Sunday, November 23, 2008

Could You Survive in Poverty? - A Perspective Quiz

When I was attending college I went through a workshop designed to give me a better understanding of the conditions people in poverty live under. It was based on the book "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" by Ruby Payne. Life has a way of teaching us some of the things necessary to survive hard times and they are never fun, especially when we have a family to worry about.

Historically, life has always been hard. There have been easier times, but I don't think the world will ever eradicate poverty. I used to see lots of emailed stories about how people were more blessed by simple things than by fancy stuff, things like a night spent lying with your family and friends on a blanket in your back yard observing the stars with your naked eye instead of sitting in front of a TV watching a DVD on a big screen TV or playing a video game on your x-box or computer. I don't see many of those examples in my emails now. Maybe people feel that we are all having to remember simpler lives with less wealth to provide us with entertainment.

Because income levels have an insular effect on society, even those who work with the poor can be immune to how lives really function at the generational poverty level. And, sadly, that is what many parts of our country and others have, life long poverty that you can't escape to give your child a better life. When you live like that your whole perspective changes. Things that you or I might find insupportable are just a fact of life to the poor. For instance, moving in less than a day because you can't make the rent at your present home. When I talked to the associate rector at my church he told me that this kind of workshop was also part of his education. But is education in this enough? My parents and grandparents lived during the great depression. I have lessons in economics they taught me from those times. My father has never paid even so much as a penny of interest on a credit card in his entire life. My church prides itself on being reconciling but we are a pretty affluent church, not wealthy, but no where near poor. Our rector is an ex NY lawyer and his wife is too. Their kid is going to college in Boston. Our whole church does a whole lot to help the poor, but even so, I wonder what any of us would do if we suddenly found ourselves poor?

The most telling thing in the entire workshop was a quiz which we were required to take. It was based on the skills you needed to survive at different levels of income. I've decided to share this quiz because many of us, myself included, need a reminder that just because we live at one level of income doesn't mean things won't change. I think many in our country are experiencing that and if this quiz helps any of you interact with your friends, who may be struggling, in a way that is more reconciling then that's a good thing. But if this quiz doesn't teach you anything, be forewarned, life may do it.

Could you survive in middle class?

Count the number of items you know how to do:
1. I know how to get my children into Little League, piano lessons, etc.
2. I know how to set a table properly.
3. I know which stores carry the clothing brands my family wears.
4. My children know the best name brands in clothing.
5. I know how to order in a nice restaurant.
6. I know how to use a credit card, checking account and savings account—and I understand an annuity. I understand term life insurance, disability insurance and 20/80 medical insurance as well as house, flood and replacement insurances.
7. I talk to my children about going to college.
8. I know how to get one of the best interest rates on my new car loan.
9. I understand the difference among the principal, interest, and escrow statements on my house payment.
10. I know how to help my children with their homework and do not hesitate to call the school if I need additional information.
11. I know how to decorate the house for the different holidays.
12. I know how to get a library card.
13. I know how to use most of the tools in the garage.
14. I repair items in my house almost immediately when they break—or know a repair service and call it.

Could you survive in poverty?
Count the number of items you know how to do:
1. I know which churches and sections of town have the best rummage sales.
2. I know which rummage sales have “bag sales” and when.
3. I know which grocery stores’ garbage bins can be accessed for thrown-away food.
4. I know how to get someone out of jail.
5. I know how to fight and defend myself physically.
6. I know how to get a gun, even if I have a police record.
7. I know how to keep my clothes from being stolen at the Laundromat.
8. I know what problems to look for in a used car.
9. I know how to live without a checking account.
10. I know how to live without electricity and a phone.
11. I know how to use a knife as scissors.
12. I can entertain a group of friends with my personality and my stories.
13. I know what to do when I don’t have money to pay the bills.
14. I know how to move in half a day.
15. I know how to get and use food stamps or an electronic card for benefits.
16. I know where the free medical clinics are.
17. I am very good at trading and bartering
18. I can get by without a car.

