North Texas Daily

Upper class expectations of poverty are unfair standards of living

Upper class expectations of poverty are unfair standards of living

Upper class expectations of poverty are unfair standards of living
September 22
12:00 2022

It’s all too common to do a double take whenever we see the person holding a sign asking for change whip out a cell phone. Maybe we furrow our brows when someone who is infamously short-changed makes mention of a recent vacation. We might even tell ourselves that we don’t deserve a break or a night off because we’re broke.

All these assumptions are reinforced by a system that perpetuates poverty for its own sake and the unhealthy ridicule of those who are less privileged.

Going back to the initial example, we often hear criticism about the absurd notion of impoverished or homeless people owning smartphones. Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz suggested back in 2017 that those with iPhones should consider buying healthcare with the money instead. At the time, the newest iPhone was worth around $800, whereas the average healthcare plan hovered over $6500.

How could such a comparison be made? The answer is simple: many privileged people feel the impoverished don’t deserve any form of luxury even when it is a necessity.

The iPhone is just one of many outlets for the upper class to put the fault of poverty onto the individual rather than the systems which reinforce inequity. The righteous determination on what the lower and middle classes should and shouldn’t have stems from outdated ideas about living in the United States. Outdated assumptions like these uphold more issues than financial inequity, ranging from low minimum wage to the out-of-control costs of college tuition.

Even from a financial standpoint, this mindset holds little water. At the time of print, a new iPhone 12 Mini costs $479 with Mint Mobile,, which provides an unlimited data plan for $30 a month. In contrast, most in-home internet plans start at around $50 a month, not including the cost of electricity, a router and a computer to use it with.

A smartphone can achieve everything a laptop can while providing safety features and mobility for a fraction of the price. Those who criticize the less fortunate for having nicer phones are keenly unaware it is arguably the most cost-effective way to gain access to the internet. In the 21st century, the internet is crucial for quality of life — most job applications, banking and other vital services are done entirely through phone services or apps.

This misunderstanding about living without financial privilege isn’t individualistic, but systemic. McDonald’s released a sample budget sheet in 2013 that was designed to “help” their employees find stability in their minimum wage jobs. The sheet was quickly criticized for its absurd and unrealistic expenses including only $20 a month for health coverage. With McDonald’s laughably inaccurate budget approaching a decade old, the federal minimum wage still hasn’t increased and the cost of living has gone up.

Despite this, those living on or below the poverty line must not only struggle to survive, but also submit to those who have little understanding of how their lives are lived. There are those who demand that saving for the future is where extra money should go, yet the reality is it doesn’t go far in poverty.

The poverty wage for a couple with one kid is around $10.56, according to the Living Wage Calculator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If $500 a year was saved from that income, after 30 years only $15,000 would be amassed — less than one year’s worth of wages. Thirty years of working just to retire with barely enough to survive is a crushing realization, and yet with that same $500 a year, the immediate benefits could be felt.

Rather than worry about crunching the numbers into old age, joy could be found in the happy moments, whether it be small vacations, trips to the movies or investments in hobbies. Some interests could even turn a profit, if a pastime has a financial return, like knitting or craftsmanship.

That’s not the say everyone needs the newest, fanciest phone on release day or a current-year vehicle. Yet, equating comfort and security to luxury and extravagance is exactly the kind of presumptive thinking that perpetuates negative assumptions. Anyone who has had to live paycheck-to-paycheck understands there are things financially out of reach, but frugality should not bar them from items that would improve their immediate situation.

If we set aside the economic and psychological factors of the situation, what it ultimately boils down to is the dehumanization of those who cannot afford to live comfortable lives. Comparing living situations is an uncomfortable but inevitable part of class inequality. To say someone is undeserving of something based on their income is a deliberate detachment from any form of empathy and should be treated as such.

Featured Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Ayden Runnels

Ayden Runnels

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