North Carolina lottery is ‘essentially a scam’

North Carolina state legislators are considering a proposal to bar the sale of lottery tickets to people who qualify for welfare or are in bankruptcy.

This effort reeks of that weird, seething resentment of the poor that twists so much of American policy — reshaping it around the driving principle that we must, at all costs, make sure no tax dollars are ever spent in a way that would give any poor person, anywhere, even a single moment’s pleasure. At best, the plan represents a heavy-handed, micro-meddling paternalism that treats the poor as a sub-citizen class subject to special rules and regulations, supposedly for their own good.

But I’m also sympathetic to part of House Majority Leader Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam’s argument here, because Stam is right about this much: State lotteries are a rip-off and they prey on the poor.

Consider the most basic games: the Pick 3 or Pick 4 daily number games.

What are the odds of winning the Pick 3? 1 in 1,000. Is the jackpot for a $1 bet $1,000 or greater? Not even close.

What are the odds of winning the Pick 4? 1 in 10,000. Is the jackpot for a $1 bet $10,000 or greater? Not even close.

These are lousy games. They’re predatory games that stack the deck. You’ve got much better odds at the slots or at the track.

When Stam says games structured like that are “essentially a scam,” he’s telling the truth.

Stam is just leaving out part of that truth — that this scam is North Carolina’s, and almost every states’, response to his Republican party’s decades-long war against adequate revenue through legitimate taxation.

You can oppose the predatory scam of the state lotteries. Or you can be a reflexively anti-tax disciple of Grover Norquist. But you cannot do both.

Stam also said that some of the North Carolina lottery advertising is “just fraudulent,” according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

That’s also true. State lottery advertising regularly violates the law governing the advertising of every other type of contest, raffle or sweepstakes. But state lotteries are, legally, allowed to be fraudulent. State lotteries are exempt from truth-in-advertising laws.

Stam is a North Carolina Republican, and I’m pretty sure there’s not much that he and I would agree on politically. But if he introduced legislation to remove the lotteries’ exemption from truth-in-advertising laws, I’d back that effort 100 percent.

  • PurpleAardvaark

    The comment that lotteries are a tax on people who are bad at math is often true.  While there are people who will speculate a few dollars a week on a dream in the big jackpot games, far too many people with few dollars to spare spend them on “instant win”  scratch off type tickets.  I have seen people who appear to be old enough to be getting Social Security walk into a convenience store and drop a 10 or 20 dollar bill on a string of scratch off tickets, go outside and scratch them all off. Sometimes they get a dollar or two or a “free” ticket.   On the average, you will get back no more than 50 cents for every dollar spent on lottery tickets.

    And here in Pennsyltucky, our governor wants to privatize the lottery to people who will guarantee more returns to the state IF THEY ARE ALLOWED TO EXPAND the opportunities to gamble by adding new games, and selling tickets at bars and other retail locations where lottery sales are prohibited.  It’s class warfare all right, they’re making war on the poor.

  • Eric B.

    I once saw that you have better odds of being drafted by the NBA than you have of winning the Powerball.

  • Carstonio

    Excellent column. It should be possible to condemn the predatory nature of lotteries without being paternalistic. Fred is exactly right that the real problem is the cowardice of states in rejecting adequate taxation.

    If we’re going to have lotteries, how about one that’s targeted to the wealthy? Hold a drawing for a dinner with a celebrity for, say, $5,000 a ticket.

  • Lori

    I feel like we have this same conversation every time we talk about lotteries. Yes, some people buy tickets because they just don’t get the math. I think more people who buy tickets know (in a general, if not mathematical way) that there is very little chance that they will win, but they’re buying a couple bucks worth of hope. For many of them hope is in such short supply in their lives that the lottery is really it. Attacking them for being desperate is not a good thing.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I wish we could talk about lotteries with out doing the whole “they’re so dumb” dance. Lotteries are class warfare waged against the poor. Lotteries are the result of decades of GOP anti-tax crap. The fact that any Republican anywhere has the gall to moralize about people buying lottery tickets is appalling and should earn that person a well-deserved electoral smack down (but almost certainly won’t because gerrymandering is just OOC). Those are the issues that need to be discussed, not the fact that ticket buyers are supposedly bad at math.

  • Magic_Cracker

    So, as a fellow Pennsylvanian, do want to kill “the second most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania” as much as I do?

    I despise lotteries and casinos, especially since legalized gambling* is sold to the public as a panacea for the commonwealth’s budget woes, but every year we are met with yet another “budget crisis.”

