Voices of Wealth and Poverty: Barely Getting By

Marketplace Staff Feb 27, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: We’re launching a new project on the broadcast today. I say project because it’s more than just a series, or a couple of stories. It’s years worth of coverage of wealth and poverty in this country.

Our Wealth and Poverty desk is going to explore the growing economic disparity in the United States — its causes and its consequences. Those are big ideas. Big concepts. And they sound a bit sweeping — grand, even. So we thought a good place to start would be with… us. How we go about our economic lives depending on our place in that economy.

Today, two people from a group often classified as the “working poor” — above the official poverty line, not far enough above, though, to be middle class.

Daryl Snell: My name is Daryl Snell. I live in Nashville, TN. I’m 43 years old.

Angel Rogers: My name is Angel Rogers. I’m currently living in Birmingham, AL. I’m at the age of 41 years.

Snell: I’m a server, and I make about $20,000 a year.

Rogers: My household income is $21,000 a year. And I work at Walgreen’s Pharmacy — I’m a pharmacy technician.

Snell: When I was growing up, I guess I was in with the poor kids. I mean, money was always an issue.

Rogers: I was working class. My mom had 11 kids, you know.

Snell: If I lost my job today, I think I could make it three months.

Rogers: Two months.

Snell: That would be the extent of it, though.

Rogers: Yeah. I have to work very hard for what I want — and it’s almost like teeth and nail.

Snell: My last impulse buy was a cast-iron Dutch oven —

Rogers: I just don’t get it —

Snell: — that was on sale over the Christmas holidays.

Rogers: — I really don’t.

Snell: And now I have two.

Rogers: I want to become a registered nurse, continue going to school to get my bachelor’s — maybe teach nursing school. I’m not where I want to be.

Snell: I have absolutely no savings. I think there might be 50 bucks in my savings account. I’m going to work until the day I die.

Rogers: I have, whatever I have leftover, penny-pinching and whatever — not much, but I have a couple pennies. Not much.

Snell: I clip coupons. I buy in bulk and freeze things. I have a huge pantry. That’s how you make it.

Rogers: Trust me, I do believe that money is a part of happiness. Because if you don’t have it, you can’t do the things that you need to do. My biggest worry about money is not having enough —

Snell: My biggest worry about money is not having enough.

Rogers: — especially to save on a rainy day.

Snell: I’m terrified of losing my home.

Rogers: I have a 23-month-old son, and he’s totally dependent on me.

Snell: I want to be able to stand on my own two feet. I think the income gap is ridiculously growing. I don’t understand what makes a CEO think that his job is worth 700 times more than the person working on the factory floor. What is it that you do that gives you 700 times more wages?

Rogers: The rich guy, he did what it took to get there. Either he worked hard as a child, or maybe he inherited from family that worked hard. America, this is a land of opportunities for anybody; there’s no excuse for nobody — you just have to get up and work hard at it. I believe that I will be very successful, no matter what detour I have. I just get back on the right track and I go for that.

Ryssdal: Coming up tomorrow: Voices from the Middle — what it’s like to live on the median income for American households.

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