It's hard out there for people living on the lower end of the income spectrum. And not least because the world is full of bizarre bear traps designed to make every little thing way harder than it has to be for people who can balance their bank account on one hand. With two fingers left over. For example ...
When living on a limited budget, you have to make sacrifices in order to get by. One result of this is that low-income people are often unable to afford pads, tampons, and other menstrual hygiene products.
To say that this is a widespread problem would be an understatement. It's been reported across the world, in places as far-flung as India, Sub-Saharan Africa, the UK ... and of course, the United States. A recent study in St. Louis, for instance, found that nearly two-thirds of women living on a lower income are unable to afford menstrual products at least once a year, while a fifth admitted that this was a problem they faced every month.
What are they using as replacements, you might ask? Anything they can get their hands on: rags, paper towels, diapers, even mesh underwear given out by emergency rooms to postpartum mothers. As the author of the aforementioned study explains, it's not that using impromptu fixes is an inherently bad thing. Relying on them because you can't afford the real deals, however, can have a damaging effect on your mental health. "Most women can identify with having to 'make do.' But to have to do that every month, and to have to do that when you may have only one pair of underwear yourself -- that affects your dignity and your sense of self and your sense of being able to care for yourself."
Michal Ludwiczak /Adobe Stock
Research conducted in the UK found that, of 500 women who had experienced period poverty, nearly two-thirds said they lack confidence on account of being bullied, while over a third reported experiencing anxiety and depression. There's also a myriad of physical health problems associated with using improper sanitary products, including irritation and an increased risk of infection.
So what's to be done? We need to ensure that menstrual products are more accessible -- a process which itself begins with pushing states to abolish the so-called "tampon tax," which is imposed on sanitary products on the absolute nonsense basis that they're not "essential" items. There's also the fact that assistance programs like SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid can't be used for menstrual products. However, if dicks started squirting blood on a monthly basis, cotton-lined sheathes would probably rain from the sky.
Much like how food deserts represent areas of the country where fresh food is completely unattainable, transit deserts are communities which aren't served by reliable forms of public transportation. Research has shown that people living in transit deserts have limited job opportunities (or indeed, none), and they don't just impact commuters. They also impact people who are seeking access to medical services, which can cause health problems to go undetected, or worsen.
So why don't these people simply book an Uber or Lyft? Here, have this response that we already had cued up:
According to the results of a study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA), low-income housing residents -- particularly those living in black and Hispanic communities -- consume more than three times the amount of energy that well-off households do, and so spend the majority of their income on energy bills totaling hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.
This is because in general, low-income housing lacks the modern energy-efficient wall insulation that many modern homes have. These homes bleed heat, and since freezing to death (or suffering from one of many other health complaints) isn't an option, residents are forced to run their heating for longer and longer.
There's no easy solution to this problem. Buying energy-efficient appliances, remodeling walls, or installing solar panels obviously isn't an option if you consider a single Hot Pocket to consist of multiple servings. Plus, most low-income residents are renters. And if you've ever asked a landlord to make expensive improvements, you know that the only response you're going to get is cruel, extended laughter.
The situation is only going to get worse as time progresses -- not just because the Trump administration is attempting to kill several grants that help low-income homeowners upgrade their homes (such as LIHEAP and the Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program), but also because of that climate change thing we've heard so much about.
Last year, a nationwide survey examining the response times of 63,000 emergency calls found that it takes ambulances nearly five minutes longer to respond to calls in low-income areas as compared to high-income areas. The study also found that the amount of time it takes medics to arrive at a scene, stabilize the patient, and transport them to the hospital is, on average, 10 percent longer for patients in low-income communities.
Could these differences be down to the time of day? Nope, because the study controlled for that. Could it be down to the type of medical emergencies they were responding to? Nope, because the study only focused on ambulances responding to cardiac arrests (because those require a fast response). Without further investigation, it's hard to say precisely why this is the case. Until that time, however, we'd recommend hanging out in the 'burbs if your chest ever starts to feel funny.
If their earnings are below a certain threshold, low-income households can claim a tax credit known as EITC -- the earned income tax credit -- to lessen their liability at the end of the year. It's a nifty benefit that has been associated with improved academic performance in the children of claimants, was described as one of "the most effective anti-poverty public policies in the country," and is a nice thing to do overall.
Obviously, the GOP hates it.
Despite the IRS having to cut back on the number of audits that it carries out every year, a recent analysis by ProPublica shows that those cutbacks aren't greatly impacting the rate at which EITC recipients are audited. Not when compared to, say, individuals earning between $1 million and $5 million.
This is because several years ago, the GOP started complaining about the number of people who were being paid EITC when they didn't qualify -- a phenomenon that the IRS attributed to how confusing the law and application instruction manuals were, but which the GOP attributed to grand theft from the public purse. It was a dire crime that had to be addressed immediately through overzealous auditing and withholding tax refunds from claimants, which is basically bordering on torture, considering how many people claiming EITC depend on those refunds just to get by.
On the other hand, we can see why the GOP would want to stamp out the number of people cheating the tax system. If everyone's doing it, that muddies the waters when it comes to picking their next presidential candidate.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!
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