That’s how much money I’ve earned this year through August 31. Well above the official poverty level for a single person in the U.S., even if I don’t make another dime in 2012.
Living at this level for long, I can assure you, is the pathway to destitution.
Thankfully, I’m not destitute. And I have no intention of becoming destitute. I have several credit cards with nice credit limits that kept my head above water between March and June, when no money came in. I have overdraft protection at my bank. I still have a little bit of money in savings. I also have good work and expect several good paychecks between now and the end of the year. The way things stand today, I could double my earnings by year’s end.
Which, frankly, still does not qualify me as economically stable in the real world of mortgage payments and health insurance and gasoline and groceries. But it keeps me believing that this, too, shall pass.
You see, I’m “in transition.” In January, the situation changed with my number one client for the last dozen years. The change has freed me to pursue other projects that I love and the work shows up at a steady pace. The money, however, shows up at a somewhat less steady pace.
Of course, few who are destitute in these remarkable times had any intention of ending up there, either. So I live in the moment and I operate from faith and I work hard and I keep looking for places to trim the fat.
There isn’t much fat left in the budget, four years into the so-called Great Recession. I cut my own hair. And do a darn good job, if I do say so myself. I don’t have a television, which means I don’t spend money on Dish or Cable. I buy clothes, when I buy them, second-hand. The only two pieces of furniture in my condo that were purchased new are a bed and a shelving unit, each $99.00 from Ikea, and neither purchased recently. My car, also purchased used, is 9 years old and was paid off seven years ago. I don’t do manicures or pedicures and I gave up massages years ago. I don’t take vacations any more and I rarely go out to eat. I’ve seen movies in theaters twice this year. My big splurge is $16.99 a month for three DVDs at a time from Netflix. I live lean.
Austerity is swell until the car needs brakes and the AC in the condo needs major repairs, both in the same month in the middle of my spring revenue drought. All of it’s swell unless the five-year-old eyeglasses fall apart or a 50-year-old filling gives way and a tooth breaks. All of it’s swell until it’s time to pay the taxes and the car insurance. Okay, I admit it, I wanted to give my daughter a gift for her 30th birthday in March, too.
Then, a person starts to wonder just how close destitution is. A person starts to wonder how families that live this way for years on end manage to survive. A person starts to chafe at the arrogance of those who say that people who hover just above the poverty level should manage their money better. A person starts to feel angry at companies and people who make millions — billions, even — and resist higher taxes to serve the community as a whole because the higher rates could, after all, leave them struggling to make ends meet.
I’m not destitute. But I’m close enough that I begin to get what it’s like for those who are. If all of us came this close once in our lives, we might find our view of poverty, and its solutions, dramatically changed.