Thursday, September 16, 2010

Things heard on the radio

When I listen to the radio, I listen mostly to talk radio. Listening to music, I listen to music mainly on the internet.

I like talk radio that is funny, sports talk (if it is funny) also news and commentary (usually not particularly funny).

Listening to NPR, I heard that 15% of the population of the United States lives below the poverty line.

That is a little more than 46 million people. Or, about a million more people than live in Spain, and some thousands less than live in Ukraine. It is many millions more than live in all of Canada.

I have lived below the poverty line, and it is very much like living in a different country. While you are not legally restricted from doing some of the same things as other people in your country do regularly, you are economically restricted from doing some of the same things that other people in your country do regularly, and then legally restricted from some of the things that other people in other countries do regularly.

For example, in the United States you cannot really live in shelter unless you already own it, or you pay somebody for it, or if you commit a crime and are imprisoned.

If you built a shack of discarded materials and tried to live like someone in a third world country, if you did not own the land you built it on you would be hauled away to jail.

But, my larger point is that the people who live under the poverty line in the US are really like the population of a different country-- you experience the country differently, and things that other people in the country take for granted are not available to you.

I think one of the things I remember most about being poor is having to stand in lines.

When you have money, when you have options, if the line for something is too long, it's like "Aeh, forget this" and you go elsewhere-- your time is valuable and you have multiple, preferable ways to spend it. Conversely, if you really want something you stand in line for it.

If you are poor, there are lines you must stand in whether you want to or not, because you need to. To collect some kind of government benefits, to board public transportation, to obtain medical care. If you are really poor (and I was thankfully not ever this utterly poor) you are standing in a soup line.

When the streets are crowded, it can be a long line, a long line you are walking through slowly to get to the next line to stand in.

True, once you have money and can even afford a car, you can wait in traffic, which is painful, and you burn fuel. But it is more comfortable, a rich man's wait.

It is telling that when people become rich and famous that the first thing they want to do is to never wait in lines. A private jet available at one's whim, the VIP entrance, jumped ahead in lines... this is the pinnacle of achievement, and of course these people live in a different country to some extent as well.

When the government wants to demonstrate how powerful they are, it seems like one way the choose to do this is to make all people, regardless of economic status, wait in a line.

"Yeah, well: get in line." is the response when you voice a widely shared opinion that needs some action but has gotten none.

When find yourself poor, and standing in line, and look around at the other people who are standing in line with you, it is can be a very stark experience. You will see some very poor people indeed, and you are among them, and get a strong sense of the actual country you live in.