Lessons in Kitchen Table Economics

There are a lot of misconceptions about poor people going around. Among these are the idea that the poor are not allowed to have some basic things, such as internet access, which certain out-of-touch persons view as being a luxury, rather than the modern-day necessity that it is.

I think that a simple, short course in low-income logistics would be what it takes to make people come to an understanding of just the kind of challenges that poor people have to deal with. Even ordinary people in America live like kings, so it’s easy for them to have an emotional disconnection with those that aren’t very well off, perhaps due to simple ignorance concerning those challenges.

Ordinary Americans have much to learn from the poor among them. Having been poor for some time, I’m in a position to enlighten them as to the challenges that poor people face. Because of this, I’ve decided to make this entry a short course in Kitchen Table Economics.

Poor people don’t just have humiliating jobs, they also have very little money. Very little. Because of how little money poor people have, they typically become very smart with their money. They pretty much have to be. For poor people, the consequences of a moment of foolishness are much, much higher.

There may be variations in the experience of the poor person, but the experience is generally reflected well in the math that I’m about to share. If there are differences in your expenses, Microsoft Excel can help you.

To get started, many poor people work low-qualification jobs in the food-service, retail, or grocery industries. Because the qualifications for these jobs are so low, there is no shortage of unemployed people qualified to work these jobs. If companies could get away with paying less than minimum wage, they would do it, considering that this would be a more profitable choice for them. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, as it has been since 2009.

The following graphic shows how much a person would make working minimum wage for a year, full-time. Seldom does a minimum wage employee work full-time, however. Many companies strategically assign their employees just short of the number of hours per week that it would take to classify them as full-time, to avoid the legal obligation of providing benefits.

KE1 paycheck math.png

Typical deductions made to the paycheck are an estimate, but it’s not unusual for a person to take home around 72% of their paycheck. Therefore, the take home pay for a week would come to $208.80. The yearly and monthly salaries are calculated based on this, because this is the money that poor people can actually do something with. So, based on this, a full-time employee making minimum wage makes only $10,857.60 per year. Politicians have no idea how anyone could live off of that kind of money, and too many people assume that if they do, it must be their fault somehow. By the end of this lesson, you’ll have a much better understanding of how poor people pull it off.

Now that we have a good idea of what a poor person’s monthly salary looks like, let’s take a look at what they would do with it:

KE2 monthly expenses.png

For the breakdown of monthly expenses:

  • The rent would be for a typical one-bedroom apartment in an urban or somewhat suburban area. Perhaps not ideal or in an ideal neighborhood, but deemed good enough for poor people and perhaps nice enough to include expenses such as heat, water, sewer and trash in the rent. One might not want to raise their kids in a neighborhood like that, but for this example, the poor person would be single.
  • The electric bill would be an estimate, and could vary wildly depending on time of year. In the spring and autumn, the electric bill could be as gentle as $20-30 per month, but can be as harsh as $130 in winter or summer months, when one would struggle for a 68 degree temperature.
  • The phone expense would assume that a smart phone is not being used. Instead, it would be something like a Trac-Phone which would charge about $20 for three months of service with limited minutes. The $7.50 per month figure would be an estimate for a similar service.
  • The internet bill would assume a typical high speed service which could greatly vary in price. Contrary to the sentiments of the out-of-touch (such as David Menzies, who in his echo chamber still believes that internet access is a luxury), an internet connection is a necessity in the modern world. Many would-be employers don’t even accept paper applications or résumés anymore, and when interested in setting up interviews, they typically inform applicants via email. It’s not practical for a person to walk miles to the nearest library on a daily basis for the chance that a person might get an email to set up an interview for the next day, especially considering that libraries are struggling to remain open.
  • The bus pass was included because of the sheer difficulty that poor people face in obtaining, maintaining, and fueling an automobile. Unless your work is close by or you don’t mind walking miles to get there (on top of the additional daily miles that David Menzies would have you walk to check emails at the library), a bus pass would serve you well.

After all this, a person is left with over $200 each month. So, what’s the problem? We’re not done yet. There are also weekly expenses, such as food and laundry.

KE3 weekly expenses.png

“Hold on,” you might be thinking, “so little for food?” Life as a poor person is difficult, so concessions are often made to make ends meet. A poor person seldom eats out, typically doing so for special occasions or for a treat. As mentioned already, the person in this example would be a single person, so he’d be spending money to feed himself.

For poor people, the quality of the food they eat is typically pretty low. It’s possible to eat some healthy food for cheap, such as bananas, eggs, and oatmeal. But those choices are limited, and outside of that, there’d be plenty of sodium-heavy, low-nutrient food that would be useful for little besides staving off the sensation of hunger. After a while of eating such things, it’s possible to feel the effects of malnutrition in spite of not really feeling hungry.

I included the expense of laundry, because by this point, a difference can be made by stretching pocket change. At a typical laundromat, a single use of a washer is around $1.25, while a single use of the drier is around $1.00. This is assuming that you have only one load to do. If you have more than one load of laundry, you’re going to have less of that pocket change to stretch out until the next time you get paid.

After all this, you’d have about $16.04 left over in a week. For those who are not poor, that’s about an hour’s salary. It wouldn’t seem like something that a person would even bother attempting to save up. But assuming that a person tried:

KE4 theoretical savings.png

Hooray! A poor person could afford to buy the newest PlayStation! And it only takes six months of living like a virtual serf!

Not so fast. There are some highly variable expenses that can pop up from time to time that could make things much more difficult for the minimum wage worker. Clothing wasn’t mentioned. A person might move out of his parent’s place with a few changes of clothes, but if a piece of clothing were to wear out, it might be time for a trip to Goodwill or The Salvation Army or another thrift store to attempt to get a replacement on the cheap. If a poor person wears designer clothing, they likely managed to obtain it there.

Then there’s the possibility that an accident happened, and the poor person must go to the hospital. Assuming that they have medical coverage, even the cost of an emergency room copay (about $100) would be all it takes to ruin them, not to mention that they might be missing entire days of work, reducing their pay.

Another thing that could ruin a poor person is minor fines for something like jaywalking. Even if a minimum wage worker were to only receive a $50 citation, it could impact their quality of life for the short term future. If you’re looking for evidence that the system favors the rich, consider the fact that the ordinary person would be relatively unaffected by tickets for traffic violations, while if a poor person were to step out of line in even the slightest way, a similar fine when imposed on them would be all that it would take to bury them.

So far, we haven’t discussed how our poor person would get his hands on furniture. Unless he managed to get a sofa or a bed as a gift, he might have been sleeping on the floor. Or there’s dumpster diving.

With that, some myths about minimum wage living should have been demolished. Minimum wage is often referred to as “living wage”, but among those who attempt to live off of it, this is regarded as a sick joke.

The purpose of this article wasn’t to encourage some sort of class warfare. The idea was to get some much-needed perspective out there so that the general population would come to a better understanding of what life as a poor person is actually like. Not every poor person is trying to game the system to get stuff for free from the government, nor are they in every case in the position that they are in due to a lack of wisdom.

If you see someone working in grocery, retail, or fast food, and they are smiling, be nice to them. There is a strong chance that they are trying as hard as they can.

1 thought on “Lessons in Kitchen Table Economics

  1. Pingback: #Fightfor15 backfires: McDonald’s considers replacing workforce with robots | Magnetricity

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