One of the biggest problems, says Shafir, is the message the poor receive from the system: You’re poor because you’re no good. “It’s very easy for the poor to swallow this idea,” he says. “The attitude that the poor are less successful is very common and very wrong. These days the survivor is the one with luck: Once in a blue moon someone pulls through. So the system isn’t ‘survival of the fittest’ at all.”
Life is expensive for America’s poor, with financial services the primary culprit, something that also afflicts migrants sending money home (see article). Mr Martin at least has a bank account. Some 8% of American households—and nearly one in three whose income is less than $15,000 a year—do not (see chart). More than half of this group say banking is too expensive for them. Many cannot maintain the minimum balance necessary to avoid monthly fees; for others, the risk of being walloped with unexpected fees looms too large.
Low smartphone penetration in turn makes life more expensive in other ways. The unconnected do not benefit from the cheap communication, education, and even transport the app economy provides. A quarter of poor households do not use the internet at all, which makes seeking out low prices harder.
Inflation has also squeezed the poor more in recent years. The prices of items which soak up much of their budgets—such as rent, food and energy—have risen faster than other goods and services.
JAMES MONROE FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS TUESDAY, MARCH 4, 1817
“The Executive is charged officially in the Departments under it with the disbursement of the public money, and is responsible for the faithful application of it to the purposes for which it is raised. The Legislature is thewatchful guardian over the public purse. It is its duty to see that the disbursement has been honestly made. To meet the requisite responsibility every facility should be afforded to the Executive to enable it to bring the public agents intrusted with the public money strictly and promptly to account. Nothing should be presumed against them; but if, with the requisite facilities, the public money is suffered to lie long and uselessly in their hands, they will not be the only defaulters, nor will the demoralizing effect be confined to them. It will evince a relaxation and want of tone in the Administration which will be felt by the whole community.“