally broke down and "borrowed" the Beast back from my parents. I had parked it at their house for the remainder of the poverty project but realized last night that without a car I would not be able to take care of some very urgent errands. For the sake of the poverty experiment I am going to say that I had to borrow a car from either my parents or one of my friends because my car is not working (in reality, it is working because AAA came out and fixed it so I could move it). Although there was a little gas in the tank, I think that any extra gas I have to buy will push my food budget to under $2.00 a day.

One of the errands that I have to run is to go to the University of Utah to argue that I am a resident of Utah, have been for most of life and therefore should not be charged out-of-state tuition for the graduate program that I am starting this summer. I feel that this errand is worthy of borrowing a car because without an adjustment to my tuition, I will not have enough money to start school this summer. If I did not have the option of borrowing a car, I'm not sure how I would be able to afford to get to the University because riding the bus would cost me at least $1.60 each way. Additionally, riding the bus would be very time-consuming and I don't have enough time during my lunch break to catch the bus up to the university, talk to the appropriate people and then catch it back. I think it would be very difficult to try to go to a doctor's appointment, an interview for a better paying job, the DMV or any other place that is only open from 9-5 pm if I did not have a car and only had half an hour or an hour for lunch.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Prior to leaving to Arizona for my sister’s wedding, I planned and packed what I would eat on the trip there. While my family ate their value meals and Subway sandwiches, I ate my PB&J on white wonder bread. I have never wanted McDonalds more in my life. Although my family offered to pay for my food, I am trying to do my best to make it solely on my budget. I was relieved to finally eat as much food as I wanted at the wedding dinner and the barbeque the next day. Hot dogs and hamburgers and wedding cake never tasted so good.

Although I have done my best to eat off only my budget for most of my meals (the wedding meals not included) I don’t know how I would have been able to afford my hotel room in Phoenix, my gas, a present or even something to wear to the wedding without the help of my parents.

Monday, May 11, 2009

White heels, TP and Weddings

Lesson Five: Life in poverty has forced me to be resourceful.

Instead of just going to the store and buying the items that I need, I now have become resourceful and have found new ways to get items for free or at a discount. Instead of buying new shoes for my sister's wedding (which is this weekend) I was able to borrow some from a friend. I know that this seems like an obvious and easy option but it did take quite a bit of time to find a friend with the same size foot and the right color/type shoe. Likewise, I was able to find the makeup I needed and a memory card for my camera for the wedding by looking through a box of my roommates' unwanted items. I know that using another person's makeup and personal hygiene items isn't ideal but desperation has made be become resourceful and do things that i wouldn't otherwise do.

Speaking of things that I don't otherwise do, in my desperation, I did what I swore I absolutely would not do: I stole toilet paper from my roommate. Faced with using newspaper, I grabbed a roll out my roommate's closet and hid it in the bathroom. It was bad enough that I stole the roll but I also hoarded it in my bathroom drawer where no one else could use it. This may seem like a silly example but I when it came down to choosing between have an extra $2.00 for food or buying toilet paper, I chose the food.

Now that I am running a deficit in my budget (I blew a lot of my money on gas in the first week), I have to be careful how I spend the approximately four dollars a day I have left on all food, personal items and unexpected expenses. I don't like having people buy my meals for me or having them feel like they should share the food that they brought for their own lunch or dinner with me. Now, it's one thing to have your date buy your dinner but it's another thing when it is your boss, coworker, friend or roommate. I am doing my best to buy what I can and to swallow my pride and let people pay for me on occasion.

Tomorrow I am headed down to Arizona to my sister's wedding. Fortunately, my parents are going to drive me down and are not going to ask me to help pay for gas. In anticipation of both the wedding and this experience, I purchased most of everything I need for the wedding. I don't know how I could have afforded to purchase my new dress and gift for my sister or have paid to travel to the wedding if I really was living in poverty.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Poverty Lesson Three: If it's not edible, I don't want to think about it

My life now seems to revolve around food. When I am not eating, I think about when I can eat, what I can afford when I do get to eat and how I am going to get to the store so that I can purchase the food to eat. I am trying not to spend all of my $6.72 a day on food, so it is getting increasingly more difficult to purchase enough food that is somewhat healthy and filling.

Poverty Lesson Four: The quality of food that I am able to purchase has decreased.

Prior to starting my poverty experience, the Grocery Guru (as seen in the ad section of the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News and on Channel Two News) offered to give me some tips on how to buy more with less money. His tips included looking for sales on food and using coupons. I was impressed that we were able to purchase approximately $110 worth of food for only $30. However, I was not impressed with the selection or quality of the food we purchased. The food that the Grocery Guru selected for me included cereal, popcorn and cough drops. While those are good snacks, they do not constitute a balanced meal. I have noticed that the least expensive food is often the most unhealthy. I can no longer afford most produce, dairy or meat products. When I first started the experiment, I had enough money left over to buy whatever apples, carrots or bananas were on sale. Now that I am forced to spend only about $4 a day on food, I no longer have that luxury.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Beast- RIP

So, it happened…the thing that I have been dreading came true. The Beast died. Yep, my ’94 Ford Explorer that leaks about a quart of transmission fluid every week, that guzzles gas and almost lost its bumper in a accident two months ago (not my fault), stopped running. I can’t say that it was unexpected, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

As I left the office earlier tonight, I had big plans for my evening. I was going to go home and eat a big bowl of cereal sans milk and reward myself for sticking to my budget by watching a movie on my laptop ( I no longer have cable or a TV). However, when I tried turning the key in my ignition, the Beast made a screeching noise and then refused to start. I’m no mechanic but I could tell that my battery was dead. Now I know this might be a slight violation the rules, but after looking for a jump for about forty-five minutes I called AAA. Unfortunately, the Beast needed more than just a jump, the entire battery had to be replaced.

Someone in poverty probably would not be able to afford my $50 per year AAA membership. It is also unlikely that they would be able to pay to replace the battery in their car without having emergency savings to cover the cost. Because my poverty budget does not include any additional emergency cash beyond my $6.72 daily allowance, I will no longer be driving the Beast. I drove the Beast home (I couldn’t leave him stranded on 5th West) and there he will stay until the remainder of my time in poverty is over ☹

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lentils, Ramen and Chickpea Patties

Poverty continues...

No, I haven't starved or even resorted to eating only Ramen...yet. My diet primarily consists of cereal, bread, canned soup and Ramen. Unlike Shawn, I don't really cook. I have been amazed by the creative meals that he has been able to whip together so far. On Monday, he came to work with some sort of lentil soup and chickpea patty. Today, he was talking about how to bake bread with only minimal amounts of yeast. I think his preparation has paid off- I have to admit that my food selection is a little bland in comparison.

Saturday night was my friend's graduation party. Unfortunately, he decided not to have the party at his house with a nice spread of freshly prepared, non-Ramen, FREE appetizers. Rather, he decided to go out dancing followed by a late-night dinner at Village Inn. Luckily, I didn't have to pay to go dancing but I sat at dinner drinking my $1.50 hot chocolate (which nearly blew my budget), while my friends enjoyed platefuls of warm, syrupy pancakes and freshly prepared omelets with sausage and bacon. I have to admit I have a new found appreciation for Village Inn and the large selection of food it has to offer (even if it isn't affordable to people in poverty).

I have started counting down the days until I can enjoy such luxuries as milk with my cereal, fresh fruit, chocolate and eating out with my friends.