Why You’re (Probably) Rich

I’m rich, and you probably are too. I don’t know what it’s like to be poor, despite having spent years living on a below poverty-level income, and despite having lived at times in a fairly bad neighborhood without things like grocery stores and banks, and in some shoddy construction that caused me to spend a huge percentage of my income on utilities.

Why I don’t know what it’s like to be poor

Why don’t I know what it’s like to be poor? Because I’ve always had a support system that I could fall back on if I really needed to. Someone who could give me canned goods from their storage room, and people who bought me birthday and Christmas gifts that I could not have afforded myself. Gifts meant for me in particular, given by people who loved me — not gifts given by strangers out to do good.

I went to many, many schools as a kid, and all but one of them was automatically able to provide supplies like paper & pencils to their students. I went on out-of-state school field trips, and attended informational meetings on things like college and foreign exchanges — because I believed it was possible for me to go.

I didn’t have to hope or dream about “someday” maybe doing those things. And I did travel the world as a teenager, just like I assumed I could.

Scratching the surface

So I only know the surface of what it could be like to be poor. Sure, I had to choose between things like toilet paper and eating at times, and I can tell you what it’s like to be tempted by a roll of toilet paper sitting out at work. I’ve never stolen one, but I can see why people might.

But I don’t really know what it’s like to be poor, because I’ve had (and continue to have) opportunities that the people who grow up poor might not even think to hope for.

I never had my “room” be the floor of my 5-person family’s one bedroom trailer, between the table and the door. Or the shack without electricity near the riverbed — the one made of wood scraps and cardboard out on the Indian reservation. And while I did think I was stupid, I never assumed I was too dumb to learn or that there was no point in learning.

I always had hope, and a darn good launching pad.

The lack of hope

I imagine that when you’re poor, it’s hard to hope in more than an abstract, day-dreamy way — if you’ve got the energy for that much after many miles on the bus or on your junky, ill-fitting bike following the hours at whatever job you were able to get.

You’re just tired, and it’s one thing after another, mixed in with little pleasures where you can find then. Your hope is more worry that nothing goes wrong, or that you might need a new pair of shoes.

And all those people arguing about whether or not $250K a year is rich? Completely ridiculous. If you’re in the US and not one of the 46.2 million people living in poverty, you’re probably rich.

You might be in debt over your head, struggling to make ends meet, or dealing with unemployment, but that’s not what I’m talking about. You still have options that many people never dream of, because you have things you can cut out or give up. Or you still have the dream of those things, if you’ve lost them. You have hope that you might get them back again one day.

Why you’re (probably) rich

And I do know that when you have regular meals, and don’t have to worry every day about getting shot or having your child fall in with gang members or druggies, that you’re rich. When your worries are about how to scrape together a 3-month emergency fund because you’ve only got $150 saved so far, you’re rich. When you can go to the grocery store and relish your ability pick out anything you want to eat, you’re rich.

You may or may not be struggling to get to where you want to be, but you’re still rich in comparison to the people who are poor. You just may not realize it.

Yes, you might have problems. Different problems, in many cases, than someone who is poor. But you’re still rich, whether you feel that way or not.


  • Special_Ed

    Being poor in America is different from being poor in other places. The poor in America have cars, cell phones, and more options than the poor elsewhere. Unfortunately, poor becomes a mindset. A way of life for many that think they don’t have options. But, that’s the great thing about living in the U.S. As poor as I was growing up, I have left that world behind and do quite well for myself now.

  • First, I totally agree with Special_Ed’s comment – American poor is so dramatically different than Burma poor, you know?

    And I’m like you – I have my well-off parents and my wealthy grandmother to fall back on – if I ever needed to. I think just KNOWING they are there makes me less likely to need their help, if that makes sense.

  • YES, Amen. Very well said. Plus, that’s part of the point of credit cards. To keep us from destitution when the money runs out. I’d rather pay 24% on credit cards than have to worry about my imaginary kids going hungry.

  • Agreed! And I also would like to thank you for noting the third-world like poverty conditions here in the US. The first couple of comments don’t seem to be aware of that, but for those of us working in the social services field, oy vey. Yes, there are poor folk in America. There are people without food, electricity, running water, schools, etc. We have far more resources than many nations, but that doesn’t mean those resources make it to everyone.

    When I hear people with more than enough complain about their poverty, I want to drag them to some migrant worker and Native American communities I’ve seen. That should shut them up right quick.

    • Yeah, many people really have no idea. Which on the one hand is encouraging, because it means it’s not SO widespread that you can’t avoid seeing it. But on the other hand it’s discouraging, because sometimes people don’t see what’s right in front of their eyes — and it’s hard to change things that you don’t even see.