The owner of a four-bedroom home deciding to live in a dumpster for a year, earning the name “Dumpster Professor.” A forlorn writer deciding to sell all possessions and travel around the globe, ending with smaller existence and newfound appreciation for life. Or, in this case, a young, professionally successful couple who throw off their cares and move to the country, deciding to enjoy a more “frugal” existence. These are the types of stories that make the hearts of the upper classes patter with joy: “we choose to enjoy simple lives.” Sadly, they are the only types of people who are given attention and admiration on how they do more with less.
Throughout the country, there are multitudes who are being presented with high-cost options but low wages. Most of the people who present these lifestyles were born in times when living was cheaper, although not as easy. Hitchhiking across the city was so frequent that it was glorified in films and books; living in rural areas was seen as the best way to avoid the fray. Because of their experiences, they assume that the working class is choosing to spend more on life than previous times, and if those people “would just tighten their belts,” their financial issues would disappear.
Life simply costs more not due to the fantasy of luxury, but because of the demands that people have for everyday people. Those who claim that the poor are irresponsible with expensive cellphones have no answers when asked how applicants are supposed to receive notification of an interview. Moreover, most lifestyle administrative duties–paying bills, applying for jobs, choosing real estate agents just for renting–are online, which makes the digital divide more of a barrier to upward mobility. It is not just the young who are impatient; older populations have become accustomed to immediacy and punish those who communicate by traditional means. Therefore, just to exist, society demands that every individual has a home, a way to get around, access to internet service every day all day, access to telephone service every day all day, and none of those expectations even touch the hygiene or social obligations.
Finally, those who offer lower wages are charging more for the privilege of receiving their goods and services. In cities of high government employment where residents receive $800-$2000/month, property management companies demand that people pay dearly for the privilege of living without roommates. To add insult to injury, living with roommates is interpreted as irresponsible or readily exploitable. Those forced to live on the margins and own cars are surrounded by poor nutritional choices because grocery options are largely in high density areas to ensure profitability; they also have no medical care if they become sick from their “choices.” The working class can do nothing about those circumstances; it is forced to function with its meager resources, and judged for not having more. In other words, “frugality” is a choice when one has excessive resources; it is poverty when one has no choice.
Right now, some billionaire is perusing that website and deciding to underpay the staff in a particular department because of a believe that staff are luxuriating in benefits. Someone else is evicting a low-income community on the belief that the residents are avoiding the hard choices that would allow them economic mobility. A plush financial advisor to a Fortune 500 company is deciding to demand tax incentives based on the belief that no one would choose to live in the city, and that the poor would love to live in the country. Because the fairy tales about the “choice” of poverty persist, so will marginalization, because those without exposure to poverty will remain steeped in their beliefs.