    *Only some gambling is legal and in specified locations. Every few months, the DA breaks up yet another still-illegal gambling ring in My Fair County.  There are no (legal) mom-and-pop cards parlors. Legal gambling in PA is Big Business (licensed casinos), State Business (lottery), and Church Business (Bingo).

  • Michael Pullmann

     Are they including me, a 31-year-old man with no basketball experience who doesn’t really work out, in that statement?

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    The proposal in question to the N.C. legislature is a game of three-card Monte’: watch the queen, find the queen, don’t lose track of the winning card! 

    The proposal would punish vendors who sell tickets “to someone who they know is on welfare or in bankruptcy”. 

    The lottery agencies? Not affected. They have powerful lobbyists.
    The players? Not affected; the agencies don’t want to discourage potential customers!

    Only the vendors in the middle are being targeted. And how, exactly, would one enforce such a law? The language from the news story says only vendors who know their customer is on welfare or in bankruptcy would be punished. So the most likely method of enforcement would be a “sting” by police: send a person in to buy a lottery ticket, and prior to making the purchase, have the person announce to the cashier that they are in bankruptcy or on welfare.

    God, times are tough. I just had to declare bankruptcy. Sell me one of those “big winner” scratcher tickets, would you? I could sure use a break!”

    Of course, if such a law were enacted, it would take one, maybe two runs of “stings” for vendors to react. They would post signs by the lottery case stating “We cannot sell lottery tickets to any person we know is on welfare or bankruptcy”, which is the retail-world equivalent of a wink and a nod. 

    Local police get to shake down vendors, actual lottery sales suffer zero actual impact, and politicians get to pat themselves on the back. 

  • smrnda

    As a person with an education and in demand job skills and an understanding of probability, the lottery has never appealed to me. I can go out and work and make enough money to have a good life and a secure future.

    However, for poor people, it’s a different story. No matter how hard they work they’ll be working for low wages and minimal benefits, with pretty much no chance of getting a better job. For a poor person, even though the odds of winning the lottery are very small indeed, they’re pretty much the only chance they have at not being poor. They’d still be poor whether nor not they blew their money on lotto tickets.

    Because of this, I try not to feel superior to people who buy lottery tickets. This is their only chance of making it out of poverty. I also agree that it’s a way of avoiding raising taxes on everyone and just raising them on the poor. Growing up in Chicago, I often heard middle – class white people call the lottery the “Black tax” – so I’d argue that lotteries are both classist and racist. The idea is that middle class people have more political clout, so if taxes will be raised, it will be raised on the poor or minorities through lotteries which they are driven to play because work pays badly so non-working shareholders can make a killing.

  • Wednesday

    I wish there were some non-problematic, practical way to limit lottery ticket sales to something like an average of a few a week per person. Not because People Are Dumb And Need Protecting, but because the lotteries are predatory and gambling is addictive, and putting caps on ticket purchases would limit the harm done without hindering people who buy a few dollars’ worth of tickets for entertainment/hope/dreams every so often.

    I know it wouldn’t work, because (A) tracking individuals’ purchases is hella problematic, and (B) it would just create a black market for tickets and people with gambling addictions would just be preyed on twice, first by the state and next by the ticket resellers.

    So instead all I can hope for is to limit the number of types of games.

  • FullMetalMarmotte

    Speaking about the concept that being a welfare recipient, you aren’t allowed any kind of “luxury”. There is a discussion in Switzerland that people on welfare shouldn’t be allowed to have a car… yeah because your life sucks, we should make sure that it’s even worse and punish you for your bad luck… war on the poor indeed.

  • AnonaMiss

    I’d be all for truth in advertising laws on expected payouts, but the idea of barring someone from spending that we (correctly in this case) deem irresponsible based on their income squicks me, both because of its present paternalism and its potential to set a dangerous precedent.

  • Jessica_R

    Yeah, until I see bills baring rich people from buying clothes they’ll never take the tags off of let alone wear, going to the Bahamas twice in one month, limiting the number of special features they can put on their Porches I am never going to be comfortable with any of the anti-lotto arguments. They basically boil down to “I know what’s best for you” and nothing good ever came from allowing that attitude to run unchecked. Poor people have the right to spend their money unwisely too, and picking up on the OP it’s grating that so much of the GOP is spent in fearful terror that somewhere a poor person may be enjoying themselves. 

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     For my own part, as long as I’m wishing, I wish for everyone to have the ability to do the things they choose to do, and refrain from the things they choose to refrain from.

