Posted Jul 13, 2022 8:50 AM
By Patricia Jones, Alliance Poverty Task Force
Another Fourth of July has come and gone. A comment I frequently hear from my (middle-class) friends is, “Those people have no money. But they spend hundreds of dollars on fireworks. What’s that about?”
Yes, that money is gone in a puff of smoke. After a great flash and bang. But for those in poverty, life is all about relationships. For them the celebration is logical.
Look at the way many of us celebrate the Fourth. We get together for the day. We share a lunch, then play games all afternoon. Then we share an evening meal. Watch the city fireworks display, then return to our block to set off our own rockets and fountains.
Is there a better way to show how we value others than to share our time, our food, and our entertainment?
Remember that most people in poverty are controlled by the tyranny of the moment. When they get money, there are so many demands that they can’t decide how to spend it. Several bills have to be paid – some past due. Children need food, clothing, school supplies. There may be medical issues or car problems.
For those of us in the middle class, we would make a plan. We’d pay off any bills that are costing us the most in the long run – rent so we don’t get evicted, utilities so they don’t get shut off, credit card bills because the interest is ridiculously high.
For those in poverty, dealing with tyranny of the moment creates so much stress that they cannot reason this all out. Even though those fireworks give short-term entertainment, it’s worth it to relieve that stress. It’s worth it to show your children that life isn’t all bad, that there are times to celebrate. And it is worth the cost, even if a bill goes unpaid for another month.
The other thing we have to understand is the present vs future conundrum. Those of us in the middle class think about and save for the future. We set aside part of our paychecks to buy a car or a house. We plan for our children to go to college. We choose jobs that have benefits and retirement accounts, and we invest in funds or IRAs so that we can stop working after a certain age and still live comfortably.
Remember tyranny of the moment? People who live in poverty do not plan for the future. It’s all they can do to live in the present. There isn’t enough money to save. If extra funds do come in, through a work bonus or a tax refund, that money is immediately spent. If this month’s bills are paid, then it’s time to buy something like a new television to celebrate and to provide that entertainment for the family. Plus, if you don’t spend it, you’ll feel obligated to give it to that next friend or relative who comes asking for help. After all, you may have been on the receiving end in the past, and you may be again in the future.
Through our poverty trainings, we have learned that people who live in poverty have a different mindset from those who live in middle class. We shouldn’t judge when things seem illogical to us. Spending on fireworks, for someone with different values, makes perfect sense.