Most of us have encountered our share of homeless people. Those of us who have been around for a few decades might have even noticed how their numbers seem to be increasing. It’s no wonder, of course; from cooking the books on unemployment to opening the doors on mental institutions, the government has certainly played their part in putting people out on the street. When you factor in how much the population has grown in just the last twenty years, none of us should really be surprised to see more tents being pitched on sidewalks than ever.
Some of us tell them to get a job when they ask for change, some of us just think it; and some go ahead and give them a little money. Those of us with jobs know how difficult it can be to make ends meet, no matter how hard we work. Maybe that’s why so many of us have strong reactions to seeing homeless people; and maybe we’re just experiencing the fear of what it would be like to find ourselves in that situation.
As often as I encounter these folks, I seldom think about how far from getting a job most homeless people really are. Very few companies are going to hire someone who is wearing rags or smelling like they haven’t washed, especially if people with better resources are also applying for the job. They say the longer you’ve been homeless, the harder it is to cross that line back into what most of us consider normal life. We can see how true that must be, without thinking too long or hard about it.
Sorry, is this not what you expected?
Did you think this might be an examination into the world of investing, and how anyone with a steady or occasional paycheck is wise to look into learning about the practice? Or maybe how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer because one group has money to burn while the other doesn’t? We’ll get to that, I assure you; but first we need to look at the most basic level of this issue. I daresay most people don’t think about how this rule applies to people living on the streets much, as I’ll admit I don’t; but it isn’t just the investor that is affected by this adage. Those with no resources to begin with are perhaps even more profoundly ruled by this sometimes painful truth.
Plenty of people have lost their jobs in the past several years, and were unable to secure another position immediately. Maybe we should all be prepared for such eventualities, but a lot of people in this country aren’t; most folks are leveraged up to their eyeballs, like the government. We rack up debt to buy a car or house, to start a business, or to purchase costly medical treatment; and we count on our steady income to pay it off over time. The loop gets broken as soon as the job goes away, and a countdown begins in that frightening moment.
How long can you go without income before you end up with nothing? For most of us, it isn’t very long at all. Nearly all of us have others relying on our paycheck as much as we do, and we would keep trying to take care of them even if everything went away. A new routine would develop pretty quickly, and it might take all day just to scrounge up enough food for everyone. Buying a new suit and going on a job interview is pretty far from that reality, and it apparently just gets further away the longer you live it.
A lot of us have families who care for us, and can stay with them when things get rough. That’s great for us; but it isn’t a crime to not have any family, and it’s seldom a choice people make for themselves. Those of us who used that safety net at some point can be grateful it was there all day long; but it doesn’t change the reality we would have been faced with if we didn’t have that. I failed out of life once or twice myself, when I was just getting started; I hate to imagine how things might have turned out if my family hadn’t been there.
I’m not encouraging you to give homeless people money, or not to. I’m just pointing out the fact that getting a job might not be as easy for someone living in that situation as it would be for those of us with some resources. You’ve got to have money to make money, after all.
For a lot of us, this law applies in a slightly different way. Some people say it as an excuse for why they never get ahead, and others say it as a reminder that anyone with an income should be looking to the future. The old model said save for the future, but the new model shows how things have changed for the middle class in America. Savings is not enough anymore, and investing can be risky business; but when you have to choose between not enough and a chance of making it, a lot of folks choose to take the chance.
Just like self-help books started booming awhile back, books on investing pretty swiftly followed suit. Anyone’s personal growth has to address their financial situation at some point, after all. The amount of people who can tell you what’s wrong with you is being balanced out by the number of people with investment advice, even if most of the folks reading the books still aren’t taking the action recommended in their pages.
Many of us approach investing with the same cautious attitude as we do other things: first we learn about it, then we try it out here and there, and finally we start to digest valuable lessons a little at a time. We might screw up, as with anything; but mistakes are only mistakes when we don’t learn anything from them. Barring any medical problems or permanent job loss, most of us can set a little something aside every paycheck to finance our education in investing.
If it sounds hard, we can always remember that going from being homeless to where we are now might be even more difficult. The best we can do is be prepared for the future as much as we can; each of us deserves that, as do our loved ones. In the world of wild claims and outrageous testimonials, we might find a strategy or two that helps us put a little aside to make sure tomorrow will be better than today.
Some people are born into money, and get to invest assets procured by someone else to create cash for themselves. The middle class used to think of these folks as the lucky ones, as they toiled away to put food on the table; but now that a secure future means investing in some way or another, the rest of us are finding out just how skilled you have to be in order to turn money into more money. Rich kids have their own set of life skills to learn; if they don’t, a family fortune that took generations to build could go down the drain in the blink of an eye. Even if homelessness never stares them in the face, failure always will. That’s not a fun thing to live with, no matter what kind of resources you have.
The truth is, there is no level of life involving money where this handy old adage doesn’t apply from both a positive and negative standpoint. Whether we look at the glass as half full or half empty, there’s no denying the glass exists. As long as we deal in currency in some form, you will have to have some of it to make more of it. That’s just the way things are. We can look down at the many on the bottom of the financial pyramid we all live in, or up at those few at the top; but we can’t look to anyone who isn’t affected by this universal law in some way or another.
More people will be born in the next twenty years than ever before in recorded history, as long as the current trend keeps up. If cars that drive themselves become the norm during that time, a lot of jobs are going to go away as the population continues to explode. I don’t care how skilled or experienced a truck driver might be at backing up with multiple trailers; an onboard computer system will be better at it immediately, and will only improve over time. Also, it won’t need weekends off or vacation time; it will actually be able to work around the clock without any breaks at all, and without ever tiring. Humans can’t compete with that, no matter how many of us there are.
Stuffing way too many people into a limited space may or may not cause certain kinds of mental illness; but it definitely doesn’t help matters any. Even if the percentage of people afflicted with serious chemical imbalances is the same no matter how many of us are born, more people than ever means more crazy people than ever when you do the math. Pretty much all of us would agree that this section of society deserves compassion, and needs a helping hand just to get by in this world; and some of us are concerned that reducing employment opportunities while increasing the population will cause a distinct spike in insanity per capita. When you take away a person’s ability to contribute, you may eventually rob them of their ability to think clearly.
Universal basic income might take care of a lot of needs, but it won’t fulfill the ones that make us each feel like we are doing our part. Our society could begin a slow descent into collective insanity if this is our only solution to this multilayered problem, as less and less of us find opportunities to contribute. Some people might say we already live in a kind of collective insanity, and I’m not exactly disagreeing with them; but if we are already in the throes of it, taking away any chance to get ahead will definitely not make things any better.
This might be all well and good if we had some effective system for dealing with severe mental disorders, but we really don’t. We can spend all day agreeing that these people deserve compassion and support, but that doesn’t change the fact that they clearly aren’t getting it in our country. In fact, most of us know that the growing population isn’t the only reason we have so may people living on the streets these days. A while back, a number of institutions designed to care for those that could not care for themselves changed their policies pretty dramatically. They kicked out all the people living in these situations who could not afford the assistance they were receiving, and quite a few of them ended up living on the streets as well.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, by about a week or so. I hope you enjoyed this post, and that you come back for the next one. Maybe the title I have chosen for it doesn’t sound very compassionate, but I assure you that I feel for the people in this situation. More and more of us will be walking a lifetime in their shoes, if this keeps up; and if anything, the trend is only threatening to get even worse with time. This one event had a pretty serious impact on our country, though; and I think we should definitely take a closer look at it. Let’s do that, next week; and let’s call this one…
They let out all the crazy people!
Thanks for reading!
All the best,