Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Poor" in the 1960s vs. "Poor" in the 2010s

I'm not sure why I started thinking about this, but since I did I thought I'd write a post about it. It contains enough of my childhood that it counts as a "family story" that I think my kids and niece and nephew will like.

In the 1960s, my family was poor. I didn't know we were at the time, but I know it now. What was my life like?
  • Child care: if my mom needed to go some where and needed child care we went to Gram's, Aunt Carole's or the neighbor's. There was no "Day Care" in my world. It may have existed somewhere, but I was not aware of it. It may not have even existed yet.
  • To save money, Dad kept the hot water heater turned off except when we needed baths or showers.
  • There was no such thing as a disposable diaper. Mom bought cloth, and one size fits all -- you just pin differently for boys vs. girls and the pins also adjust the size.
  • There were no plastic pants. In the summer kids in diapers were just kids in diapers. When the diaper was wet (or other), Mom knew it quickly and it got changed. If something else got wet... Oh well. She cleaned it up.
  • Laundry was washed, and then hung out to dry. We owned a dryer part of the time, but we didn't use it if we could use the "great outdoors".
  • One car. Mom didn't drive anyway. She didn't have a license. If she wanted to go somewhere, she rode her bike. If one of us was going with her, we rode behind her on the rack.
  • Restaurants ...I didn't know about them. We ate at home.
  • Dinners - Mom's budget for groceries was $15, and she had to find a way to feed us on that. Chuck was sometimes $0.15/pound, so that's when she would buy it. A cheap night was sausage and eggs on toast. It might be a British dish. One slice toast, one patty, canned tomato, juice.. We would also eat fish n' chips n' vinegar, and fried beef liver. Lunch, I remember canned soup. I remember water cress sandwiches at Grama's.
  • Clothes. We were thankful when we had them. Gram sewed. I had no coat until she made one for me. She sewed a furry hat and a matching muff for me as well. Our dresses looked like upholstery fabric because they were made from leftover upholstery fabric. Hand-me-downs were a way of life -- I had an older sister.
  • School milk and lunches - Milk was two cents a carton back then, so it was pretty inexpensive, but we still took our own. I had a nice little lunch box with a Thermos bottle, and we took our lunch to school every day. Once, though, I bought my milk and didn't drink it, so I saved it. That was when I learned that milk went sour if you didn't refrigerate it. Yuck!
  • Working moms -- moms that got jobs drove school buses, worked in the school cafeteria, or worked during the day in a local sandwich shop. These jobs did not require that they arrange child care.
  • Heating and air conditioning - Dad turned the heat wayyy down at night. We heated with oil, and the truck came once a winter. We supplemented with our fireplace, burning wood that came from our property. Air conditioning? Never heard of it. We had a fan. Even the grocery store didn't have it. Sometimes we'd stand by the store's freezer section a short while to cool off. Mostly we went to swim in Aunt Carole's pond.
  • Telephone - there was one telephone in the house, and it was a party line. If you picked it up to make a telephone call, someone else might already be using the line and you would have to wait.
  • Television - there was one set, it was black and white, and using it did not cost any more than the cost of electricity. There were from four to seven channels, and the channels signed off at a decent hour with the Star Spangled Banner playing while the screen showed an American Flag blowing in the background.
  • Christmas - in 1965, my Christmas gifts were: a Raggedy Ann doll and a Bazooka gun.                         (I was a tomboy.) My dad wanted Mom to just give me one gift, but she put her foot down.
  • Toys: My brother had a set of wooden building blocks and a set of Lincoln logs. If I asked permission, I could sometimes play with them with him. Most of the time we played in the dirt under the back overhang, or swung on the swing set. We also rode our bikes, which I had one because my grandmother (the "rich" one - the one that worked outside the home) bought for me for my 5th birthday. Lois and I also had Barbi      and Skipper  dolls. Mom made clothes for them. I still have them, and my Skipper, but I cut her hair. And I remember we had Colorforms.  I don't remember what they were of, but I still have a set of Colorform letters.
  •  One of my favorite toys was a conveyer belt                                                                          I'd been given for playing in the dirt. We'd send dirt up to the top to dump into my brother's dump truck.
  • We spent hours making dirt roads to go over with our toy cars.
  • We didn't have the money, so we didn't go to the doctor until we were sick. Then he gave us medicine (or stitched us up), and we went home. We only went back if we didn't get better. We paid the bill over time.
  • Life in my childhood was, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Lois's clothes were made to fit me. I wore what I had for my feet. I had no hat, nor coat, nor gloves til Gram made one. I wore what I had, cause it was what I had. I never went to a clothing store til I was 12 years old, and then my year's clothing budget was $20 for everything.
  • As soon as we could earn money, we did. It meant we could occasionally buy lunch at school, or a new dress, a Charms pop from the school store, or an other piece of candy. Before that, we didn't have the money so we went without.
Life of the "poor" as I see it today:
  • Everyone seems to have a cell phone. Why is this something the "poor" have?
  • Everyone seems to pay for cable or satellite, and most have TEVO, as well as a DVD players, and probably a subscription to Netflix. I don't even have Netflix.
  • Everyone seems to pay for trash pick-up. My hubby drives to the dump each week.
  • People on public assistance have Coach bags and iPhones. We never went on public assistance. We went without.
  • The "poor" seem to eat out constantly. What's up with that? I can't afford to eat out, and I'm NOT poor now!
  • When I was in school I was mocked for having holes in my tennis shoes and in the knees of my slacks (high school). Other poor people lived in (literally) clapboard shacks, but they drove Cadilacs and wore stylish clothes. It was all about how you were seen by others. What things were like at home didn't matter.
  • "Poor" kids buy their lunches, snacks, junk food and such at school. How can they afford that? I was borrowing money to buy a 20 cent bowl of chicken soup when I forgot to bring my lunch, and I was hard pressed to pay my friend back, ever.
  • Now, thanks to the "unaffordable" health care act, poor people have to pay money and still not go to the doctor. Some of the money I used to pay to go to the doctor now goes to our increased cost for our plan, and my deductible is now so high that I will be paying 100% for everything unless something catastrophic happens, because I pay 100% until I reach my deductible, and I'm not likely to ever reach it.
  • The typical "poor" family seems to have at least two cars. Why? We lived in the middle of no where when I was a kid. If we needed/wanted to get somewhere and the car wasn't available, we didn't go.
  • If someone else has something that the poor person doesn't have, I hear, "That's not fair!" and someone in government is trying to make sure the poor person gets it. For free. Without working for it. If the poor person has something that the working person doesn't have because they can't afford it, I hear, "Oh well. Life's not fair." Someone in government is trying to make us all financially equal so that the hard-working person does not ever have more than the person who will not work. The "unemployed" can't afford to get a job, because unemployment pays so much that to take a full-time job would be a cut in pay. It's just wrong.
Well, I guess that's about it for now. Let me know if you have any thoughts or anything to add. 

1 comment :

  1. I grew up pretty much the same way you did, except that I'm an only child, so my hand-me-downs were from my cousins. However, I don't know anyone who would be taking a cut in pay from unemployment to a real job. I do, though, know several moms who can't afford to work because they can't afford to pay for childcare while they work. The state does provide assistance, but they actually pay more if you're unemployed and "looking" for work, than if you're working because it's income-based. I don't agree with the whole "welfare queen" scenario, but that is one instance in which not only does it not pay for moms to work, some literally can not afford to work.