“Picture yourself after an all-nighter. Being poor is like that every day.”

Yesterday, I read a comment from a doctor who said that people living on minimum wage would not need to worry about the minimum wage if they had worked hard like he had and had gotten a good education. One specific thing he said was that they should “…study and educate yourself, and the world will pay you what it thinks your worth.” You know, because doctors are worth a lot. Fast food workers are not.

Then I discovered that he isn’t even a real doctor. So apparently his value is just in his ability to make money, because he is not going to be doing any life-saving surgery.

Last night, I read about a study which looked at the  impact of poverty on cognitive abilities. Brady Dennis of The Washington Post reported the following:

The results showed that people wrestling with the mental strain of poverty suffered a drop of as much as 13 points in their IQ — roughly the same found in people subjected to a night with no sleep.
“Poverty is the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter,” said Harvard economist Sandhil Mullainathan, another of the study’s authors. “Picture yourself after an all-nighter. Being poor is like that every day.”

Mullainathan said previous research often has assumed that poor people are poor because they are somehow less capable than others, whether inherently or because of past trauma or other environmental factors in their lives. But, he said, what the latest study suggests is that the strain of poverty can tax the cognitive abilities of anyone experiencing it — and that those abilities return when the burden of poverty disappears.

“While the poor may be experiencing a scarcity of money, at some level what they may really be experiencing is a scarcity of bandwidth, of cognitive capacity,” he said. “It’s the situation that’s creating the stress.”

Zhao and Mullainathan said that their findings, if accurate, could have profound implications for public policy.

For starters, policymakers “should beware of imposing cognitive taxes on the poor just as they avoid monetary taxes on the poor,” the paper states. Filling out long forms, deciphering complicated rules or undergoing lengthy interviews can consume scarce cognitive resources.

“You are captured by these monetary issues — how to pay rent, how to pay bills,” Zhao said. “As a result, you’re less attentive to other problems. You neglect other things in life that deserve your attention.”

The full study can be found here.

I have often wondered about this. I have felt that strain which comes from financial and economic stress. The impact of living with it everyday cannot be underestimated.

Is this something that our elites and law-makers understand? Clearly, most do not.

About Chris Henrichsen

Chris Henrichsen has moved Approaching Justice off of Patheos. Find his latest posts and the new Approaching Justice. Thanks!

  • K Stoddard

    Couldn’t agree more. Paperwork is such a drain, everyone hates to do it. Never thought about what it and other activities like it were taking from me personally.

  • trk387

    THIS is what KILLS me! Your AVERAGE poor person has a fucking BACHELORS degree!!! had a home, 401K, college tuition for the kids, Portfolios, savings, two cars in the garage, EXECUTIVES by career! and BAM lost it all in a BLINK! and even a year or so after the great recession, they CAN’T find work because (A) they are older, (B) NO ONE is going to hire them to work for 7.35 an hour, and the MINUTE they find another job they are gone! (C) they are OVERLY qualified, and (D) Corporate America as a whole is looking for retired senior citizens, (that is why when you go into the supermarkets all you see is old people working the cashiers!) and college graduates. The careered executive, 45+ is FUCKED! trk387 This doctor whoever he is? I gonna RIP his balls off and shove him up his ass so they come out his mouth if I find where he is… (in writing of course) lol

  • trk387

    WHERE CAN I FIND THIS Dr.? you have his facebook page? twitter? youtube channel? lol trk387

  • trk387

    Being poor sucks PERIOD! especially when your used to having more. I used to go shopping and get whatever I wanted, now I go shopping and VISIT the food I can’t afford. I actually go on craigslist and look at SUV’s which I clearly can’t afford just to feel some what normal of my old life. I watch my children walk around in clothes with holes, and I POWERLESS to stop it, even God has STOPPED taking my prayers. The GREATEST fuck you, is looking out my window and WATCHING the RICH at play. I live in probably one of the wealthiest places in Brooklyn, ten cars in each garage, etc. In laments terms, imagine your sweating your balls off and you open your window (which is a view to everyone’s back yard) and you see everyone jumping into ice cool pools. I hate being like this, I SEARCH for jobs 24-7 while I do my entertainment crap on youtube (which nobody watches) even though my channel DECIMATES all the others in originality and vision (sorry had to give myself a plug) lol I have nothing, literally, everything I have had has been taken, and the one thing that remains (my faith) sits on ice so thin that breathing on it will cave the founding in. Sorry I can’t continue just made myself sad… Whatever, this my shitty life, and its harder because I REFUSE to accept it! trk387

