A recent proposal in the State Senate to address poverty shows a stunning ignorance (or indifference) to the lives of low-income Georgians.
Sometimes I wonder exactly what policy makers think of poor folks, because their policy proposals don’t show a lot of knowledge about realities of living in poverty. More than one in six Georgians live in poverty, many more don’t meet the federally defined threshold, but still find themselves struggling to pay for life’s necessities every month.
Poverty is also not spread equally among people in Georgia. Women, people of color and disabled folks are significantly more likely to be living at or below the federal poverty line. Keep in mind the federal poverty level is only $990 for a single person or $2,025 for a family of four. Just try to make a complete family budget from that.
Poverty is fueled by low wages, the lack of support for affordable housing policies, the lack of support for family-friendly work policies and the indifference of lawmakers to the exploitative practices of many employers in low-wage industries.
Industries like trucking and transport, food service and home healthcare make huge profits off the backs of low wage workers, while workers often have little recourse to address inequities at their jobs. Pull aside anyone who has ever worked in food service and they can tell you stories of bosses who refused to pay overtime, paychecks that were inexplicably delayed causing rent to be late, retaliatory reductions in hours for complaints about sexual harassment and on-call staffing practices that make it impossible to plan family life around an unpredictable work schedule.
But instead of addressing any of these realities, it is important to blame low-income folks for their predicament. At least that seems to be the approach Republican leaders in this state take.
David Shafer, the Senate President Pro Tempore, introduced a bill to encourage low-income people to save by allowing banks to offer raffle-style prizes to people who make deposits in a savings account.
He told the Atlanta Business Chronicle, “It’s an effort to use the thrill of a lottery prize to encourage savings.”
“This won’t solve the problem, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Shafer added.
I did not realize that poor folks are poor because saving is bo-ring! I guess all that other stuff about wages, family leave policies and exploitative practices must not really matter.
Mind you, this isn’t part of any package of measures championed by Senate leadership to address poverty, it’s a stand-alone bill.
In case Sen. Shafer or any of his colleagues are uncertain about how poverty works, let me provide the highlights: you are poor, you don’t have any money.
At Bank of America, a savings account costs $5 per month, or you have to maintain a daily balance of $300. Wells Fargo charges $6 a month to keep a savings account, or maintaining a $500 balance. (Banks are going to invest that money and make themselves a profit from it anyway, so it’s quite unnecessary to nickel and dime customers out of a few more dollars, too.)
You have to have money — and financial literacy — to make use of these sorts of tools. And, at interest rates of .01 percent, they hardly are the best tools for savings, if someone is magically able to squeeze the additional dollars out of their monthly budget.
I think it’s also insulting to low-income folks to imply that the problem that keeps them in poverty is spending a few bucks on lottery tickets. I appreciate that saving, when possible and even in small amounts, is ideal. But it’s hardly the smoking gun that perpetuates poverty in this country.