"The greatest injustice anyone can do to themselves in America is to be poor. The poor pay more for everything." I whispered after watching yet another economic documentary. "Shhhhh! Don't say that kind of stuff!" my wife scolded.
Being a social justice pioneer who has spent much of her career working for organizations promoting social and economic justice, this kind of talk is unbearable for her.
I however come from a different place. After immigrating from Iran in 1979 I dropped out of high school at 15. I left home at the same time with no support system. I slept in the back of an abandoned 1965 Lincoln Continental. I remember pasting pages from Napoleon Hills seminal work "Think And Grow Rich" to the ceilings of the car and reading them nightly. I remember surviving on a diet of relish and hot dog condiments because they were free. If I close my eyes I can still taste it. It's a taste that never goes away. At the same time it's the taste that drives me every day of my life.
I had no real education. I had no rich parents nor a trust fund. Materially I had nothing. All I had was my drive, determination to survive and ignorance of youth. I had no idea how badly I could have failed. So I succeeded. I went from sleeping in the back of that old abandoned car to living in a mansion on the beach in Malibu. You can read more about my story here.
One day I was in New York's upper west side. I went to a small market to get an apple. Cost was about .50 cents and it was a flawless red delicious apple. I moved on to my next meeting in a suburb of Brooklyn. I went into a local market to purchase the same thing only to notice that it was .75 cents and was nowhere near as nice as the one uptown. The lady behind me said it is always the way things have been. The good stuff goes uptown to feed the rich at a lower cost while the second and third tier stuff goes to the poorer neighborhoods at a higher cost. "It's the way things are." a man behind her repeated. But this extends to so many things in my opinion. I think if you look closely, it can be argued that the poor pay more for most things like education, healthcare and basic living. There is an unspoken tax in America for being poor.
I am fortunate enough to have a great life, and I have worked hard for it. I look at the poor and suffering with compassion. I know now that it may not be a choice to be poor in America but at the same time I know that to be rich can be a choice. If there is a place where anyone can succeed regardless of all odds it is here. I have friends who have had social, economic and even severe medical challenges that have risen to great heights financially. It is possible for most anyone. You just need the drive, the determination and be willing to do whatever it takes to get there. Although it's not as easy as it sounds the history books are lined with examples. Anyone can be the next example.
Recently a friend forwarded me a viral video showing infographics on the distribution of wealth in America, highlighting both the inequality and the difference between our perception of inequality and the actual numbers. He then mentioned to me "I don't really care about money, I would rather be poor and happy." I looked at him with a smile. "Happy is good but if you have a choice, you definitely don't want to be poor. Not here."