Friday, April 27, 2012

Temporary Poverty isn't Poverty

A big class divide these days is between those who had family members who could help them and those who didn't. Lots of people who didn't get a lot of financial help from their families - they didn't, for example, borrow $20K from them - are unaware that the fact that family help was potentially available, whether or not they used much of it, always provided a little insurance policy for them, a little backstop. And of course it's the case that, generally, such families did help. A hundred bucks here, a car insurance payment there, an overnight loan covering the tuition, etc. Even if it doesn't add up to much overall it's the difference between treading water and drowning, between having to quit school and not.
This is me.  I paid for University on my own and voluntarily lived on my own while doing it.  But I did get a little help a couple times when my bank account was running low and never had to deal with a crisis point like choosing between food and rent, or tuition and rent, plus I had the luxury of a part time job that was quite flexible about time off to study, so I never had to work a shift the night before an exam or when a big assignment was due just to keep employed.

For awhile in my 20s I was very proud of this and looked down on college types who protested tuition hikes and complained about student debt upon graduation, but I'm sure I had it easier than many even if I wasn't living high on the hog and had to be pretty careful with money.  Knowing the Banks of Mom and Dad were available was a major psychological comfort. 

Also having to eat canned ravoli or mac & cheese on a tight budget for a couple years in university isn't the same as being poor:  You expect the poverty will end.   It might be considerably more bleak now but when I was in University (c2001) you had a pretty reasonable expecation of graduating to a decent job in short order.  The inconveniences and sacrifices were always temporary.  Also, there's usually no stigma in being short on funds while in college, everyone expects it and generally treats you according to the norms of the social class you're going to join when you graduate, rather than the one your current income might otherwise suggest.  I will always remember that I was turned down for a credit card while working full time at minimum wage for a year after I graduated high school (to save up for University).  Then, when in University and making significantly less, they were suddenly eager to give me one.

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