The Costs of Struggling in the United States.

How a lack of quality social safety nets and a dying capitalist system have made it incredibly expensive to be poor.

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Photo via Steve Knutson on Unsplash

Being poor means a lot of things, and as many of us know, it is both the cause and the effect of a wide variety of issues surrounding socioeconomic conditions.

When discussing what sort of hardships a poor individual can expect to deal with, most often we can point to lack of quality education in underfunded school districts, “food desserts” where fresh, quality food is difficult to come by, and obviously housing and transportation problems. While of course it’s important to discuss those aspects, perhaps the most obvious and least often addressed part of what it means to be poor in the United States is the fact that it is indeed incredibly expensive.

Consider something as simple as a toothache.

It goes without saying that a consistent, throbbing toothache could often be indicative of a cavity. Being unable to afford going to the dentist, someone without means to get a cavity treated might just do their best to ignore it. Left untreated, the cavity will cause the nerve in the tooth to die and the tooth will rot. When the tooth rots, a root canal becomes a necessity or the tooth will fall out. Obviously, the cost of a root canal is much more than the cost of the simple checkup and dental filling, which someone who’s poor often can’t afford in the first place.

Consider food as well.

Someone who’s poor might not be able to afford fresh, organic, non-processed foods. They may not even live in an area where that kind of food is available to them. Extended periods of time on a diet with little nutrients and highly processed foods will almost inevitably have some sort of adverse affect on the body, whether it be diabetes, cancer, or cholesterol issues among countless others. In the United States where obviously not everyone can afford health insurance, it goes without saying that the expenses of not being able to afford to eat healthy can be astronomical.

It’s hard to look at these issues in this context and not come away thinking that there is a deeply disturbing, systemic and cyclic aspect to poverty, that — as many before have pointed out — actually punishes people for being poor. In a country such as the United States where there is a lack of a sound social safety net to keep people from sinking deeper and deeper in to to poverty’s hole, we see firsthand what type of effect this endless cycle has on the individuals and communities it affects all across the country.

Even student debt has become a trap, designed to imprison those forced to take out loans to try and better themselves with higher education into an often decades long, devastating burden of debt. A burden capable of preventing people from buying houses, new cars, or even starting a family.

The very notion that it’s expensive to be poor should be indicative to the masses of a dying capitalist system that has preyed on us for far too long, inevitably leading to an unsustainable crisis. So long as capitalism continues to be the dominating economic and cultural force throughout the globe, being poor will continue to be expensive.

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Lauren is a writer & leftist with analysis on topics related to politics & policy. She can be reached at or Twitter @xlauren_mx

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