What boots? What straps?

America has a lot of problems. But today, we’re talking about its problem with poor people.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

“I didn’t have any help, so they shouldn’t get it either.”

“Welfare Queens.”

“WHY are people on welfare, able to buy steak?

“I looked at the grocery items of the person in front of me, who was using food stamps, and it was all junk food.”

“If they weren’t so lazy..”

“They need to learn how to work hard.”

“Just move..”

“If they’re so poor, why do they have an Iphone/J’s/look presentable?”

“Their problem is budget management.”

“They shouldn’t be going to the movies or eating out or doing anything enjoyable, if they’re poor.”

“It’s not my fault that they made bad decisions.”

“Fast-food/customer service/retail jobs aren’t hard.”

“No one is supposed to work a fast-food job as an adult.”

“Get a degree.”

You’ve seen and heard these phrases, or one’s like it. Hopefully, you had a bit of a “this doesn’t sit right with my spirit” moment and figured out why that is. I’m even more hopeful, that once you did that, you started clapping back. 

But if you’re still stuck on understanding why you don’t like these phrases, let ya girl help you out. 

What exactly is considered poor though? I’m almost certain, that Jeff Bezos considers almost everyone else in the US poor, but we’re not really talking about the ultra-wealthy.

We’re talking about your average Americans, your “fall somewhere in the middle class” type of folks. What do they consider to be poor?

Let’s start with the poverty classification. Poverty includes anyone that makes about $13,000/yr or less – about 16 million people (13%) of our population falls in here. The middle class starts at $40,000, so the range just outside of poverty and right before middle class, 13,000-39,000 is around 22 million (20%).

These seem to be good places to start.

If I never hear the “bootstrap” theory again, it’ll be too soon. Why? This isn’t a secret but..not everyone starts with the same type of boots. Some don’t have a strap, some don’t have boots at all.

Anyone remember my wealth gap IWW? Here’s a snippet:

“Hell, even when we are able to move up the ladder, and have children who are born to higher income brackets – research has shown that unlike their white counterparts, Black children often don’t stay in these higher-income brackets, despite frequently having obtained higher education. Research shows that Black children born to poverty, have the highest rate of remaining in poverty and staying there in their adult lives. That Hispanic children, who have similar poverty rates as Black children, are able to get out of poverty (and stay out) at almost the same rate as white children. And I just cannot believe that with all of this information, that’s readily available for anyone, there are still people who have the unmitigated gall, to say that we all have the same opportunities and obstacles in 2020.”

The ability to pull yourself up, doesn’t solely happen, based on your own merits. Sure, some of it is your own choices – but luck, environment, systems, help received and so many things outside of people’s control, play a part, too. 

Let’s focus on the help received part. Those who like to brag, that they didn’t receive any help to succeed, and don’t think others should have help, are usually full of shit. Dishonest. Putting on. Making up stuff. Telling tall tales. They’re’ lying y’all, full stop.

Help doesn’t just mean social services and programs, it means being born into a situation that has better opportunities(aka privilege), it means access to knowledge or people who have it and access to resources or people who can direct you to them (aka connections).

If a person is born into low income, and is able to climb to upper-middle class, partly due to the knowledge their family was able to impart, they had help.

I think it’s difficult for many to consider that certain communities, simply don’t start with the same knowledge, but it’s true. In my past careers, I would sometimes encounter people who had low-income (of all backgrounds) seeking guidance, and something I learned was that while their(different groups of people) income levels were similar, their knowledge was not.

I’ll only speak to my experience here, but basic real estate info, probate, even info about city code, was not readily known, by Black and brown people who were of lower-income. It was readily (not always) known( again basics) by low-income white people. It was a passed-down, matter of fact, kind of knowledge, but they still had it. The ability to have that knowledge, and not have to seek it out, or even the whole process of “knowing what you don’t know,” matters.

Having family members, who are just slightly “better off,” can also make a huge difference. And since certain communities are overrepresented in poverty, where many have been in poverty for generations, the bootstrap theory doesn’t really hold up. 

Another example, is the woman, who has been featured in the news for her book, detailing how she paid off $200k in student debt. What’s not highlighted enough, is how she was GIVEN a job by her mother, was born into some sort of privilege, was given a house, was able to move in with somewhat well-off grandparents and rent out her house. But her message is very bootstrapy, “if I can do it, anybody can.”

Next up, is the Reagan era “welfare queen” stereotype, which classically depicted Black moms, living it up on welfare, strutting around in Cadillacs and what not. In modern times, that has turned into “why do they buy steaks and have nice phones?”

This idea, that anyone on welfare is living large, is ludicrous, at best. I’m not sure how much money you think gets loaded onto folks’ EBT cards, but they are not ballin. 

Similarly, the notion that people who are poor, don’t deserve to have nice food sometimes, or enjoy something fun when they can, is just as wild. People, who are poor, have every right to try and find some joy in their lives. They’re not going to be able to splurge on that food, or hit up the movie theatre (pre-covid) often, but when they are able to do so, they should.

It’s almost like we expect, no want, them to be perpetually miserable. There’s some “they deserve it” kind of psychology involved.

And that “they deserve it,” plays out in judgments based on jobs, too. Especially fast-food and retail. Who else has heard people say “fast-food workers don’t deserve to make a livable wage,” “they deserve to make close to nothing” and/or “they don’t work hard enough to make a decent wage?”

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call most anything about retail or fast food, easy. The long hours on your feet, conditions, physical labor, dealing with the general public? They deserve all the things.

But can we really talk about how much more expensive it is to be poor? EVERYTHING is more expensive. I’m reminded of the quote from Terry Pratchett Discworld:

“Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

People with lower incomes pay more in interest, pay more banking fees, government fines, pay more in goods due to the quote above, pay with the loss of freedom (fines can land you in jail), pay in their health…shit is just more costly. 

It is frustrating when I see people, give suggestions like ” just move” or “budget better.” Moving is expensive. I moved across the country, a few years ago, and I spent thousands.

Where are people, who are already income insecure, supposed to come up with the money to pack up, travel AND secure a new place to live? When all of their money is being used to simply survive, what is available to budget? What water is finna come from this rock? You can’t budget yourself out of poverty, beloved.

While most of this, is out of one’s control- the attitude that about 52% of Americans have towards “the poors” 🙄, is that they lack motivation. 

We know that a lot of Americans believe that those with low income have less drive or less “values,” but the research determined that was a lie. Studies show that the values between higher and lower classes are remarkably similar. Yup, that’s right, “my moral compass is better than the poors” folks, you’re NOT a “better” person.

Additionally, most people who are low-income, about 52%, would prefer to work, rather than receive government or familial help.

I can’t mention the different attitudes on class, without mentioning that the attitudes vary based on…can you guess it? No? Race.

When it comes to blaming lower-income people for their circumstances, due to a poor work ethic, Black people do this the least. It’s probably no surprise that around 60% of Black people, instead attribute it to lack of jobs and opportunity. In comparison, white and Hispanic people are similar, with 45% believing it’s a lack of opportunities and the rest believing that it”s because of poor work ethic. 

As a society, we demonize, make laws against, punish and shame poor people at incredible frequency. These are whole people, we’re talking about. That deserve shelter, food, healthcare, to be treated well and to ENJOY life… We seem to revel in their downfalls, or at least, use it as a way to feel better about ourselves, and iont like that.


When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com.

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