The paradox of poverty is just how expensive it really is.
Roberto Rodriguez, a temp, cashes his paycheck at a money store, paying a $3.50 fee. He'd use a paycard but he's gotten socked in the past with fees he was slow to catch in advance. He'd use a bank (unlike many low-end workers, he's a legal citizen and could qualify for one), but the overdraft fees there are $25 and up, not to mention the monthly account charges. He pays up to 10% to send some money back to family in Mexico. When he puts his cash on a debit card to pay for Netflix, that's yet another fee.
The Economist recently ran an article describing the plight (my image is from their article) in more detail and made some suggestions that while good don't go far enough:
The high cost of being poor has two main implications. First, inequality is worse than income figures alone suggest. This is true even before non-financial disparities, such as the implications for health of living on a low income, are considered. Second, finding ways to reduce these costs, for instance by making it easier to claim the EITC without borrowing, or by changing the rules on overdraft fees (which at the moment are used to cross-subsidise banking for other customers), would be a cheap way of helping low earnersand bargains are rare for the poor.
The problem with the Economist perspective is that they dismiss digital currency as a way out of a lot of this mess. In fact, they dismissed the notion of the poor having access to a smart phone:
How might financial services be made cheaper for the poor? Mr Valenti sees promise in mobile banking. But the poor are not yet well placed to benefit from the mobile revolution, in financial services or otherwise. Only half of those earning less than $30,000 per year own a smartphone, compared with 70% or more of those in higher income groups.
But the reality is that smart phone prices, especially on high-powered Android devices, are dropping precipitously. So much so that some third world countries, Kenya for example, are using smart phone based payment systems to drive much of their GDP.
I first began writing about how the truly innovative staffing players out there will fix this dismal state of affairs by using cryptocurrency as an alternative form of payment.
Let's hope that day comes soon. It would be great if we could make poverty less expensive.