    But in the meantime, I live in a world where not everyone has that freedom, for a wide range of reasons, many of which we don’t yet know how to address.

    And as long as that remains true, sometimes the question we’re forced to address is what constraints on our freedom gets the best results for everyone involved.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Poor people are not ignoramuses with an inability to learn, and I am very tired of both political parties treating us like we are.  As if poor people don’t know the odds, and think that buying a lottery ticket is going to make them rich immediately. You’re ignoring the possibility (fact, as far as everyone I’ve known who plays the lottery is concerned) that they like playing the games, find them fun, and like that their dollars are going somewhere they can do some good, instead of the pockets of casino owners. 

    Furthermore, I want to see some statistics about who actually buys lottery tickets. This reeks of the same paternalism that pretends poor people eat fast food all the time. Guess what, we don’t. The middle class eats the most fast food, and I expect the same is true of who buys lottery tickets.

    Also, and more importantly in our country today: I want weight loss companies to be subject to truth-in-advertising laws. “This is not going to work, will probably make you fatter, and will definitely make you unhealthier and more self-hating.”

  • Eminnith

    Republicans love to complain about some liberal “nanny state” idea and then they turn around and write laws about what poor people can’t do with their money and what women can’t do with their bodies and other things that are “for your own good”. What the fuck is up with that?

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    No matter how hard they work they’ll be working for low wages and minimal benefits, with pretty much no chance of getting a better job.

    I’m poor.

    I was tempted to just respond “bite me” to your post, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to say: you have massive unexamined privilege. Examine it. 

    It’s one thing to point out that the American Dream is not always obtainable, and that if we structure society differently, it will become more obtainable for more people. It’s another to pretend that abso-frickin-every poor person in the country is stuck there forever and ever amen. We don’t actually live in 19th century Russia.

  • ohiolibrarian

     And how do they address the reality that one reason many people can’t get an adequate job is lack of reliable transportation?

    They don’t?

    Not surprised. They never do.

  • smrnda

    And without a car, your choices of employment are limited. I get sick of people complaining about the ‘luxuries’ poor people have. Why complain that poor people have cell phones, or internet? How else will they find a job?

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Lori: I guess what I’m saying is that I wish we could talk about lotteries with out doing the whole “they’re so dumb” dance.

    Agreed. This is another way we know that state lotteries are a scam: the way much of the public dismisses a lottery’s “customers” as “anyone who’d fall for it is stupid enough to deserve to fall for it.”

    Even if it were true that the poor were, as a class, ignorant/bad-at-math/stupid — which I am not conceding for an instant — I oppose the hateful notion that the ignorant should be thrown to the wolves, that being materially harmed is somehow a just punishment for being bad at math.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Poor people have the right to spend their money unwisely too

    Yes. And who’s to say it’s unwisely? (And who’s to say it’s poor people.) Just because I don’t find gambling fun, that doesn’t mean it is objectively not fun. Actually some of those little scratch games are kinda fun — and for a dollar, that is going to education, and that has even a tiny chance of winning you more dollars? Sure, I can see why people think it’s fun, and I am not going to pretend there’s something wrong with them just because their idea of fun is different from mine.

    These people would have a conniption if they knew how I spent my wedding money. A Nintendo 3DS XL — pink — is on its way to me right now. I’m sure this will infuriate people who wanted me to buy $250 worth of beans and vegetables instead.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Poor people are not ignoramuses with an inability to learn, and I am very tired of both political parties treating us like we are.  As if poor people don’t know the odds, and think that buying a lottery ticket is going to make them rich immediately

    I don’t think poor people are stupid, or unable to learn. Mostly, I think people living in poverty are exhausted much of the time, and that the systems of poverty force people into short-term-only thinking. I think the mental fatigue of living hand-to-mouth makes the short-term, instant gratification of lottery tickets (and fast food) very appealing,  while obscuring the mid- and long-term costs. 

     You’re ignoring the possibility (fact, as far as everyone I’ve known who plays the lottery is concerned) that they like playing the games, find them fun…

    Yes, it’s true that most people who play the lottery do so for fun, and only a small number suffer from addiction, just as is true for alcohol use, and if current wisdom is to be believed, marijuana use. 

    Unfortunately, enjoyment doesn’t negate the issues of mid- and long-term consequences being overshadowed by instant-gratification. 

    …and like that their dollars are going somewhere they can do some good, instead of the pockets of casino owners.

