Kudos to DeNeen Brown and The Washington Post for this piece in Monday’s paper on the hidden costs of poverty. What makes it so worthwhile—and rare—is that it is written largely from the perspective of the poor, rather than from the perspective of a bunch of experts discussing the plight of the poor:
When you are poor, you don’t have the luxury of throwing a load into the washing machine and then taking your morning jog while it cycles. You wait until Monday afternoon, when the laundromat is most likely to be empty, and you put all of that laundry from four kids into four heaps, bundle it in sheets, load a cart and drag it to the corner.
“If I had my choice, I would have a washer and a dryer,” says Nya Oti, 37, a food-service worker who lives in Brightwood. She stands on her toes to reach the top of a washer in the laundromat on Georgia Avenue NW and pours in detergent. The four loads of laundry will take her about two hours. A soap opera is playing loudly on the television hanging from the ceiling. A man comes in talking to himself. He drags his loads of dirty sheets and mattress pads and dumps them one by one into the machines next to Oti.
She does not seem to notice. She is talking about other costs of poverty. “My car broke down this weekend, and it took a lot of time getting on the bus, standing on the bus stop. It was a waste of a whole lot of times. Waiting. The transfer to the different bus.”
Brown’s piece does not romanticize the poor, and it aggressively dismantles certain stereotypes, such as the notion that poor people compound their problems because they are dysfunctional. She does this, again, by showing how situations look from inside poverty rather than outside it:
Outside the ACE check-cashing office on Georgia Avenue in Petworth, Harrison Blakeney, 67, explains a hard financial lesson of poverty. He uses the check-cashing store to pay his telephone bill. The store charges 10 percent to take Blakeney’s money and send the payment to the phone company. That 10 percent becomes what it costs him to get his payment to the telephone company on time. Ten percent is more than the cost of a stamp. But, Blakeney says: “I don’t have time to mail it. You come here and get it done. Then you don’t get charged with the late fee.”Brent Cunningham is CJRs managing editor.
Blakeney, a retired auto mechanic who now lives on a fixed income, says: “We could send the payment ahead of time but sometimes you don’t have money ahead of time. That’s why you pay extra money to get them to send it.”