Living in poverty

What a surprise I received this morning while reading the newspaper…I am living in poverty!

This is not to make light of the very real problems people are facing right now amidst a prolonged economic downturn.  I’ll speak more on this in a moment, but I want to touch on the subject specifically mentioned in the article.

Having spent a dismayingly long period of my life analyzing and reporting on financial and operational results of varied businesses, I know how showing the numbers and telling the story can be two distinct functions.  Often times, the goal of the latter is to misdirect from the former.  Not baldly lie, just place the results in the most positive light.  As one of my former colleagues once wrote me on my financial review for the month, “I think what you’re saying is that we had a bad month, but I should feel good about it”.

So I look at the startling numbers listed in the newspaper and realize I fit into the category defined by the U.S. Census as poverty.  That is, my earnings from my book sales are small, I have no other income and I am not “officially” retired (not yet, as we discussed in the post “It’s all about sales”).

The difference for me, obviously, is a low expense base and significant discretionary funds in excess of those put away for that eventual “real” retirement day.  I am quite comfortable believing there are many, many people smarter than me, thus I presume there are others who may fit my same characteristics.  So when you see a story which sports the panic headline about the growth in poverty, you at least need to allow for the fact that the numbers could be slightly distorted.

However…

I have a number of people around me who are likewise out of work and actually trying to secure some to manage their financial burdens.  They, like millions of others (and perhaps me, sooner than I care to consider), face a dread reckoning as the nature of employment shifts the power back to the employers.

In these times, where fear of job loss runs rampant among the employed, employers of even the highest ethics cannot help pushing more work on fewer employees.  The increase in productivity is great for the bottom line but not so good for the mental and physical well being of the employed.  Afraid there is nothing better waiting for them elsewhere, they struggle to meet unfair and uncaring work requirements.

This has the doubly-damaging effect of easing the need of employers to hire, leaving the increased amount of unemployed with few scraps to fight over.  It’s a buyer’s market and the glut in labor creates the very real increase in the poverty statistic.

The truly terrifying thing about this is that there is no evidence that better economic times will induce a corresponding increase in hiring.  What incentive does a company have to give up productivity gains outside of making their employees “feel better”?  That’s a vague translation to the bottom line.

There has long been discussion of America shifting from three economic “classes” to just two:  Upper and Lower.  Each time the economy retrenches, it gives business both a real reason and a convenient excuse to squeeze the workplace a little more.

With so many barriers to your basic lone entrepreneur starting up a business, a growing amount of people are going to face difficulty securing jobs that offer them security, financial or career.

There has long been a hallmark in fiction about the day when “super” corporations control the lives we lead.  We get closer to that point every time we hit these economic bumps.

If that day ever comes, I wonder what the statistic on poverty will look like then.

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