  • ldsgirl

    It’s like Rumblestiltskin, who would let the princess go if she would spin gold out of hay, wasn’t that it? Might have spelled him wrong…but I can’t spin gold out of anything, either. That’s what poor people are supposed to do. And we aren’t even supposed to let anyone realize we are poor…can’t let the comfy world be uncomfortable, now, can we? Okay, a bit on the sarcastic side, it is, but the point is, the expectations are greater sometimes from the outside for us to prove ourselves worthy of a boost than the ones we put on ourselves to help ourselves to the best of our ability, and that comes from even those who are elderly or disabled and would like to do something in small ways to feel significant in a world where the methods to attain assistance are calculated to make one feel worthless. Who wouldn’t feel as if they were pulling all-nighters under that strain?

  • Nehimomma

    My
    mother is the epitome of this, Ironically she had a BA in English and a
    minor in Music, and had her teaching certificate. She was very well
    educated, came from a wealthy family. Married my father who was not
    from a wealthy family, although his dad
    was well educated too. Although my father did not get his BA until
    several years ago (unable to finish due to $$) he did well in school,
    speaks Spanish fluently and plays the trumpet. Both went to the U of U, mom
    graduated, dad only did several years ago.

    They
    struggled a lot with finances. They rarely made a poor decision, they
    only got into debt 3 times. The house, my sister’s and I braces (which
    was a payment plan) and my sisters flute. They never ever went into
    debt otherwise. Never had credit card debt and so on. But money was
    so ridiculously tight that we as kids, got yelled at for eating more
    then one piece of bread for a snack..because my mother feared we would
    run out. We never got help from the feds, no FS, no free or reduced
    lunch, in fact my father was so prideful that he lied to us and told us
    we didn’t qualify. Took me applying for it, with my daughter to realize
    that was baloney..we did. So we barely survived all those years, but
    we did.

    however
    the lasting scars of my mother constantly worried sick about money and
    paying for surprises led her to make the single biggest mistake of her
    life, and it cost her her life. My mother had had a clean mammogram
    the month previously but found a lump in her breast. It was REALLY
    OBVIOUS that it shouldn’t be there, it was not normal, but because my
    mother feared so much that she would have to fight the insurance company
    to pay for another mammogram a month after the first one she waited.
    She waited about 6 months, as the months went by, there was no doubt it
    was cancerous, Because my mother waited her breast cancer spread,
    because it spread it reoccurred 8 years later in her bones, and it
    eventually killed her.

    If
    I had known this was going on, I would of paid for it myself, but she
    didn’t tell us. In my mother’s life their are multiple times where she
    made very poor decisions especially when it came to doctors and medical
    care, and insurance companies because the fear of having to fight with
    the doctor or insurance company was so deep into her self conscious she
    just couldn’t do it. Their insurance company were awful in the
    80′s and much of the 90′s in how they treated there insuree’s. She
    spent so much of her life arguing about bills, getting the doctors to
    resend paperwork over and over, and jumping through 5 hoops just to see
    an OB/GYN. It cost the insurance company greatly, they paid an absurd amount of money in
    the end because they harassed someone whose husband was getting paid so
    poorly that any unexpected medical bill was life shattering.

  • Clark Goble

    To add, it’s much harder for the poor to do well in school for various reasons (peer pressure, stress, poor networks, low expectations) It’s unfortunate so many point just to schools as the solution when there’s a limited amount of things teachers can do. However that doesn’t mean we can put our head in the sand about the importance of education. (And of course education means education in things useful to employers too – a dance degree isn’t apt to result in a high paying job no matter how much you may enjoy dance)


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