Over the weekend my family and I saw Cape Bethel Assembly of God’s Christmas production of “Humbug to Halleluiah.” Although it was not my first time seeing it, this was the first time that my children were not part of it so I actually got to sit and just enjoy it. I had heard all of the songs before and had some of them even memorized, but this weekend as I sat and listened to one particular song I was particularly struck by how true the lyrics really were, despite the intended humor.
The particular scene is when Scrooge is asking for payment due on money borrowed to the poor townspeople, which are called moochers, and the townspeople are appealing to Scrooge to hold off on their payments due since it is the holidays. They break out in a song titled, “Just a little bit more.” As the song goes, the townspeople are begging for “just a little bit more” time and some even for “just a little bit more” money. Scrooge, despite his disdain for the holiday season, agrees to give them “just a little bit more” because he knows that despite their inability to ever pay off their debt, he will continue to collect compounding interest and fees as long as they continue to borrow “just a little bit more.”
It was a laughable scene for sure, but as I sat there listening to the laughter I could not help but think how much of a reality this is for people living in poverty right now. It is absurdly expensive to be poor and people living in poverty often experience this cyclical effect of never being able to get out of debt.
Here are some examples of why it is expensive to live in poverty:
- Most people living in poverty do not have a bank account or if they do it is costing them money. 28.3% of Americans conduct at least some of their financial transactions outside of mainstream banking, like check-cashing services or payday loans.Payday loans cost an average of more than 138% in interest and fees.
- For those that cannot afford a reliable vehicle to get to and from work or doctor’s appointments, they often rely on public transportation, which unfortunately can be time consuming and expensive, if available at all. Or, if they do have a vehicle, it may be unreliable and use a large amount of gas compared to newer fuel efficient cars.
- If you are living in poverty, it may be difficult to come up with the deposit, first months, and last month’s rent often required to move into an apartment or house. The alternative is places that will allow you to pay week to week, such as a budget motel. However, this can be very expensive in the long run.
- Little things like having to go to a Laundromat because you cannot afford a washer or dryer, add up quickly for a person living in poverty.
- To avoid going without some things, like a washer and dryer, people in poverty sometimes feel their only option is to rent-to-own, where the price they end up paying can be double or triple the price they would pay if they could pay for it in full.
Poverty is a cycle in which people get trapped and often see no way out of. Then to top that off we tend to blame people for their poverty conditions. This is exactly the reason we have terms like “moochers” in describing people in poverty.
What we really need “just a little bit more” of is an understanding of the barriers that keep people in that trap of poverty and then top that off with “just a little bit more” empathy and compassion.