One Reason for Poverty: Mental Burnout
Why are there so many poor, unemployed, uneducated and socially dysfunctional people in the U.S. – once the undisputed wealthiest and most advanced nation on earth? The U.S. has a huge number of demoralized, disengaged, and disheartened people. The recent economic news is nothing to celebrate when it may indicate a deeper economic and political crisis to come.
On an average or median per capita basis, the U.S. might still rank in the top 10 for income and wealth among developed nations. However, since the distributions are so widely skewed in favor of the top 1%, the economic situation for more than two-thirds of the population is probably more depressed and dire. The same percentage of Americans might not be able to coddle together even $2,000 for an emergency without selling assets, borrowing, or going without basic necessities.
Some argue that we need to disburse more money at the poor or get them further in debt for more education. Others argue that we should deny them all types of public “safety net” protections so they stop their public dependency. This will somehow force them to “raise themselves by their bootstraps” even if they have no boots.
Some argue we need to create more jobs – either in the public or private sectors – paid by higher taxes, more borrowing, or both. Others argue that strict austerity needs to be applied and people must live within their means – even if it is close to zero. Similar uncompromising arguments are being made with respect to Federal Budgets, Deficits, the Debt Limit and a myriad of government programs and taxes.
The arguments come from all the usual, tired sources. The ideas regularly espoused by our ruling elites through their wholly-owned mainstream media pundits are woefully myopic, selfish, intellectually vapid, and totaling lacking in any long-term perspective. Most arguments fail to recognize the myriad of inter-related problems facing poor people today. They also ignore the many competing and contradictory challenges of our society’s merged, corrupt economic and political systems.
My small 3-person family clings to the bottom part of the quickly-disappearing U.S. middle class. We don’t live beyond our means – and haven’t relied upon any credit for many years. Our household has one modest full-time job (my spouse) and one set of erratic part-time consulting gigs (this writer). Fortunately we don’t have any credit card, auto, student loan, mortgage or other major debts to pay. Thus we don’t worry too much about losing our lease to a modest apartment. We don’t have to deal with any debt-collection phone calls and letters. If the government does shut down in August, my spouse (who works for a large private company with many Federal government contracts will be out of a job) so she is actively looking for new employment at this time.
Our family’s finances are very tight. As a result we have to make either-or choices on a weekly basis. We rarely eat out or take any long vacations anywhere far away. We have very little savings that can be readily tapped without incurring financial and tax penalties, such as taking from tax-deferred retirement accounts that haven’t seen contributions for several years. Yes, we can find $2,000 in one savings account that earns no interest, but we don’t have three to six months of living expenses on hand in case of a major economic setback or job loss. This was not our situation five years ago but things change and not always for the better.
For over 25 years, I have dealt with people from a wide variety of educational, economic and social backgrounds in my numerous legal and business activities in five different metropolitan areas across the U.S. I have noticed an important reason why some people cannot always improve themselves economically as quickly as we or they would like to see. There are many internal and external factors worth noting as serious impediments.
Below a certain monthly income level of around $2,500 to $4,500 (depending upon family size and special health considerations), life can be pretty miserable because not even basic necessities are affordable – even with public assistance money. If one includes various accumulated and non-dischargeable debts, then the misery index increases. Furthermore, one must add in all the uncertainty about today’s miserable jobs market. With so many onging external pressures on many people, it is nearly impossible for them to concentrate on getting ahead.
When all of one’s waking (and sometimes sleeping) hours are dedicated to just keeping alive, not drowning economically, or handling the basic necessities of life, then there is little time, energy and brain power left for anything else. This is the serious mental burnout situation facing so many people today – particularly among the poor and new poor.
