Saturday, October 10, 2009

Relative poverty and realistic expectations

I'll begin with this: There are more than a billion people on this planet living on $1 a day or less. (Roughly the equivalent of .86PS) This is reality. In developing countries, roughly every 3 seconds, absolute, extreme poverty kills someone. Mostly children. Almost 30 thousand a day. These are big, mind-numbing, coma-inducing numbers. It's too big to get the mind around. It's nearly ten times the number of people killed on 9/11. It's a holocaust. I don't use that word lightly. Extreme poverty kills approximately the number of people killed by the Nazis, EVERY YEAR. More than 10 million. Yet, we don't really talk about it.
The millennium development goals have yet to be fully funded. We don't talk about that, either.

In the US, we annually consume approximately 23 quarts of ice cream per person.

Why am I being Debbie Downer?
Because poverty is real. There are relative levels of poverty in the western world, but there is also absolute poverty. The amount of food we dispose of daily as waste, would feed most people in the developing world to an extent they can't imagine.
That's not the point.

There is poverty in this country. The US has a high standard of living, yet about 25 percent of the population is un- or under-insured. I'm one of them. My entire adult life has been spent either without, or with the kind of health insurance that really only helps me keep from losing my house if I have a catastrophic illness or accident.
Maybe. That's not a guarantee, when it comes down to it.
I'm better off than a lot of people. I don't have a mortgage or a lifestyle, (nor the inclination towards one, except for the desire to travel,) that includes day to day living beyond my means.
I don't have savings.
I don't have a 401k anymore, because in an attempt to stave off a total mental breakdown due to a lethal combination of PTSD and the corporate hell of the health insurance industry, I quit my job. I took a sabbatical of sorts, and cashed in my retirement fund.
No, you're not supposed to do that.
I was trying to keep from going completely round the bend, I broke some rules. Oh boy.
Survival, both literal and emotional, seemed like a higher priority.
I'm not sorry I did it. Mostly.
What I do have, is a boatload of inherited debt, plus the accrual of additional tax debt, (real estate: county and borough, and school district,) that I'm more or less constantly paying off. It's a monthly bill, because there isn't any one time when I have $1800 dollars in my hand. That's just the school district, by the way.
Home ownership is for suckers. Buy a condo if you must, but don't buy a fucking house.
Things break, things wear out, and you can't ever really get ahead unless you're making more than 50k a year. Seriously.
I get nickel and dimed to death. Slowly being ground into dust the way I grind my teeth until they crack.
(No, night guards don't work for me. They set off my TMJ.)

I have realistic expectations of my life. I don't expect to be rich and famous. I'm very good at what I do, which is raise money for things that matter a lot to me. I pretty much expect to muddle along. Unless something extraordinary happens. I'm too cynical to have much faith in that, but I've been wrong before.
I'm typing this on a laptop that was a birthday present from my Uncle. I'm so incredibly grateful for that. It was 36 years of cheap birthday presents rolled into one and I'm making the most of it.
It doesn't take much to make me happy. I count myself lucky there.
I may have a lot of stress in my mundane world, but I have a rich life of the mind and amazing people I've come to know.
10 million people a year are dying. Not because they can't afford to go out to dinner on their birthday, but because they can't afford anti-malarial drugs, or oral rehydration salts when their child gets diarrhea.
In this country, there are people who are miserable because they can't get another credit card to buy a 50 inch flat-screen tv with.
I'm just trying to survive.
Maybe it's depressing, but given the recent economic crises around the world, maybe we can all think about NOT getting one thing, something small. A latte. Don't buy that one thing, give it to a food bank or an organization that works to eradicate poverty.
We haven't updated the methods used to determine the poverty level in this country since 1963, only adjusted them for inflation.
Maybe you can email your representatives and ask them to do something about that, too. While you're at it, mention the millennium development goals.
10 million people a year.
A holocaust.
Poverty is relative. Poverty is real.
Look around you.

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