    A lot of their dollars are going to private corporations who administer the lottery via state contracts. Yes, these companies loudly trumpet the money that goes to the states’ general funds to provide other supports, but the “casino owners” still get their pockets filled quite nicely. 

  • smrnda

     Apologies – I thought I was making a pretty obvious point about myself being a privileged person by stating that I, a privileged person, know I will likely have a great deal of economic security and that other people do not, and that I cannot blame them for that because society is structured in such a way that they do not have very good choices available to them. Right now we don’t have a lot of upward mobility in the US, and we won’t without some massive changes. I examine my privilege every day when I realize that not only do I make more money than some people, but I also don’t have to ask permission to use a bathroom, don’t have to punch a time-clock, don’t have to wear a uniform and that my hours don’t change abruptly without notice, and I don’t get flak if I say I’m not feeling well and can’t come into work. These are privileged I have that most people don’t – you can get fired for being sick on some jobs because they can claim you’re ‘faking it’ and then, thanks to ‘right to work’ or ‘at will’ employment legislation, there’s nothing you can do.  I’m also not subject to being dropped to 38 hours instead of 40 and having my benefits magically disappearing. I live near several grocery stores so that even though I cannot drive, I can get food whereas if I lived in a rural area or an urban food desert this would be a big problem. Am I incorrect that, at present, in the US, it is not likely that poor people can easily stop being poor, given that their wages are left to stagnate in favor of higher returns for investors (who don’t work) and that their jobs are shipped over to nations with far lower wages and no worker protections? I get sick of other people with similar level of privilege to me who think that poor people are simply poor because they made bad choices as opposed to the privileged person’s good choices.

    Sorry, but if I am basically stating that 1. things are going well for me because I was privileged and that 2. less privileged people, no matter how hard they work, end up stuck because of a system that doesn’t offer them a chance to get ahead I think we’re really making the same point. I didn’t imply that this was necessarily always going to be the case – some very simple things like making sure all workers made living wages and got COLA increases would do some good, and that would be only the beginning.

    What I was trying to argue against is the viewpoint that people are either affluent or poor because of their willingness to work, and that I get irritated when affluent people knock poor people for buying lotto tickets.

  • hidden_urchin

    As a person with an education and in demand job skills and an understanding of probability…

    Hello.  I am a person with an education and an understanding of probability and I am in the process of obtaining “in demand job skills.”  I am also poor.

    No matter how hard they work they’ll be working for low wages and minimal benefits…

    That’s news to me.  Here I was thinking mechanical engineers actually made a decent salary.  Apparently, there’s no difference between working as an engineer for an oil company or the like and working as a cashier at a local restaurant. 

    Seriously, though, Lliira is right.  It’s damned hard to get out of poverty but it’s not impossible.  Just because someone is poor right now it does not mean that person will always be poor. 

    For a poor person, even though the odds of winning the lottery are very small indeed, they’re pretty much the only chance they have at not being poor.

    Wrong. Try again.  The best chance a poor person has at not being poor is by obtaining “in demand job skills” or a decent education that allows them to get something better than a minimum wage job.

    Because of this, I try not to feel superior to people who buy lottery tickets.

    You may be trying but I can see the FAIL from here.  Just read those first two paragraphs which are dripping with superiority and smug condescension.  Yikes.

  • Carstonio

     My state used to have privately operated slot machines, and the revenues enabled the slot owners to buy local politicians. A few years ago, they made a short-lived comeback due to a loophole in the law for non-profits, which enabled owners to designate certain machines for local charities. In practice, these drained huge amounts money out of the area while the charities received almost nothing, and the loophole was closed quickly.

    Although I don’t enjoy gambling, I don’t begrudge people who find enjoyment in it. I also wouldn’t object to state-run gambling that was operated fairly and ethically. My issue is with the politicians who see state-run gambling as an allegedly painless alternative to raising taxes, and with the predatory nature of the specific games being offered. While one can argue that wealthy people have less risk of going hungry or homeless, there are scams that target them, and a scam is a scam no matter who the victims are.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    As a person with an education and in demand job skills and an understanding of probability, the lottery has never appealed to me.

    As a person with an education, in-demand job skills, a strong background in math (including probability) as well as a career involving money, the lottery appeals quite a bit to me, mostly because I’d rather not work for a living. That’s got nothing to do with education or skills.

    The appeal of the lottery isn’t a rational appeal, but then selling cars with bikini-clad models isn’t a rational mode of advertising either, now is it? 

