Sunday, October 30, 2005

Another look at so-called poverty

Our local paper is still in the midst of its weekly rantings about what it's like to live below the so-called poverty line. They've gone through interviews with working-poor people, welfare recipients, residents of shelters, residents of nowhere, and are now back to "When Just Having a Job Isn't Enough." They insist on misusing the region's low-income cutoff point as a marker for whether or not people can meet their basic needs. (We make somewhat below the cutoff, and for us that amount is more than enough. But as I've said before, what you bring in does not always have much to do with how well you're getting along. Output is as important as input.)

In today's story, one of the families consists of two working parents, their three children and a grandchild, who "during an average year, take home a joint income of about $38,000 [Canadian] before taxes. That puts them below the $41,631 required [check out that word REQUIRED] by a XX Region family of six in order to stay above Canada's Low-Income Cut-off." The father is a welder who faces frequent layoffs, and the mother gets some income from a job as a crossing guard. They are a good example of what the Common Room's DHM has been talking about lately: people who have very little margin for anything extra, like glasses or a radiator for the car.

Now, I have nothing but respect for families working hard to survive and stay together; I don't know these people, I'm not making judgments on how they save or spend their money. But it's the phrases used here that give me pause. Because we live in a region with a relatively high average income, that means that those of us who fall nearer the low end of the scale are going to sound like we're badly off, rather like being the lone B student in a class of A+-ers. (If everyone else was flunking and you got the same marks, they'd be making you class president.) So an income below that REQUIRED line makes it sound like you're about to leave your kids in the woods with a crust of bread. You're REQUIRED (by whose law?) to have a certain income, otherwise you're not meeting your own or your childrens' basic needs.

Who says?

And how far will "they" go in insisting that it's true?

Are we going to be tagged at some point by social services, given some kind of mandatory visit or supervision because we didn't make "enough" money last year?

That idea scares me worse than any Halloween story.

And I have one more thing I'd like to say. There are good reasons for continuing to live on less money than the Canadian Council on Social Development thinks is necessary--if you are lucky enough to be able to make that choice. The biggest one is time. If Mr. Fixit used his computer skills to earn a corporate paycheque (and he would probably make more than he does now), he likely wouldn't be able to leave early on a fall afternoon to take the Squirrelings on a bike ride. Or to supervise some homeschooled kids at the bowling alley. He might have to stay late at work some nights or go in on the weekends; he does this now, when he can't fix the problem from home, but it's usually only for a short time and he can often take his Apprentice with him to help. In the corporate world, you come and go when someone else says.

There are also tax benefits and RSP possibilities that I won't go into for the sake of space; but suffice it to say that some people just find it simpler to live on less. And that's not poverty; that's choice.

We've chosen to buy time as a family by not becoming 72-hour-a-week employees somewhere, more worried about paying off the overextended credit cards and the SUV and the looked-nicer-five-years-ago house in suburbia. We know people with good incomes who are in exactly that position. If anything happens to their double incomes, they're going to be in instant trouble with the bank. They fight over money. They buy things behind each others' backs with this extra money they're supposed to be making (that's already been spent on something else).

If that's wealth, I'd rather live below the Low-Income Cut-Off line. And that's my final word on it.


Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Brilliant points, all.
Many years ago the HM had the opportunity to complete his degree and work towards becoming an officer, which would have meant a significant rise in pay. We both decided we'd rather have him home than we wanted the extra money, and I've never been sorry about that. Daddy time is priceless.

Julie said...
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Sprittibee said...

Love this post. :) We also chose to give up a huge house and move into a small apartment rather than send mom (me) back to work so we could maintain our overextended lifestyle. The choice wasn't easy. We are still digging out of debt. It would be nice to have my closet space and my massive kitchen back. I would rather have my kids - with me - and be with my husband (who at the time was having to commute between cities and live in another town). Nothing beats being together and being able to homeschool. :)

Anonymous said...

My parents were poor too, but didn't believe that's what God wants for us because sometimes being poor makes people selfish. But I know how you feel, just that when your kids get a little older don't make them keep living in poverty. God bless you,

Mama Squirrel said...

Anonymous: I don't think you quite get our situation.

We do not "live in poverty," except by someone's artificial standards of income. We own a decent three-bedroom house with a big backyard, buy all the groceries we need and beyond, and contribute to several charitable organizations. We had some good breaks; many others haven't. I am trying to differentiate between those whose incomes don't measure up to that artificial standard, vs. those who are truly living in poverty. Income itself is not always an accurate measure of lifestyle.

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