It's expensive to be poor.
"The poorer you are, the more things cost. More in money, time, hassle, exhaustion, menace" says the Washington Post. Most of us wouldn't be able to afford it.
In most states, minimum wage is well below the living wage (there is a big difference in those terms; see post Whose Bad Economy?) Minimum wage is rarely enough to cover housing costs . One can work full time and still not earn an income that is above the poverty line. Families are forced to make tough choices to stay afloat, living paycheck to paycheck with no opportunity to save. All this in a world where everything is more expensive when you're poor.
The cost of food is higher. Don't even try to buy healthy foods (if fresh fruits and veggies are available at all). Without a car, or money for gas to drive to the suburbs, grocery shopping must be done at small convenience stores that often charge significantly more for basic groceries:
"A local convenience store recently sold Campbell’s Chunky chicken noodle soup for $3.69; Hellmann’s mayonnaise for $4.39; and Jif peanut butter for $3.79. Two-and-a-half miles away, a supermarket sold the same brand of soup for $1.99; mayonnaise for $3.29; and peanut butter for $3.29. If Jif was too expensive, Peter Pan was $2.69. The difference: As much as $3.90 for three items. Fill up a shopping cart and you will quickly see how the poor pay more for food."
A packet of koolaid will always be cheaper than milk, and it is certainly a lighter load if you have to carry it home. Maybe you do have a car to drive to cheaper locations, but if you're below a certain income level, you'll pay more for insurance: "In New York, Baltimore and Hartford, they pay an average $400 more a year to insure the exact same car and driver risk than wealthier drivers." Indeed, "Among the working poor, 13% of income is spent on commuting if public transportation is used, 21% if a private vehicle is used. Workers who earn $45,000 or more spend 2% of their income on commuting.
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Even using money itself is expensive. Checking accounts often charge monthly fees unless one maintains a minimum balance or direct deposit. Without a checking account, it can cost significant fees to cash a paycheck. Without checks, one is also often charged a fee to pay utility bills. And sometimes the money's just not there to pay for food and for the electricity, so you put off the electricity bill, even though you know you'll incur a late fee. And saving money for the future? Worry instead about surviving today.
Continue to the next installment on the high cost of being poor...