    Because of this, I try not to feel superior to people who buy lottery tickets. 

    Really? Because the paragraph preceding this statement reads as all kinds of superior to poor people, whether or not they’re buying lottery tickets.  Poverty (in America, at least) is a complex issue that goes beyond working hard or getting an education or having the right job skills. 

    In fact, statements like “this is their only chance of making it out poverty” is a good example of how complex the issue is: in a 2010 study, more than 50% of “big prize”  lottery winners ($50,000 and up) actually declared bankruptcy within five years of winning. 

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    2. less privileged people, no matter how hard they work, end up stuck because of a system that doesn’t offer them a chance to get ahead I think we’re really making the same point. I didn’t imply that this was necessarily always going to be the case

    No, you are repeatedly stating that this is the case now. It is not.

    I have a lot of education. (Maybe too much? Too expensive anyway.) Before I became disabled, I was using my writing skills in order to make money. Within a year, if things kept going the way they were (and there is no reason to think they would not have), I would have been making at least a decent living doing so. 

    There are a lot of poor people in this country with excellent educations and in-demand job skills. There is upward mobility as well as downward. It isn’t a simple matter of everyone being stuck all the time forever and ever. No, of course poor people are not poor because we don’t work hard enough (well, I can’t work); and rich people are not rich because they work hard. But that does not mean literally everything is completely beyond our control, particularly for people who have their health. That wasn’t even the case under feudalism.

    We can make things better, and we need to do so. People who think everyone deserves what they get are ignorant and tiresome. But things are not as simple as it sucking horribly and terribly and awfully to be poor and you’re stuck there forever. I see this last attitude very often on this blog — and the thing is, I would not trade my life for anyone else’s.

  • Jessica_R

    I’m poor too and I buy lottery tickets every now and then. Why shouldn’t I? For the price of a bottle of Coke Zero I can pretend I could afford an apartment in Paris and a fledgling movie production company. And I retract that “unwisely” out of my earlier statement. That’s a value judgement, and again and if we aren’t turning the stink eye to the wealthy pouring the money down on another nose job or fifth divorce it’s bad faith to use that language with the poor. I’m all for arguing we need more taxes on the wealthy, and of course it’s a cold day in Hell before *that* argument will get any traction. 

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    A lot of their dollars are going to private corporations who administer the lottery via state contracts.

    Now that is a serious problem and needs to be changed. And, of course, has nothing to do with how much money the people who play the lottery has.

    I’m still trying to find statistics on who plays the lottery more. I still suspect it’s not those poor stupid poor people who must be saved from themselves. We really do seem to be in a new Victorian era.

  • Leum

    And
    without a car, your choices of employment are limited. I get sick of
    people complaining about the ‘luxuries’ poor people have. Why complain
    that poor people have cell phones, or internet? How else will they find a
    job?

    Doubtless they think poor people should look up jobs in the classified ads in the newspapers, and then call their prospective employer from a a pay phone. Also, they should get to work riding a horse and buggy.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

     No, the best chance a person have of not being poor is not being born poor.  FULL STOP

    Obtaining “in demand job skills” or an education is something that is practically impossible for poor people to do. 

  • Vermic

    I guess I don’t know what to think about this.

    If the bulk of people who play the lottery are, by and large, aware that the odds are stacked against them, and they don’t mind because for them it’s not really about the odds, it’s about the enjoyment/hope – then to what degree is it really a scam?  In what sense are the players getting preyed upon?

    Similarly, does it matter that the advertising is fraudulent if people don’t care about the odds anyway?

    If the lottery had fair odds, would it still be a predatory scam targeting the poor?  If so, why?

  • Albanaeon

    I don’t like the “poor cannot do math” either. Quite frankly most can do the math, but well, its a couple bucks, a bit of hope, and the chance to daydream. Having been there, I can appreciate that.

    I agree that it shouldn’t be a replacement for tax revenue (ie civilization…) but this is yet another way to punish the poor for being poor.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Obtaining “in demand job skills” or an education is something that is practically impossible for poor people to do.

    No, it’s not. Public school + financial aid for community college. I did the public school + financial aid for a private college (big mistake, I should have gone state) route.

    It is significantly more difficult for people who are born poor to obtain these things than it is for people who are not born poor, and it needs to be easier. Centrally, kids need to be taught their options in public school — far too many don’t even know about financial aid at all. But it is not “practically impossible”. 