Many poor and declining middle-class families are being harassed daily by collection agents for various unpaid bills; they can no longer pay a mortgage twice the value of their homes; they freak out every time they fill up their cars with gasoline; they scour the Internet and Newspapers for coupons to use for groceries; they wait in longer lines at Big Box Discount Stores who have eliminated more checkout employees to keep prices lower; they get hit from various electric, cable, telecom and other utility companies with huge deposits and late fees because they paid late too many times despite explaining their paychecks have different cycles than the companies’ billing cycles; and they get completely overwhelmed when there are unexpectedly large medical, automobile and housing expenses. If one is constantly inundated with these immediate concerns, it is no wonder the new job search, the job training classes, the potential business venture, or the non-existent investment portfolio are all ignored or postponed.
We might all agree that the 21st Century and modern technology have made life far more complex, stressful and time-consuming, despites the intial promises of just the opposite. Most Americans struggle frequently to deal with government bureaucracies, private utilities and large business enterprises. The many difficulties people face when dealing with these massive, arrogant and confusing bureaucracies are legendary. However, the wealthy have attorneys, accountants and various assistants to handle these matters for them while the poor and middle class must waste many hours of time and valuable brainpower dealing with these entities.
If one’s only concerns are what foreign country to visit this month; what to eat when sitting in an exclusive restaurant for the fifth time this week; what new corporate job offer to take after getting a golden parachute for financially gutting your former company; what industry lobbyist group to work for after retiring from government administrative or regulatory employment; what mistress will be visited tonight; whether to lease a new BMW or a Lexus; what foreign stocks, bonds, and currencies to buy; whether to buy an “escape” hacienda in Costa Rica, Belize or Rio; or else purchase an overpriced condo in Singapore or Luxembourg; then you are really out of touch with the reality faced by over 90% of the world’s population. Unfortunately, these are the very few, lucky, spoiled, and obtuse people who are making the economic and political decisions for the entire globe.
It’s not unlike asking a person debating the Sacher-Torte versus the Emperor-Torte at an upscale Manhattan restaurant while discussing a multi-million-dollar investment in a new Internet company to turn away from those pleasant considerations and instead decide for 9 other people and families to choose either fresh Wonder Bread from Wal-Mart versus the week-old bread from St. Mary’s Food Bank while they try to hold off home foreclosure. Our narcissistic elites have the time, money and lack of other pressing daily concerns to concentrate on making more money via financial speculation and gambling. Many others must decide either to do the laundry or eat dinner tonight.
This writer sometimes neglects posting on TMV because of other pressing work that might pay some rapidly-shrinking dollars or I have some family concerns. However, having the time and brain energy to even blog on the Internet is beyond the financial, time and energy capabilities of many in the U.S. who are struggling just to live. For some to callously demand they miraculously find the time, money and energy to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” (when they are constantly beaten down by so many forces and demands) is simply facetious and cruel. A person can find the time, energy and creativity to pursue some new ideas when that person is not fully occupied with trying not to fall into the abyss.
Our global economy is in a free fall towards fascist feudalism by a corrupt, crony corporatism that has killed the free enterprise system, representational democracy, and the middle class. Our wealthy financial classes in the public and private sectors, along with their rapacious banking and investment companies around the globe are making unrealistic demands that they be repaid their fraudulent loans by any means necessary – even if that entails bankrupting sovereign nations and entire populations to keep up the fiction that their un-payable loans will not be renounced by free and thinking people.
It may take many years for the majority of the U.S. population to realize what our political and business leaders have perpetrated for decades and are still doing to us. That painful knowledge may come before or after a complete economic or environmental collapse. However memories are long and guillotines are cheap to build and operate. The Internet permits people to find anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. All the hired private security forces in the world may not be sufficient protection against too many people with nothing left to lose.
I, however, can sleep peacefully at night, as I have not aided and abetted in, nor profited from, the global criminal crimes and resultant social and environmental messes created by our greedy oligarchy and plutocracy. Instead I’m merely a poor commentator on this tragic comedy.
Submitted 6/7/11 by Marc Pascal, ranting as always from Phoenix, Arizona.