Could you survive in wealth?
Count the number of items you know how to do:
1. I can read a menu in French, English and another language.
2. I have several favorite restaurants in different countries of the world.
3. During the holidays, I know how to hire a decorator to identify the appropriate themes and items with which to decorate the house.
4. I know who my preferred financial advisor, legal service, designer, domestic-employment service, and hairdresser are.
5. I have at lest two residences that are staffed and maintained.
6. I know how to ensure confidentiality and loyalty from my domestic staff.
7. I have at least two or three “screens” that keep people whom I do to wish to see away from me.
8. I fly in my own plane or the company plane.
9. I know how to enroll my children in the preferred private schools
10. I know how to host the parties that “key” people attend.
11. I am on the boards of at least two charities.
12. I know the hidden rules of the Junior League.
13. I support or buy the work of a particular artist.
14. I know how to read a corporate financial statement and analyze my own financial statements.

When I took this test I scored all correct on middle class and could do 6 or 7 things in poverty. I attribute that to my post depression upbringing. I could only do one thing in wealth and that was because I lived on the Mexico border and used to dine over there. How did you score?


jsd said...

Well, I'm clearly most comfortable in the middle class. I can do 6-7 of the poverty items...and the upper-class, only if I win the lotto.

I don't want to have to find out if I could really survive living in poverty conditions.

I grew up lower-middle class, I know my mom remembers how to navigate that system - I only remember living in it.

As with many things in life, unless you experience it on some level you can't really understand it.

Sandi McBride said...

Hmm...I'm definitely middle class...I couldn't handle wealth very well...I'm too lazy to learn a third language, and do the best I can with the two I do...and I've not spoken to anyone in Spanish over a period of time now that I'm fast losing that...yes, Middle Class. Definitely.

Great post, Lee!

Lee said...

I hear you, JS! I don't want to learn if I could live in poverty either. It's scary!

Both my parents and my grandparents lived through the depression, so perhaps there are things in my upbringing that let me see things through their experienced eyes.

You're right, it is hard to understand something you have not directly experienced. We can only hope to have compassion for more difficult situations by comparing them to the hard times in our own.

Peace! & Hope!

Lee said...

Thanks, Sandi! I'm glad you liked it. Sounds like it made you think.


david mcmahon said...

What a thought-provoking post, Lee.

Lee said...

Thank you, David! This was something I must have been thinking about in my sleep because they were the thoughts on my mind on waking. I'm glad you found it food for thought.


Susan Palwick said...

Great quiz, Lee!

I'm most comfortable in middle class, but knew quite a few of the poverty answers, too. I'd be a really clueless rich person.

Lee said...

Thanks, Susan! I'm glad you liked the quiz. You are like me and most of my friends. It is interesting to see how many folk know some of what the class below them have to know to survive. Makes me wonder how much a wealthy person would know about middle class survival and would they know anything about poverty.


San said...

I'm middle class too. I flunked the wealth quiz and can answer a couple of the poverty questions: I can use a knife as scissors, since members of my household keep walking away with the scissors, and when I lived in a large city, I did quite nicely without a car. Loved it in fact.

An eye-opening post, Lee. Thank you!

Lee said...

You're welcome, San! I'm glad you found it "eye opening". I found the entire workshop such an experience. Not everyone likes what Payne has to say but she has been lauded by most of the universities and many of the public school systems.


Mike Nappi said...

I did this test exactly one year ago and literally found it, to the DAY in writing... one year later! Sadly being an aspiring musician, I am identifying with most of the poverty questions but it makes me laugh at how ridiculous these questions are and how habitual they have become to me. With time, mike nappi music will carry me through the questionaires of identifiable class quizzes! haha cheers

Anonymous said...

Middle Class. I can do 6 or 7 things in poverty, and I couldn't even be able to begin living in wealth.