In one of my Concurrent Enrollment classes late last week, I had two separate discussions on (what I hope were) good discussions on what defines poverty, and how the definition of poverty continues to change. One student is using "The New Face of Hunger" as the basis for her rhetorical analysis, and we talked about the stereotypical view versus the complexities of poverty. I was reminded of a woman who drove a Mercedes to pick up food stamps; due to a combination of her husband's job loss, the premature birth of twins, high hospital bills, and having bought a house shortly before the economy collapse - and these events happening during the economic collapse - things quickly escalated to her being on food stamps, while driving a luxury car. While the image of an unemployed, scruffy, starving person is the classic image of poverty, that image has changed.
Another student approached me a few minutes later; having overheard my talking with the other student, the discussion related to how people adapt to relative poverty, and how difficult it is to decide what constitutes affordability. The article she was reading mentioned an installment plan, and she wasn't sure what that was. I mentioned that it was often similar to layaway (something she had not heard of), so I explained that if someone needed a service or a product but couldn't afford the entire price right away, but they could afford a fraction of the cost, they might make regular payments until the item or service could be paid for in full. She wondered why someone might do that instead of going without, or looking into a cheaper possibility.
The student gave an example: Her family had a very old computer; they used dial-up, and that if they really needed to use the Internet for a longer period, she could take a 15-minute walk to the local library. I said that those were possibilities for her, but not necessarily for everyone, and that things were unfortunately much more frustrating for other folks.
What if there's no library in your town, or it's too far to walk to? What if you work hours that align with the library's hours? What if you live in a location with either no public transportation, or very limited public transportation, or the nearest stop is too far to walk, or the library - or another place you need to get to - isn't on the route?
(How one defines "too far to walk" is relative and includes a number of variables that might inhibit walking, such as weather, young children, or other obligations. Three miles in sunny, temperate weather is one thing; a mile in a blizzard is quite another. It's simply unrealistic to assume that one can find a job within walking distance.)
If you don't have regular Internet access and can't get to the library to use their computers, how do you look for a job? Perhaps you don't have a landline, and you use a prepaid cell phone as the primary means of communication; that can eliminate phone interviews, or make them difficult. One still needs a way of finding and applying to jobs, and having a computer to create a resume and cover letter, even without Internet access, is essential, but even applying for jobs without Internet access is at the very least difficult, especially because it's assumed that job applicants have an e-mail address they can regularly check.
Moving to a larger city or town isn't necessarily viable, either; that requires money, or a support system that has money, that many simply don't have. It assumes a certain level of credit, also, insofar that if one is moving from one apartment to another, a credit check might be run, and if one's employment is spotty or if one makes a low wage, the would-be employed might have a difficult time paying bills on time, thereby affecting one's credit score.
It's a horrendous cycle, and what it comes down to is that it's impossible to make a determination on the behalf of another as to what constitutes affordability. One winds up making seemingly ridiculous or impossible choices for which others will judge you.