    This attitude is one legitimate reason why liberals in this country are so often called elitist. People do not like being told they are utterly helpless, the poor pitiable dears, let us rescue you. Especially when people around them are rescuing themselves every day. It’s happening less than it used to because the economy sucks, but it is not “practically impossible”. 

  • hidden_urchin

    Being born into the middle or upper class makes it a hell of a lot easier to obtain a halfway decent education from the start.  However, your first statement kind of ignores the fact that it is possible for people to be born with money and then lose it.  So it’s more “the best chance a person has of not being poor is not being born poor and not suffering any catastrophe that results in the loss of wealth or earning potential” 

    For instance, I went to school with some kids whose family was extremely wealthy.   Then, in one horrible year, they lost it all.  The family went from having enough money that the kids could have gone to any college they wanted to, no problem, to the kids having to get minimum wage jobs to help their mother pay the bills.   

    Born wealthy.  Live poor.

  • Lori

     

    Wrong. Try again.  The best chance a poor person has at not being poor
    is by obtaining “in demand job skills” or a decent education that allows
    them to get something better than a minimum wage job.  

    Eh, this isn’t exactly a guaranteed thing either, because both halves of it are tricky. Which job skills are “in demand”? Or more to the point, which job skills will be in demand x months/years in the future when the skill-seeker finishes his/her training? How long will those skills remain in demand?

    Assuming you get the answers to those questions correct how will you get those job skills? Going to school is expensive and risky. Most training pitched to poor people is offered by for-profits schools that are little more than scams.

    I’m not arguing in favor of hopelessness, but when we’re having a broad discussion (as opposed to a conversation about the situation of some specific person) we have to look at the overall numbers and be realistic about where we are. The majority of people who are poor* now are not going to get significantly less poor in the future and many people who are doing OK right now are going to end up poor. Because we’ve all but killed upward mobility in this country and we’re letting the rich finish off the middle class.

    *Not broke, poor. They aren’t the same thing.

  • AnonymousSam

    This entire idea is based around the entitlement debate which suggests that poor people go on welfare or utilize bankruptcy so they can suck off the government teat and never have to lift a finger to do anything for themselves. “Look at those mooches!” says the politician. “They’re using their ill-gotten gains to play the lottery, so they have a chance of going from being taken care of by the state to being richer than any of us, and we’re the ones paying for that opportunity!”

    Okay. I’m sick of this idea and it’s everywhere. Here’s the latest variant of it which wound up on my news page on Facebook: https://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/538500_466662706702744_1564402484_n.jpg

    I’m poor. Among my possessions, I have, or recently had, an $80 leather jacket, a $100 MP3 player, two computers totalling $1600, several video game consoles totalling about $800, a huge library of books (PRICELESS) and a 42″ LCD screen TV ($300).

    I’m also not on welfare. I couldn’t afford to live on welfare. All of these possessions were either Christmas presents from people far more well off than myself, or date back to before I became financially destitute. Should I be selling off my few possessions to pay the bills? How long do you think that kind of income lasts, versus how long will I miss having no source of entertainment whatsoever? Oh, right. The whole point is that people in poverty should be miserable. My bad.

    The whole “I work to take care of lazy nobodies who use MY money to buy their kids expensive presents” argument is complete bullshit. Some people would have you believe that the average house can claim as much as $60,000 per year in welfare alone — bullshit. The actual amount a single person can expect to receive is $200 in food stamps and $300 in financial assistance. (Source: http://www.welfareinfo.org/payments/ )

    Okay, read that with me. $200 in foot stamps, $300 in cash. Per month. Per. Month. Now let me ask, when’s the last time you heard of someone making $6000 a year and laughing all the way to the bank? Does anyone really think someone getting that much money is on the easy living street, buying Christmas presents for their kids six months in advance while they order some white truffles for their burgers that same evening?

  • The_L1985

    gerrymandering is just OOC

    I’m not sure what it says about me that my first thought was, “Just how is that out of character?” instead of “Yes, it really is out of control.”

  • Daughter

    like that their dollars are going somewhere they can do some good, instead of the pockets of casino owners.

    And going into the pocket of [some] casino owners does some good, too. In my state, the casino owners are all area tribes; it’s been a boon to lift many tribal people out of poverty. And moreover, 5% of all casino profits have to be donated to charity. I’ve worked for  charities that have received grants from tribal casino profits.

