News and Views
This Is Why Poor People Can’t Help Making Bad Decisions
There's scientific backing for Tirado's claim that poverty destroys your ability to make long-term decisions.
A mom-of-two with two jobs wrote an essay on what it's like to be poor. Linda Tirado wasn't expecting her essay to go viral, but it did. It's been shared 35,000 times on Facebook and viewed by 1.3 million people at the Huffington Post (it's also been posted elsewhere). Here are some excerpts:
Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6AM, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes) then work, then I get the kids, then I pick up my husband, then I have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12:30AM, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I'm in bed by 3. This isn't every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr. Martini and see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork. Those nights I'm in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won't be able to stay up the other nights because I'll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can't afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn't leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn't in the mix.
You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn't give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don't apply for jobs because we know we can't afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary, but I've been turned down more than once because I "don't fit the image of the firm," which is a nice way of saying "gtfo, pov." I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won't make me a server because I don't "fit the corporate image." I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on B12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that's how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn't much point trying.
"I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions," Tirado concludes. "This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It's certainly self-defeating, but it's safer. That's all. I hope it helps make sense of it."
Tirado's essay has attracted a huge respond, most positive, and she has received over $50,000 in donations to support her in writing a book. Her story has also inspired others to write about their experience of being poor. Tina Shang, a working mom-of-five who is also in college, wrote on her own experience of poverty and argued that most working poor in America don't get that way by making bad decisions:
Mrs. Tirado spoke about the fact that part of the reason she ended up in a bad position was because of poor life decisions and bad financial decisions. I don't believe that she was insinuating that is true for everyone in poverty, but I wanted to make it clear that it absolutely not true for the majority.
Tirado responded positively to Shang's critique: "I saw your link. I think this is fantastic. The thing that people are forgetting is that I never said that I spoke for everyone, and I never intended to. What I do want is for everyone to tell what it is that they see, to tell the things that are true for them, because that is how we get a real picture of what the thing is."
There's scientific backing for Tirado's claim that poverty destroys your ability to make long-term decisions. A recent major study found that the stresses of poverty caused a drop in cognitive skills equivalent to missing a night's sleep. Another study shows that having limited resources itself causes short-term thinking, whereas people with more resources tend to plan for the long-term.