This article almost gets to the heart of the matter — that the daily crises that the poor, as a matter of simple survival, are constantly managing demand most of their focus.
Things like making that last $20 work for a week till payday, figuring out how to avoid cashing your check in your already overdrawn account because you need every dollar of it, or figuring out how to cover a phone bill are concrete, real situations with knowable time horizons. Being stuck in a perpetual cycle of intellectual, emotional, and financial gymnastics required to navigate the desperate obstacle course of a life where credit and cash are always in short-supply means most poor folk have no ability to plan nor conceive nor objectionably contemplate the big abstraction that is the future.
And the future is a big, scary abstraction. For human beings the only known about it is that it portends increasing frailty and eventual death. But all the other unknowns are difficult for the human mind, averse to probability as it is, to fathom. Some will die quickly of heart attacks, gunshots, and strokes; others will languish with terrible illnesses like cancer or Alzheimer’s. Others still will live to old aged saddled with a chronic condition like diabetes or high blood pressure they have treat with costly, prescriptive medications.
The farther away that scary, unknown cloud of abstractions is the more chance other bad stuff will happen before that: their car will be stolen, their flat burgled, their transmission replaced, they need to a hire a lawyer over a custody battle or rent dispute, their relationship with their parents soured, their sibling needs to stay with them or needs bail, they are betrayed by a friend, their teeth rot out of their skull and require emergency dental, they fail a surprise drug test at work and lose their job, their kid needs an appendix removed, etc etc etc.
With the poor there’s so little hope of proactively safeguarding and preparing for this host of unpalatable possibilities that the future is almost reflexively dismissed from strategic planning. What’s real, what’s imminently concrete, is what is now, not what may happen down the road.
They live in the present because there’s little point in entertaining more than faith and trusting hopeful good luck, say a Powerball ticket, that they’ll continue to figure out how to survive whatever may come. To actively consider the future in a pragmatic, grim sense is to simply stare at an existential horror…consequently thinking about potential, distant time horizon events is discouraged.
While I agree that the poor make awful decisions it’s a hard sell to those who can barely cope with their present circumstances that they’d better do more long-term planning and saving and investing. Current crises have identifiable parameters and often simple solutions: don’t spend any cash, avoid the landlord, send the gas bill late, ask for an advance, put off the oil change again. Chances are the poor will never have the surplus to meaningfully prepare against all the monsters awaiting them in future and are generally wise enough to realize that hard truth.