  • smrnda

     Sorry, it’s very difficult to communicate every single thing you think about the lottery and poverty in a sound-byte, and it’s an issue where people are likely to get testy and will latch onto any word and phrase that can be used to argue that the person posting it is a jackass with unexamined privilege. I’d like to think that in my post I gave enough examples of examined privilege, but it looks like it’s impossible to make any comments about poverty which people won’t leap to criticize you for unless you write a  chapter. Though at the same time, I can commend the ‘you just don’t get it’ attitude. I used to be that way to, until I realized that in 100 words or less you can’t really get a point across on any serious topic, so I usually prefer no to lash into people. Given this experience, I’ll write more next time.

    A bit about myself, I am currently working but did spend 3 years on disability, so I have also been poor and on government aid. So, I have already been the a person who had an in demand education and skills who suddenly, through no fault of their own, becomes poor.  As a ward of the state, I’m sure plenty of people would have wanted my consumer choices monitored and that I should have been prohibited from making (in their opinion) ‘wasteful’ choices.  I’m still disabled but am working at a job that I can actually do at present, though I’m unable to do quite a few things that cause difficulty. Because I can’t drive I have to make sure to live where there is adequate mass transit, for example. My experience on disability wasn’t terrible, but it’s obviously a time I remember that was beyond my control when I ended up poor for a few years. I mean, I can understand being easily upset with people who say ‘if you have privileges you’re pretty much locked into a lifetime in security but I am aware that, most of the time, having privileges is better than not. So yes, I’m well aware that there exists downward mobility, and that starting out with privilege is no guarantee that you’ll end up with the same amount.

    Also, education is expensive, so you can acquire debt getting credentials that don’t end up paying off, so yes, eduction itself isn’t always some magic form of privilege that ensures a lifetime of easy money. It’s become a risky investment, mostly through because the cost of higher education has increased above other costs. In my case, I ended up disabled about 2 years after college, but since I wasn’t dealing with any outstanding debt it wasn’t as big of an issue as it could have been.

    I’d agree in demand job skills are no guarantee of great wages. Members of the ruling class gutted wages for people on the bottom, and then they moved up and up to when things that used to be considered careers (like engineers) are becoming no different than your average McJob. The holders of capital are shifting the risk away from themselves and onto the people who actually work – they get greater security in exchange for workers having less security. I run into lots of people with educations who end up poor because even fields that require lots of skills are still volatile to economic down-turns, outsourcing, or simply increasing the workload of a few workers to avoid having to hire more or replace ones lost through attrition. One area I’ve seen this happen in is education – as teachers are laid off we end up with people with educational credentials who will likely end up underemployed.

    Though something I think should be pointed out is that if the solution to poverty is getting educations and in demand job skills and better jobs, it isn’t like there won’t be people working cash registers, working in slaughterhouses or stocking shelves. It’s great if we can get people educations, but the we’re still stuck with a lot of jobs that still need to be done that will be paying poverty wages. I’m not saying educations aren’t a great things and I don’t believe that educations are only valuable because of scarcity but any attempt at a solution to poverty has to address the issue that people doing necessary and useful work are not making enough. It would be great if some people with low-paying retail jobs got better skills, but we’d still need some people working in retail, and then those people would still be poor because we haven’t and can’t eliminate the need for jobs like retail or food service which typically pay poor wages. And as I mentioned in the above paragraph,  the market forces which keep the pay of cashiers low do the same thing to all workers, even skilled ones. Where you can find work isn’t always where you have been trained – you can have a time period when demand for engineers decreases but demand for retail and food service workers increases, so you’d get people who trained to be engineers working retail and food service. So it’s important to make sure that all jobs pay a living wage. It’s also important that people who cannot work get their needs met, since I don’t believe ‘not able to work’ should be held against anyone.

    My take on the lottery and other such things is that I’m around people who talk about the (allegedly) ‘stupid and irresponsible’ way poor people live all the time, and I get sick of the ‘poor people all make bad choices’ trope. As long as people are facing more hardship than I am I’m not going to fault them for buying lottery tickets, alcohol, or eating fast food if they feel like it, or having computers or cell phones. I don’t like it when if a poor person buys a candy bar they get criticized for being ‘wasteful’. I try to contrast my own perspective, that poverty is caused by problems with the system that need to be fixed to the whole ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps of the boots you can’t afford’ school of thought. Everybody isn’t stuck, but I prefer to err on the side of blaming the system rather than individuals for their own circumstances.

