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That view that it it's "terribly depressing to be broke" and all the despair the poor in America feel because they can create no value could only be thought up by us smug hacker news software creators. I know first hand that much of the poor are content to live off the government, never had any aspirations and ultimately don't need much to survive and be content enough. They don't know what they don't know and therefore they don't suffer from the despair of not being the next Steve jobs. That was never on their list. They are truly ignorant enough to be content with video games. I'm not talking everyone but this probably is the majority. Things work and all you need is to be able to hold a minimum wage job for a few years at a time and when you get fired you can take a few years off while another friend or family member is on deck, meanwhile you're contributing food stamps the whole time, 6 months of an unemployment check, money from a few scams here and there, electricity bill deductions and many other such benefits you can get if you are below the poverty line. These are all meaningful contributions you can contribute well past the 6 months of paid unemployment. You have to understand you also have old people in the household collecting social security at $1k per month. There are not only other people not working, but other non-workers coming up with money and resources. It becomes just as normal for a working-age male to not be working as grandma. After all we aren't talking 1 person or couple cramped into an over priced San Francisco apartment. In short, the family doesn't need as much money and everyone bands together, and can go for a very long time bringing in very little money. And though totally in the hands of the "public" health care system whose bills they will never pay if they get into an accident, they are more than content with tv and stolen movies/shows via apps like "ShowBox" until that happens, and even after. They have near zero ounce of fight in them for anything more, certainly not to be the prolific CEO or CTO of a tech company. That's far out of their field of vision. I am one that believes to not aspire to something is not healthy. So for now ignoring the other psychological issues surrounding the more privileged all feeling disproportionate pressure to be somebody, I'll just say the opposite extreme we are discussing now is worse and it's out of ignorance. An ignorance most here can't understand or have forgotten. A true "ignorance is bliss" syndrome. To us it may look like that as a result they are content to live in squalor. The truth is the squalor of those living standards have risen. It all just feels normal to them. What I call "poverty trap sweet spots" certainly do exist in America.

... I barely know how to respond to this. If you think the most poor people are content being poor it's hard for me to craft a rebuttal given how out of touch you are with reality. I grew up poor myself. Like lived on the streets for 2 years, spent time in the state grouphome system, had shoes held together by safety-pins level of poor and I now make six figures. On my way from there to here I spent a lot of time with other poor people and the vast majority of them were extremely unhappy in their situations. A lot of them were working hard to get out of that situation, others had given up because they realized they didn't really have the aptitude or mental temperament or the resources to bootstrap to anything better. I met only a very-very small handful of people I would have described as "content" or "eager to game the system forever". Your disdain for the poor is frankly disgusting and sounds like it comes from a place of having never had to scrap and scrape for your next meal or make hard choices about which bills to pay this month because you can't afford to pay all of them. I can promise you it never feels normal to be just a few dollars, or one mistake away from homelessness.

How did you get out of it? Or are you still in that situation?

Hard work, a healthy serving of luck, and a decent amount of hustle. Luck in that while my living and financial circumstances sucked, I won the genetic lottery on the intelligence front, so learning has always been both fairly easy for me, and something I'm naturally inclined to pursue. On the hard work front I basically gave up my social life for the most part and instead focused on learning everything I could, and made myself available to move should any opportunity come up. At 35 years old I've moved over 20 times almost always in pursuit of opportunity. I also make a point to always be available for my clients or for my boss if I'm working for someone. This helped me build a decent sized network of people who say nice things about me which makes tracking down those new opportunities easier. Currently going on my 6th year in six figure territory and my 8th for doing better than 80K a year. Not bad for a previously homeless guy with a GED eh? :-)

It's good to hear about your experiences, but please don't make personal attacks on HN. Usually, commenters here are quasi-anonymous; even when they're wrong, it's bad to make assumptions about who they are as people, since in most cases you just don't know.

It's deserved, he painted a broad segment of working class folk as welfare queens. Why bother with that computer shit when there is a next to zero chance of it ever being useful? God help you if you want to progress into a field where the knowledge is locked away in the ivory tower or behind expensive texts/journal memberships.

Quite frankly it's disgusting and repulsive. Community rules be damned.

I'm not convinced "out of touch with reality" is a personal attack

Well, what about the attack on how the poor are "as people" in the parent comment?

He didn't make a personal attack, he attacked his position.

The reality is there are many "realities." That said, THERE IS A LARGE GROUP THAT LIVES LIKE I DESCRIBED. We can squabble over percentages all we want--it's large and that's all that matters.

Call them the "lucky poor" or whatever you want. Come to Las Vegas (not the strip) and see for yourself. Unfortunately, I'm living it first hand right now, coding away on my own self-funded project--yes, making decisions about which bills to pay etc.

I'm an anomaly. You are an anomaly. Perhaps you went from one anomaly (extremely poor) to extremely rich, and along the way missed the common scenario I'm bringing up. I'm simply stating the welfare state IS REAL (yes, even if they offer far more in Europe) to make my initial point that: the aforementioned group of people are NOT CONSCIOUSLY AWARE of the value they cannot create, and that it's "out of touch" to think they are. For the group I'm talking about, that's simply not their pain point.

