From Emily, a marvelous Comment of the Day so full of wisdom and good advice that it stands on its own:
I’m not from flyover country, but I live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, red counties that include the poorest counties in the state (the lower shore has Baltimore City beat.) My family of three hovers around the federal poverty line.
However, my husband and I were both raised middle class. And while there are no major economic differences between us and our friends and neighbors, there are a lot of differences in the choices we make, which allow us to use the same amount of money to give our daughter opportunities that other parents in our economic class are unaware of or neglect.
This, more than money, is what affects the opportunities that my daughter has access to (as well as the ones my husband and I have access to.)
Despite the economic hardship, I’m a stay at home mom, which allows me to be dedicated full time to my daughter’s developmental delays. I could go to work and make *slightly* more money for us, after childcare expenses, but that would be a very different level of care for my daughter, and it turns out she needs it. The expert we’ve consulted is almost certain she’ll catch up, and has indicated me being home with her is an important part of that certainty.
I mentioned above that my daughter does have a tablet, a $30 one from Amazon. I found that tablet because I got a $20 Amazon giftcard for Christmas, and I was saving it for something special. I had to dig in the library’s website to find the link to borrow ebooks, but I figured there must be something like that.
We have internet, despite having no long distance for our phone (and no cellphone service where we live.) My husband and I manage to pick up extra money doing work online, despite neither of us having college degrees. This is part of what allows us to get by while still having plenty of time for our daughter.
These are just examples of things *we’ve* figured out. Everyone’s situation is different, especially among the poor. The thing that most people don’t seem to see is that down here social capital (the network of friends and family you have and what they’re willing to help you with,) knowing how to allocate resources carefully, and understanding how to navigate the various systems — both private and government — are more important to the kind of life you have than income, and those are highly individual things.
Some people are better off getting their social capital through church, some through family. Home internet might be a good investment, or power tools, or a second car. Some people are great with coupons, some people haunt Goodwill every day and yard sales every week, some people buy online when the prices are right. Some people take advantage of the employment agencies, some people figure out that they can get computer certified with a lot of study and a minor investment, and some people find the retail stores that pay well and have good benefits (department stores and hardware stores, by the way.)
But a lot of people, unfortunately, ignore most or all of these options, or don’t use them to their advantage.
If you want kids to have options in life, what they need are parents who understand these things. More resources are only going to help the people who know how to use them, and an unfortunate number of my friends and neighbors don’t know how to decide which ones they need or how to use them effectively.
That’s the real problem that I see here, anyway.