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Too Poor to Make the News

Peg, who is 55 and lives in rural Missouri, had been working three part-time jobs to support her disabled daughter and two grandchildren, who had moved in with her. Then, last winter, she had a heart attack, missed work and fell behind in her mortgage payments. If I couldn't help, all four would have to move into the cramped apartment in Minneapolis already occupied by my nephew and his wife.


What are the stations between poverty and destitution? Like the Nouveau Poor, the already poor descend through a series of deprivations, though these are less likely to involve forgone vacations than missed meals and medications. The Times reported earlier this month that one-third of Americans can no longer afford to comply with their prescriptions.

There are other, less life-threatening, ways to try to make ends meet. The Associated Press has reported that more women from all social classes are resorting to stripping, although "gentlemen's clubs," too, have been hard-hit by the recession. The rural poor are turning increasingly to "food auctions," which offer items that may be past their sell-by dates.

And for those who like their meat fresh, there's the option of urban hunting. In Racine, Wis., a 51-year-old laid-off mechanic told me he's supplementing his diet by "shooting squirrels and rabbits and eating them stewed, baked and grilled." In Detroit, where the wildlife population has mounted as the human population ebbs, a retired truck driver is doing a brisk business in raccoon carcasses, which he recommends marinating with vinegar and spices.

The most common coping strategy, though, is simply to increase the number of paying people per square foot of dwelling space -- by doubling up or renting to couch-surfers. It's hard to get firm numbers on overcrowding, because no one likes to acknowledge it to census-takers, journalists or anyone else who might be remotely connected to the authorities. At the legal level, this includes Peg taking in her daughter and two grandchildren in a trailer with barely room for two, or my nephew and his wife preparing to squeeze all four of them into what is essentially a one-bedroom apartment. But stories of Dickensian living arrangements abound.

In Los Angeles, Prof. Peter Dreier, a housing policy expert at Occidental College, says that "people who've lost their jobs, or at least their second jobs, cope by doubling or tripling up in overcrowded apartments, or by paying 50 or 60 or even 70 percent of their incomes in rent."

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jun 14th, 2009 at 12:48:55 PM EST
The most common coping strategy, though, is simply to increase the number of paying people per square foot of dwelling space

We've seen this before, when single family brownstone townhouses were converted to apartments in the big move to the suburbs.

There is a strong tendency in the US to stereotype a slum as an inner urban area, but the same thing happens whenever the property value drops below the replacement cost ... landlords begin extracting value from higher density renting to incomes lower down on the income ladder, while the property is allowed to depreciate.

And higher density in former suburban area where there is also out-migration implies abandoned housing.

If it dawns on people over the coming decade that a stopping rail service through the town can raise property values in an easy walk or park and ride of the station, and keep some districts out of the slum zone that are at risk of falling into the slum zone, the politics of establishing rail services will start to swing. NIMBY's will be converted into PIMBY's.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 02:36:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Rail service indeed.

Instead, urban planning of the 60s designed highways that tore through neighborhoods and allowed business people quick exits to the suburbs.

Ironically, those businesspeople have now had to move farther out as their first ring suburbs deteriorated, and even the water and sewage lines (made out of cheaper materials) began to burst. We had a snowstorm here that caused flooding a few years ago, and these first ring burbs were without water because their systems couldn't take the pressure.

Meanwhile, the city rolls along with 150 year old pipes made of lead coated with all kinds of sediment. They've never had to dig up the system in a century and a half.

by Upstate NY on Thu Jun 18th, 2009 at 04:00:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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