We tech people are obsessed with creating value and assume for the majority its the same. We are projecting ourselves on to them, yet we are very different. They aren't seeing life through the same lens. If we really want to help people, we can't go from 0 to 60--we cant take people that aren't thinking about creating startups, tell em to their face "if only they created value they would be happy" and tell em to climb a mountain to do so. They won't make even the first step. We can't help bring others up unless we truly understand what they're dealing with, and what the initial baby-steps actually would be. So I apologize for my insensitive tone. It's a sensitive subject and I expressed some of my own frustrations with such people that I'm dealing with on a daily basis, which from my standpoint seems to be everyone but me. That all said, I think opportunities to create value is the answer--just, we must recognize we can't sell them a better future by telling them: "you aren't creating value, if only you were, you would be happy." That's as condescending as it gets.

Ultimately, it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks. Education and more opportunities for future generations is the best we can do. That's my current standpoint. My perspective is that it is very impractical and unlikely to teach a 50 year old cashier anything else. If we could magically produce statistics it wouldn't be looking good. This is reality. There's legions of people with minimum wage jobs that will have minimum wage jobs their whole life. One group may be in utter despair because of it, and another (the lucky poor) might be able to make it work well enough. The best we can do is show future generations the satisfaction, pride, etc that comes from the mastery of skills and creating things. The problem is in these communities there isn't the role models for success like in NYC or LA/SF. I grew up in NYC. I'm living in Las Vegas now. I see the difference in mindset daily. In NYC everyone is a hustler and about something. In Las Vegas once you get away from the strip and people who service it, virtually nobody is. Young people are absorbed with being wannabe gang-bangers and are not thinking about creating some enterprise or becoming an artist or whatever. I AM IN THIS DAILY and see this first hand. Have nephews and family members living like this.

NOW FOR MY RESPONSE TO YOUR PERSONAL ATTACKS: It sounds ultimately like you have lived your life siloed in an elevator from the bottom to the top and barely took a second to look around. It seems you care more about telling us all about how far you've come and how much money you now make. That's your ego at play. For you, it was very stressful being poor. So stressful you did something about it. What I'm saying is that for many it's nowhere near as stressful for them to do as much as you did about it. Put that in your pipe in smoke it, what do you say about that. There's no much you can say. It doesn't sound like you did very well at being poor. It sounds like you got one taste and as soon as you were of age, you headed for the hills. It's a common story. No shame in that. And I'm happy for you. However, I'm doubtful that in your later more inevitably conscious years you were around much to watch it first hand. Whatever it is, your words don't help. I'm apprehensive as to how much you actually do want to help. Typically the words you have shared--about how far you've come and how much money you now make--serve no purpose but to make you feel good about how far you've come. So for those that actually do want to help, THERE IS A PROBLEM: people are under-educated, are not surrounded by models of success, and perhaps if they were actually conscious of how little value they are creating and how accessible it is to create value, they might. But to pretend like they are all aware of this lack is completely unproductive. If they were they would be taking the first step to clawing their way out of that dead-end scenario.

NOW FOR A SOLUTION: well for one, there never is a silver bullet. This is a large country overseen by a bloated stagnating government that each year wastes a larger percentage of taxpayer money than the last. That likely isn't changing any time soon unfortunately. We can't rely on them to overhaul our schools. Technology has become cheap--and as poor as everyone is--they all manage to have modern phones and TV setups. Education technology is simply the key. Not necessarily in the traditional sense, but that too. As technologists it is our mandate to bring as many opportunities as possible to small screens in people's hands. I think we also--going along with the theme of this discussion--need to put pressure on people to be somebody. Simply put, many people are not growing up with any urgency to do something great, be somebody, call it whatever you wanna call it. If you don't grow up with the urgency to hustle, you likely won't. As a controversial of a point as it is, it's just the reality. The people in this forum--us--got the "do something big" bug. I think it can be taken to negative extremes, but overall I think it's a positive thing. So I'll just sign off by saying abstractly that through our apps we need to convey this vision, this mandate, so future generations between LA and NYC are inspired.

I don't think it's likely that I'll convince you otherwise, but my experience -- having grown up in a very poor community -- could not be further from yours.

Despair is exactly the word I would use to describe the feeling of not being able to make your bills and not being sure if you'll ever be able to save enough to afford moving to a more prosperous place. I'd say the majority of my friends and acquaintances at the time felt that way, too. The only reason I was ever able to escape was luck; my grandparents had to rescue me from a variety of financial disasters that would be extremely minor for somebody not on the edge of being able to make rent. It's amazing how much damage getting a $25 parking ticket because you had to work late can cause when you're working a minimum-wage -- (at the time: $5.15/hr) -- job. Lack of aspiration is definitely not the problem; lack of hope definitely is, though.

I don't mean to engage you in a debate about this, though; it seems like you have already made up your mind. I just don't want your comment to go un-challenged.

> That view that it it's "terribly depressing to be broke" and all the despair the poor in America feel because they can create no value could only be thought up by us smug hacker news software creators.

