One of my least favorite quirks of American society these days is the way people seem to relish calling themselves “poor” when in fact they’re really just broke. I’m not talking so much about off-handed, joking comments, which are whatever; I’m talking about people who in all seriousness refer to themselves as “poor” when they aren’t. Like anything subjective, words such as poor and broke are hard to quantify in any scientific way. However, at least to me, there is a fairly obvious difference between the two. And though when you get down to it, it really is just a matter of words, words can nevertheless be powerful symbols that have influence not only on the way people feel about themselves, but the way people feel about, and interact with, the rest of the people trying to live in the same world, at the same time as them. Especially when people distort the truth, consciously or subconsciously, to provoke a desired response. Thankfully, there are people like me to go ahead and undistort it for them. You can thank me later, of course
Well what exactly is the difference between being poor and being broke, you might be asking yourself, since you can’t ask me. Well in my expert opinion, in order to qualify for the great honor of being poor, you gotta really be on some shit. You maybe have enough money to have a place to live, though you might not have a place to live at all. You have enough for some food, but maybe sometimes you don’t. You might have some kids you need to house, and feed, adding to your burden. Other than that you don’t really have shit. You might have a crappy job, one that barely gets you by on the food and housing front, but you might not even have that, and instead rely on government programs and the kindness, voluntary or otherwise, of others. That, to me, is poor. It’s a pretty tough criteria to meet, but I promise you there are a lot of people who do. However, there are a lot of people who don’t.
There are, though, certainly plenty of people who can qualify as being broke. For example, I’m broke. I’m broke as the day I was fucking born, in fact. But I’m by no means poor. I don’t really make a lot of money, certainly less than I’d like, but what I do make is certainly more than enough to live on, and is certainly significantly more than the federal poverty threshold of $10,400, which is what the government uses to determine whether or not you’re in fact poor, or just broke. In fact, if all I did was live, providing for the most basic of my needs, food, housing, power bill, health care, maybe the occasional social interaction with other people, I’d have more than plenty of money to spare from every paycheck. I could probably even afford to feed, house and clothe a couple kids, on top of my cats. However, like many of my fellow Americans, this surplus in my personal budget is anything but a reality. First, you take into account the car I drive, when I’m too lazy or impatient to wait for the bus, or to walk, or bike, both of which are free, and get me where I’m going. When you add up the gas, the insurance, the registration, licensing, etc, on on top of the cost of the car itself, that’s a lot of dough out the door each month. Then you’ve got the cell phone. Now some could make the argument that a “cell phone” these days might count as a necessity, but even ceding that dubious point, I of course have more than a cell phone. I’ve got the fancy internet phone, with a zillion text messages, unlimited internet bandwidth, et al. That’s not cheap, not cheap at all. Then you’ve got the cable TV, for when regular free TV isn’t quite entertaining enough. Another monthly outlay. Then you’ve got coffee every morning, when the healthy, nutritious water that runs free from the tap (itself a relatively unappreciated luxury in this country) isn’t good enough. Then you’ve got the booze at night. Then you’ve got the new clothes, the dinners out, the movies, the evenings on the town. It all adds up, and the answer to this equation by the end of my pay period usually approaching 0, meaning I’m broke. But I’m not poor by any stretch of the imagination. In many parts of the world, my lifestyle would be considered opulent, if not idiotically extravagant. Being broke is a choice, and being poor is too, in some circumstances. But being poor is not a badge to be worn like a new trend, even though it is rather chic in this economy to join the unified front of the have-nots. But be a have-not with a little self-respect, and more importantly respect for those who have a hell of a lot less than you do. Or don’t and be a fucking asshole.