passerine: Picture of Sparrow from Dykes to Watch For (Default)
[personal profile] passerine
I don't think it's impossible to raise social class, some doomsayer predictions to the contrary. At least, I think that it is possible to go from, in GURPS terms, Poor to Average, or Struggling to Comfortable. (Anything beyond Comfortable is another matter.)

However, it's a bit like Finding The Right Psych Meds For You, if you are one of the people who is in need of such things. There are many options out there. However, as far as the usefulness of any given option, if I remember my reading correctly the best numbers I've seen (assuming correct diagnosis and yadda yadda) for a specific drug working to provide significant symptom control without intolerable side effects is about 40%. The chances that you'll get that drug on the first try...not necessarily so good, especially since that 40% number is for an oldie-but-goodie (lithium to treat Bipolar I) that doesn't rake in the dough for Big Pharma. And well, some drugs make things much worse if you attack the wrong problem - say, your "depression, insomnia and anxiety" is really bipolar disorder, or your "treatment-resistant atypical depression" is really hypothyroidism. People can also have drugs not just not work but make things actively worse - paradoxical reactions, allergic reactions, serious weight gain (or loss), and other truly unacceptable physical consequences are all possibilities.

And of course, because of the horror stories out there about particular drugs and their possible side effects (the 1-in-3000 chance of getting hit with the Lamictal Rash, the prospect of gaining 100 pounds on Zyprexa, the you'll-never-have-or-want-sex-again-and-btw-good-luck-trying-to-get-off-this-stuff horror stories of Paxil, etc etc) or because a given person thinks that "solving problems" with medication is ALWAYS morally wrong, some people who can barely function are continuing to barely function out of fear that they will lose what little function they have, or lose their pride in "making it on [their] own."

But anyway, this is about being poor, not about psychopharmgeeking.


First, there is no One True Path Out Of Poverty for everyone. The possibilities depend on the personal characteristics and history of the individual or family in question. There are many paths that will work for a fairly large number of people, and those are the ones that get overgeneralized to "EVERYONE could be self-sufficient if they just did X!"

I know the paths that are reasonably likely to work in upstate New York, because I've lived here most of my life. I don't think they would work so well in, say, New York City, and I have no idea if they would work in, say, Arizona. (And as a matter of fact, my reading of Nickel and Dimed suggests that due to cost-of-living issues in different locations, a lot of my ideas wouldn't work so well in any of the locations where the author lived/worked.)

I also know what these paths are because I've spent the last nine years either working for or studying about social programs and policies that help people make ends meet, and because I'm actually interested in the subject. If I were in the situation and didn't have that specialized knowledge, I'd be kind of screwed because I wouldn't know what resources I actually had. It's a bit like that scene in The Princess Bride - "If we just had a wheelbarrow!" It's easy to have access to a wheelbarrow without knowing it.

Overall, I'd say the two most common tickets-out-of-poverty suggestions boil down, roughly, to either, "Just get a job, any job, and work hard!" or, "Go (back) and get that college degree, because education is the ticket to upward mobility in this country!" My personal opinion is that the second suggestion is more likely to be correct than the first (at least in upstate NY and if there is some long-term purpose other than College Degree For Its Own Sake involved), but there are situations in which the first suggestion is more appropriate, many situations in which neither of these suggestions is appropriate at all, and many more in which neither is appropriate without addressing other issues first.

I also have a certain bias about the "get a job, any job!" suggestion because I've seen too many people for whom this advice caused...well, a paradoxical reaction. Instead of improving their lives, the jobs in question created damage to physical and/or mental health to the point that the people in question were no longer able to hold down those jobs (or in some cases any similar job, or any job at all).

As I keep saying, to pull themselves up by bootstraps, people need boots and unbroken arms.

The "unbroken arms" are access to all the basic needs for physical and mental health: nutritious food in sufficient quantities, clothing appropriate for the weather and job or intended job, safe housing and transportation according to need, proper medical care and treatment for whatever medical conditions DO exist (including family planning services as appropriate), and at least a reasonable minimum of connection with people whose net contribution to your life is positive rather than negative.

The "boots" in question can take many different forms. Usually they consist of some combination of the following:

- Better-than-average physical health, strength, and/or endurance.
- Extreme mental stability beyond the level of most mere mortals. I'm talking the Unfazeable advantage from GURPS, here.
- Significantly above-average intelligence.
- Skillful command of the English language (spoken and written).
- Innate charisma and/or physical attractiveness.
- A particular innate and in-demand marketable skill.
- Coming from a middle-class or higher background even if currently in economic trouble.
- Creativity, especially of the sorts that make lack of resources more bearable.
- Being unencumbered by personal possessions, social obligations, or family ties...
- ...or conversely, having a supportive social network firmly in place, e.g. The Three Doctors.
- ...or parents/other extended family that are willing and able to support you if things completely go to Hell for you.
- Knowledge of HOW to navigate social services, college financial aid, credit scoring, etc.
- A driver's license and a car that works, or living somewhere with better-than-usual public transit.
- An Internet connection, to look at sites like Craigslist for the purpose of acquiring free or cheap furniture, housing, cars, etc. Oh, and knowing that Craigslist exists, not being afraid to use it after the Erotic Services Murders, and having some way of transporting the shiny finds.
- Living in, or being able to relocate to, an area with an extremely low cost of living (and knowing where such areas are, and being willing to live in them). However, please note that many areas with very low housing costs have terrible job markets.
- If part of the plan is to slash the food budget, this requires knowledge of cooking healthy meals with cheap ingredients AND access to a kitchen with appliances that work properly AND access to a considerable amount of storage space.
- And sometimes? Pure dumb luck.

This list, of course, is not complete.

Date: 2009-06-24 03:38 am (UTC)
dechant: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dechant
But I love your psychopharmageekery!

Kidding aside, holy bugfuck yes. Having done the "get a job... ANY job!" thing, I'm a hell of a lot closer to pursuing my passion for hair -- low income be damned, it's an income I can see myself earning without wanting to cut my own throat.

Beloved and Meta-Beloved support this; he's watching me get stronger by the day and she's got a cousin who's done pretty well for herself. Unlike in my blood family, it wouldn't shame anyone if I tried.

I love my V.

Re: Questionable Concepts

Date: 2009-06-24 11:18 am (UTC)
cesy: "Cesy" - An old-fashioned quill and ink (Default)
From: [personal profile] cesy
"To pull themselves up by bootstraps, people need boots and unbroken arms."

Indeed.

Date: 2009-06-24 11:47 am (UTC)
eponymous: a photo of me, taken from the back, bouncing on a trampoline (Default)
From: [personal profile] eponymous
Oh man, it bothers me to no end to listen to people with their bootstraps crap. It's not that easy. I've managed to improve my own circumstances somewhat, but it's been a huge struggle to do so. And I also know that there were times where my family sacrificed their own needs on the gamble that I could "amount to something".... which causes quite a bit of guilt at times.

This actually makes me want to do some writing of my own on the topic, including how it bothers me when people assume that I come from a middle class background. No. I don't. I'm not quite sure why the assumption bothers me as much as it does, but maybe in writing about it, I'll tease that answer out.

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