I think that's the view that's easy to come up with for smug HN software creators.

I've lived in poverty while working a minimum wage job, and while it was only for a couple years, it utterly destroyed my morale. There was no reliability; nothing I could count on. If something happened; if I got sick or if something broke down, then I would have had to go to a loan shark. Not because I was stupid or because I didn't understand that I'd never be able to pay the loan back, but because there would simply be no other option.

Long story short, I escaped that situation largely through luck, but I try to keep reminding myself of what it was like in the days where I had to double-check my bank balance before agreeing to go out for Chik-Fil-A.

> They are truly ignorant enough to be content with video games.

While I understand the sentiment and may have even expressed similar feelings when younger, the reality is a bit more nuanced.

It's more like they hit walls and repeated failure when trying to move up the ladder and eventually just gave up. You may not have been around for that, but it did happen.

And yes, there are plenty who are so persistent that they never stop trying and eventually do experience some level of success ... but that doesn't excuse a society which is openly hostile to those who want to do better and instead shoves a government check in their mouth.

Have that happen to you often enough and you'll choose to play video games instead too. At least with video games, success is just around the corner. They were designed with you winning in mind.

Imagine you are born into a glass room. Others are already in the room. Initially your focus is within the room. You don't really notice anyone outside the room. But eventually your mind starts to imagine other possibilities. Looking around, ,none of the others are trying to break through the walls, even though they can see others outside those walls. You ask about this, but are told there's no point - the walls are impervious. You start focusing outside those walls. At some point, you decide to have a crack. Yet no matter how you try, the walls are indeed impervious. You stop trying. You accept your lot. Are you happy? No. Would you rather it were different? Yes. Are you doing anything to try and bring about a difference? No. It's futile.

I could also add, that very few on the outside are truly looking into the glass room. Some will be aware of it and its inhabitants, but of those most are uncomfortable or even offended. For some those feelings arise when considering the inhabitants; for others considering the glass room itself. "I did not create the glass room", they think. "I did not put those people there". While they may feel some sadness at this state of affairs, they do not at all see themselves as causally connected to the glass room or its inhabitants.

Some of the inhabitants of the glass room may try and communicate their presence and their dissatisfaction to those outside the room. But largely, those communications are either misunderstood, or ignored. Many of those that tried to communicate conclude that the minds of the "outsiders" are as impervious as the glass walls of the room itself.

To those on the outside, it does indeed seem as the glass-room dwellers have lost any fight. "How can we help those that won't even help themselves?". "Knowing nothing other than the glass room, perhaps that is where they are most suited to stay. They seem content enough."

Perhaps the walls contain an unknown but fatal flaw? The walls seem able to absorb vast quantities of anger without exhibiting any faults. Yet upon reaching a (very high) threshold, that pent up anger may cause the walls to suddenly shatter. I wonder, how much fight will the glass room dwellers will show then?

Edit: grammar fix.

Is this more about The Matrix, Great Expectations, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, or What Dreams May Come?

I condense your analogy to the aphorism:

Until people realize they can change, they won't try

Love the compression ratio ;-)

However, I think your version could be subject to misinterpretation. When you are referring to change, are you implying "themselves", "their circumstances", or both?

In the story above the glass room dwellers did change themselves - from aspirational to resigned.

So perhaps, the compression was "lossy" after all ;-)

>I know first hand that much of the poor are content to live off the government, never had any aspirations and ultimately don't need much to survive and be content enough.

Well, I know the opposite first hand. The idea that poor are content being poor is totally out of this world, especially in the US where the welfare and "handouts" for poor people are a joke (compared to Western Europe, nordic countries, etc).

>Things work and all you need is to be able to hold a minimum wage job for a few years at a time and when you get fired you can take a few years off while another friend or family member is on deck, meanwhile you're contributing food stamps the whole time, 6 months of an unemployment check, money from a few scams here and there, electricity bill deductions and many other such benefits you can get if you are below the poverty line.

This is crazy talk compared to all the people I've known and listened in such conditions. This is much closer to how poor people working such "minimum wage jobs" actually live:


Yup - it's hard to imagine a more out of touch viewpoint. Straight out of "talking heads present one type of franchise blockbuster reality fiction that manipulates you into betraying your fellow humans and yourself" land.

The life you're describing doesn't sound nearly as bad to me as it does to you. The people in this picture have family, community, people watching their back and taking care of each other. They may not have money, but they're wealthy. I don't think that describes anything like the majority of poor people though.

Despite what you intend to mean, I think you describe the "lucky poor", those who have a functional family and community. I think there is some truth to what you say; nobody on HN considers early retirement/FI as something to be depressed about. There shouldn't be anything wrong with banding together as a community to pool resources, work together, and enjoy leisure.

Yet you are actually addressing a different point than the commenters in this thread. The rest of the commenters are talking about the unlucky poor, those who are trapped and aren't able to live comfortably with the support of family and friends.

As to what proportion of poor are the unlucky vs the lucky, this is less easily discovered. I imagine the "unlucky" poor are at least half. I don't have any data for that.

I don't think I've read anything this condescending in years.

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