However, Manktelow is far from spreading this kind of classical argument. People absolutely love to monitor how low income people are spending their money or resources. For example, how often do you hear gossip and judgments about what people supposedly see when bought from someone who uses EBT? Conspiracies are myriad where people essentially blast their monthly food aid on lobster, soda, and cake. As someone who grew up with EBT, I know firsthand that this is not the case. I also worked as a cashier in a supermarket for years; I haven’t even seen these types of issues either.
However, not only is it not true, but it is also important to realize that low-income people, like everyone else, deserve treats and joy. What some consider “luxury” or “unnecessary”, such as desserts or a nice piece of meat or fish, could be for a children’s birthday party, anniversary, cultural or religious holiday, or just an occasional treat. The reality is, we cannot know the frequency or the reason for other people’s purchases because we are once in line behind them. And that’s okay, because it’s nobody’s business except them.
Countless articles give “advice” on how to lower spending habits in order to build wealth and get out of poverty. You’ve probably heard the advice to make coffee at home, not eat as much avocado toast, or live at home as long as possible. Even when well meant, the advice is generally patronizing because it ignores the basic socio-economic differences that thrive in our capitalist culture. If you’re only making a minimum wage, you can’t save on a down payment on a house just because you stopped buying avocados or lattes. When faced with a mountain of medical or personal debt, you cannot build an emergency fund simply by buying products that are for sale.
Why do strangers invest so much in low-income spending? My personal guess is that people find it easier, and immediately more satisfying, to judge what is closest to them. It is easier to judge an individual or a collective group than it is to judge the structures that keep people in these cycles of poverty. For example, telling a low-income person to make their own coffee at home is faster than trying to get elected officials to reform laws and regulations that make poverty a lifelong trap.
Anti-poor rhetoric has been around for a long time, and as we know, Ronald Reagan’s fixation as the “welfare queen” really lit a lingering fire below it. That is an element of this conversation that is difficult but important: many people are entitled to public support but do not seek it. Why? Shame. Where does this shame come from? Society. Sometimes judgments come from people who share – or are close to – poverty and that can be steeped in deep self-hatred and criticism. Basically, “I’m not as bad as these poor people” or “I fight but I don’t accept handouts” mentalities.
Even so, you can’t personally fund your way out of generational poverty and systemic oppression, but financial literacy can empower your choices and help you feel more autonomous and informed, especially for young people who may have access to US credit facilities First time at the age of 18. When we also look at intergenerational poverty, it also helps to work towards systemic change when financial literacy is accessible to all through public education.
But here, too, it’s about changing the overall structure. Don’t put people to shame for buying a coffee with almond milk.