Some People are So Poor, They Can’t Afford to Get Jobs

One day recently, I was reading through Facebook posts from my friends on my personal Facebook account. Usually, when I’m doing this, “blog post” is not one of the first things I have in mind.

But then, I saw a post where a friend of mine shared an image of a tweet from someone I didn’t even know…

It does sound absurd, that someone could be so poor they can’t afford to get a job. But, as ridiculous as this tweet may sound, it’s true—the expenses involved in getting and keeping a job can be prohibitively expensive.

Here are a few expenses that are required to get or keep a job, that can also be just too expensive for some people:

Money to keep your car running

Corbin’s tweet talks about “gas money,” and she’s right that gas money is one of the costs that makes someone so poor that they can’t get to a job interview or to a job. But, there’s also the cost of making sure the car remains in good shape, of getting repairs when something breaks, and of inevitably getting a new car when your old car struggles to run as it should. After all, there are many jobs that require you to have a car, so if you can’t afford to have a functional car, you can’t afford to have a job.

Or, if you don’t drive to and from work, money for mass transit

I’m blessed to live in a place where you can take mass transit to and from work. However, mass transit fares can add up over the course of a year. For example, if one were to get a monthly mass transit pass in New York City, that’s over $1,500 a year in mass transit expenses alone (at $127 a month). For someone who’s earning a lot of money, $1,500 may not sound like a ton. But for someone on the edge financially, that $1,500 may be the difference between being able to afford to get to a job—or not.

Child care

If you have a child and you are looking to work a job for 40 hours a week, your child needs to somehow be taken care of until you get home from work. Hence, the need for child care. But it costs many thousands of dollars a year, in many cases, to make sure your child is getting proper child care. In New York City, it costs, on average, over $16,000 a year for an infant to be in child care![1] Even with a $15 an hour minimum wage—something that many progressives advocate for—that’s half a year’s worth of your salary spent on child care alone.

Dress code

Corbin’s tweet also talks about people not being able to afford the money to adhere to the dress code for a job interview, let alone the multiple appropriate outfits necessary for a job. On a personal note, there was one time months ago when I ran into someone begging for money on the subway…so that he could get nice clothes for his job interview. I hope he got his money, and his clothes. In the meantime, this story exemplifies how it costs money—lots of it—to have the dress code you need for a job interview and a job. If you don’t have the money to buy professional clothing, then it puts you in a difficult situation professionally.


So, next time there’s a temptation to judge a poor person for not working hard enough to get back on their feet, I really wish that we were less judgmental, and remembered that the obstacles to “getting back on their feet” (in other words, getting a job) are, in some cases, too enormous to overcome at times. Instead, it would be best to find solutions that would allow for a poor person to not spend as much on car maintenance, for someone in economic need to get reduced-fare or free mass transit,[2] for reduced-price or free child care to exist for those who need it, and for more reduced-price or free professional clothing to exist for those who need it.[3] There are many economic barriers that lie between many people and jobs, and instead of calling someone lazy for encountering those barriers, it would be best to figure out how to remove the barriers.


[1] https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/average-cost-daycare-nyc-tops-16k-article-1.2428709

[2] New York City has a program through which low-income residents can get reduced-fare mass transit passes, so such policies can and do exist in some places: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/resources/2018/Fair-Fares-FAQ-English.pdf

[3] Some individual programs, such as Dress for Success (for women) or the Men’s Wearhouse Suit Drive (for men) can help. However, individual programs like these are not enough. Click here for more information on Dress for Success and click here for more information on the Men’s Wearhouse Suit Drive.

17 Replies to “Some People are So Poor, They Can’t Afford to Get Jobs”

  1. We are still immersed in self-inflicted class issues where advice serves a condenscending idealogy rather than a basic understanding of extreme poverty. Yes, there are programs out there that give out free business attire and yes, personal finance is a factor. However, the homeless typically face a plethora of obstacles than just this or that. The idea of barriers (plural) is that initially breaking through several obstacles is typical but then you may lose momentum and then hit a wall you (currently) can’t break, at least not without some help.

    Thank you for posting this and good job on your willingness to even cite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. There is this belief that those who are doing well are those who have worked the hardest, and that poor=lazy. That’s not true. Recognizing that there are barriers and structural issues, instead, can go a way towards understanding extreme poverty.

      Like

  2. I was homeless with two tiny children for over three years. the problems we faced were so much more than simply my not having a job. I HAD a job. but I couldn’t afford even subsidized housing due to the expense of childcare. I lost the apt we had, then lost the job because I didn’t have “an address”. I didn’t have a phone so employers had no way to contact me should they wish to hire me. One can only stay in a shelter for three nights in a row, and you can not leave any belongings in the shelter during the day..who is going to hire someone carrying all their belongings and two kids with them? It only gets worse….you can not get food or drink without coin..and no job equals no coin. So you start selling everything you own just to feed the children……..you can not take a bath as you have no place to do so, and you can not wash clothing so you start to smell. And now the middle class is one $500.00 emergency expense away from homelessness in this country.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. Your story really goes onto some other major structural issues–how many jobs are not enough to cover living expenses (rent, child care, other belongings), as well as how many jobs become harder to get without having a home. Many jobs do require an address, so having none is a deal-breaker. And ditto with bringing all your belongings and two kids with you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. These obstacles are real! When I volunteered with the organization Dress for Success I remember feeling so many mixed emotions as first appearances matter so much (yet I don’t always think that should even count when it’s the work performance that matters most). Such a valuable post, Brendan.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely. No doubt, Dress for Success does provide valuable service in terms of first appearances. However, you are right that work performance matters the most, and that resources are also needed so that people look good for their jobs once they are hired.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh yeah … I remember those days. Finally graduated from college with a B.S. in Accounting, a single mother of three, one of them severely disabled, been living in campus housing for free, but not gotta find a job, gotta find a place to live, gotta figure out how to buy food, and oh yeah … gas for the car to get back and forth to interviews. I had one ‘interview suit’ I bought cheap from the Goodwill store, and one pair of low heels … not the greatest, but passable. My first interview, the headhunter told me I needed to invest in a more expensive suit and that the shoes simply had to go. I finally got a job and got it all together, but in the interim was homeless for a brief period, living in a car with my 3 kids. Oh yeah … those were the days. When I retired in 2008, much better off than 30 years prior, I donated all my ‘professional’ clothing to an organization that helps people just starting out by providing them with business clothes to wear for interviews. Indeed, it is true that some people, particularly women with children, simply cannot afford to get a job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Jill.

      The struggle is real. And in addition to all you said and experienced, there’s what a couple of other comments have brought up, which is that an address is often needed for a job, and without an address (which costs money), you can’t get or keep a job. There really are a bunch of economic barriers to getting a job–a fact that’s not talked about enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is a very real struggle, and thank YOU for shining a spotlight on it. Those people who sit in their million-dollar mansions and judge those who don’t have, or cannot get a job sicken me … they could help, but largely prefer to criticize.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m privileged in many ways, but I noticed how much money I saved once I lost my job – apart from the things you mention, I had time to find the bargains and special offers available in different shops. I didn’t have to continually spend on Office parties, Kris Kindles, Leaving dos, birthday presents etc etc. I didn’t need to change my car because I would no longer be driving clients and colleagues, I had time to switch to regularly switch to cheaper energy sources, insurance etc. Sadly some of these benefits vanished after a second child was diagnosed with a disability.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, and some people are not able to save that sort of money, unfortunately, due to circumstances. Or have the time to find those bargains. And then, when someone is really, really poor, that person is labeled as “lazy.”

      Like

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