    And on privilege. It’s true that not every privileged person will end up becoming incredibly wealthy and that all poor people will stay poor. I’m obviously not saying this is always always the case, only that it is the case often enough that people are obviously not poor because of bad choices or lack of work. I know people who were relatively secure who ended up in bankruptcy because of medical expenses, even people who thought they had decent insurance. I do encounter some people have moved upwards and some who have moved downward, but overall the system seems to be geared that falling behind, or not getting ahead, is much more the norm.

    If I had said “MANY poor people cannot get ahead by their own efforts” is that alright? OR should I have added a caveat that ‘privilege is no guarantee of future security?”

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    If the bulk of people who play the lottery are, by and large, aware that the odds are stacked against them, and they don’t mind because for them it’s not really about the odds, it’s about the enjoyment/hope – then to what degree is it really a scam?

    If you played a game with 1,000 : 1 odds once a week, every week, for thirteen years, the odds of you wining at least once in those 780 games is better than 50/50. Not great, but it’s possible to win if you put down a dollar a week and are willing to play for over a decade. If the odds are 100,000 to one, you would have to play every day for a hundred-and-eighty-five years to get to a 50/50 chance of winning once. If it’s about hope, then these games are selling false hope

    Similarly, does it matter that the advertising is fraudulent if people don’t care about the odds anyway?

    “don’t understand” != “don’t care”.People play because they think there’s a possibility that they might win; they keep playing because they think by playing more, they make a meaningful improvement in the odds over time of winning. And when your odds are a thousand to one, that’s not a terrible proposition. When your odds are a hundred thousand to one, it is. That’s the “people are stupid/bad at math” part of the argument: “If I keep playing, I’m bound to win sooner or later, right?” 

    The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot by buying one ticket ever are mathematically almost identical (within 1/10 of 1%) to the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot by spending $100 every drawing, twice a week, for ten years. 

    It’s false hope, but the only way to truely understand that requires knowing combinatorics and binomial distributions and statistics.  

  • AnonymousSam

    It’s even worse for me, since I know communities that use OOC to mean “out of context” (and often use it to refer to general discussion, as opposed to the community’s primary focus) while I use the acronym to refer to anything said outside of role-playing.

  • The_L1985

     Does anyone even advertise jobs in the newspaper anymore?

  • The_L1985

     Oh, it’s possible, all right.  They’ll just be suck paying student loans for an insanely long time.

  • The_L1985

     “If the lottery had fair odds, would it still be a predatory scam targeting the poor?  If so, why?”

    Not so much.  Granted, the poor would still be more likely than the rich to go spending money on lotto tickets, but if the prize amounts for various lotteries matched up better with the actual odds of winning, then it at least wouldn’t be a scam anymore.

  • stardreamer42

     I did once know a couple in financial straits whose future planning was based around winning the Reader’s Digest sweepstakes. As in “after we win“, not “if”. But it should also be noted that both of them came from privileged middle-class backgrounds — not poor ones. I would venture to guess that most people who are genuinely poor know very well that the lottery isn’t a magic fix-all, and that they buy tickets for the same reason we occasionally do — because it’s a relatively cheap price for getting to indulge in a little pleasant daydreaming.

    My response to anyone who criticizes me for buying a lottery ticket is, “It’s $2. If I didn’t spend it on this, I’d spend it on a candy bar — and this is better for me.”

  • smrnda

     What pay phone? I haven’t seen a pay phone for a long time.

  • AnonymousSam

    Yes, at least in my local newspaper. Unfortunately, all eight jobs listed would require a medical degree and several require at least a decade of experience. <.<

  • AnonymousSam

    Pell grants could help, though not everyone is eligible for them. I was, and I still wonder if I could have graduated for ~free if I’d just taken one class every semester. (I wound up being pressured to graduate faster, because degree = fabulous job = lazy shiftless child can start paying to live with family, amirite?)

  • stardreamer42

     It’s worse than that. Remember that magazine column a few months back where some well-off white dude was richsplaining how poor people should go about finding jobs — assuming that they had access to the same kinds of resources that he does?

  • AnonymousSam

    Heh, just need to live in the right area. There was an incident when I was in Michigan where my car broke down and I wound up walking around for hours, trying to find a phone I could use to call for help. I thought they had gone by the wayside until I moved to Washington, and then suddenly there are pay phones outside of several businesses throughout the city. The local food store has two on the outside and two more inside!

    A prank the kids pull today is sitting in the fast food joint across the parking lot and using their cell phones to call the pay phone as people walk past it. Answer it and they’ll shriek “NEO, TAKE THE BLUE PILL!” and hang up.


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