Unrelated Thoughts

Monday, March 13, 2006

When are you poor?

Two weeks ago I’ve had the opportunity to start reading this excellent blog, View from the Sidewalk, which provides the world with a unique perspective on the homeless problem: that of someone who is currently homeless. And this fired on my brain a question that I cannot answer yet: when are you poor?

I mean, in Spanish we translate poor as “pobre”, and also translate homeless as “pobre” (although a literal translation would be “sin hogar”, but since this is a two-word phrase, we still prefer “pobre” for daily speech). And that makes sense for us, since people who are poor usually don’t own masonry houses, i.e., they’re homeless.

Last time I checked the Peruvian economical info at the CIA World Factbook, I found that 54% of the population live bellow the poverty line, meaning that more than 14 million people is poor, at least according to the World Bank definition. 14 million people living with less than 2 USD a day! 60 USD (6000 yen) a month!

I think I’d feel poor even earning much higher figures than those…

Most of Peruvian poor people live in the Andes. They have a small space they call their land, where they farm potatoes, corn, etc., and they also have some few animals, cows, chickens, pigs, etc., which they milk or otherwise eat. They don’t sell much of their crops because they need them to eat and survive and because when they do they don’t get much money for them (remember: less than 60 USD a month!). They don’t have a TV, they don't know DVD, they don’t go to the doctor, and most of them don’t know how to read. But they’re somehow happy.

I’m not trying to say that since they’re happy we shouldn’t try to reduce poverty. We should keep fighting! But I want to focus on how they’re used to it, know how to live with it and don’t expect much more. And I ask myself if I would be that happy living with just 60 USD a month.

Of course not! I’d be crazy living on just 1000 USD a month!

And that’s why I cannot answer that question: “when are you poor?” Michael Brown, the homeless guy writing the aforementioned blog, is lucky because he has a job (a low wage job, but a job nevertheless), he’s educated, he’s a computer literate, he knows he has rights, and he’s fighting to overcome homelessness. For me, he’s not “pobre”.

I suppose each of us has his and her own poverty line. I mean, maybe I could overcome living even on just 500 USD a month, but I know many other people who couldn’t. They’d feel defenseless and worn out. Maybe being poor is just a state of mind, if you feel that you can survive and that you can overturn your condition, then you’re not poor. If you feel happy, then you’re not poor.

I think that’s the answer. You’re poor when you feel poor.


  • An economist will say: "you are poor if you don´t have money to buy food, clothes, etc." but I think your soul can be poor no matter how many money you have...

    By Blogger Cloud Strife, at 7:50 AM  

  • I'm an economist, MBA, and have a very respectful job position in a global corporation. I'm making more money than what I thought 10 years ago I might be able to make. Even though that, I believe I am poor.
    I don't have enough money to buy al the resources I would like to. And, even though I'll make more in 10 years.. I know I will continue being poor.
    The more I make, the more I spend and therfore, the more dificult to surpass my own poverty line.
    I'm poor.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:01 PM  

  • People in Cajamarca make an average of 210 soles a month (US$ 60 aproximately), but that is not what makes them poor because they have some land, animals and crops.

    Of course I would not like to be in their shoes, but what really makes them poor is their lack of education, some hardly attended elementary school and many don´t write or read.

    I felt really sorry for them on april 9th, I was an election officer in a rural community of Cajamarca, over 50% of the voters weren´t able to sign the voting list, and the majority of the votes were "blank" votes.

    I understood these people went to vote just to avoid being fined, they cannot afford that. Neither can they excercise their rights.

    I call that poverty.


    By Blogger Chugurano, at 3:59 PM  

  • How true, you feel poor when you are poor. If you are forever comparing yourself to the next person, you will never be satisfied or happy with who or what you are until you see yourself living their lives or up one on them. Education is seen as one way to eradicate poverty but in some places, they don't even have schools, teachers or equipments and in times when every cent counts and your child could help earn money for you, would you send him off to school instead of sending him to work?
    I don't know if we will ever be able to eradicate poverty. As long as there is corruption and the basic I-don't-Care attitude among people, poverty and a host of other problems will still remain.
    Ai Ling

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:10 AM  

  • Now I feel poor cause I can't go to visit somebody I care a lot for (in another country), in his b-day...

    By Blogger darling, at 2:40 PM  

  • I am tented to think that you are using the word poor, to define somehow the word unsatisfied. To me, poor means that you cannot obtain in exchange of money some goods that are basic to live. For instance, if somebody needs medical care, and with your US60.00 per month you cannot get it, then you are poor. If with the US 60.00 you cannot get the basic calories a day you need, it means you are poor. If somebody needs to stop sending their children to school because you need more hands working in your land, it means poverty.

    So, let's think again about the word poor and let's try to see that it does not really responds to how somebody might feel about himself. It is a fact that there are many people out here, in Peru, that are really poor, and wether they are happy or not, they just can not afford enough and adequate food, medical care, education, etc.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:59 AM  

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