I'm taking the time to pause A Fistful of Dollars to respond to this (great movie by the way, as is Yojimbo) because I like you and hate this topic, not for what the topic is, but because of the emotional weight behind it. I think though, that it's important, because here in the States, the poor are villianized by everyone, even themselves and I think a bit of perspective is important if we're to try and fight this issue.
The problem with being poor is lack of money. Period. This lack of money manifests problems in so many ways and they often overlap and intersect each other that it creates a weighted net, to keep you tangled up and weighed down. There are a lot of problems in America. In some parts of the country, things are a bigger problem than others. In New York City and Chicago for example, public transportation might not be an issue, but rent is expensive as hell and food deserts are a threat to the well being of you and your family. The neighborhoods the poor can afford to live in often have problems with crime and disease and the general environment has a psychological impact on the people that live there. In places that are less dense, like my example of Ohio and Wisconsin, rent is much more manageable, but since things are more sprawled out, transportation becomes an issue. Food might be more abundant as well, but if the nearest Wal-Mart is three towns over, you might have to settle for the mom and pop grocery store down the road for the majority of groceries. Their selection won't be as good and you'll pay a higher price. A quarter or two on every piece of food you buy from them quickly adds up. Under normal conditions, people can balance things out relatively well, but it is very much a balancing act. Once you start having problems with your car though, or your personal health, or the people in your lives that are supposed to help support you, things can go pretty sour pretty quickly. What's harder, is sometimes the social safety nets you think are there for you, really aren't. For example, when I was having money problems, I knew there was no point in my going to a food bank. They'd see that I worked two jobs and had no dependents, so they'd turn me away. When you're poor, your options are limited, robbing you the flexibility to creatively solve problems.
That's okay. True story, America is a huge place. Poor people in Maine probably have a different experience than poor people in Florida who probably have a different experience than poor people in Texas. Poor people in the South West probably don't have to complain about their heating bill, but poor people in Maine probably don't have to worry about suffering from heat stroke because they don't have central air. Different people have different problems and experience them to different degrees.
As for the people who downplay how hard it is being poor, we only have our selves to blame. For some reason, Americans in general have no problem with victim blaming, so when people who are poor fuck up and get taken advantage of, it's obviously their fault. Another issue is, a lot of Americans have a lot of pride. When I was going through money problems, I never once thought about going to my parents for help nor did I try to seek help from my local community like the churches around here. Would they have helped me if I asked? More than likely. Did the thought of asking ever cross my mind? Not once. But I did ask my peers for help, because they know what it was like to have the problems I had and so I didn't have to fear their judgement. When my car was broken down, I asked for lifts from anyone who was willing. When I was desperately hungry and pay day was two days away, I asked people to float me for lunch. The thing is though, the only reason I got help when I asked for it because they knew I would repay them when their time to ask me for help came. If I didn't, they wouldn't help me again.
My parents did teach me about personal finance and responsibility. They taught me the importance of a good work ethic and to playing safe bets. The thing is though, when your income is really limited, all it takes is a mistake or two to throw you over the edge. My money problems came from renting a place I couldn't afford and having an irresponsible room mate that couldn't hold down a job. It took a while to get myself out of that hole and it took even longer to recover from it. It also took me willing to be homeless, swallow my pride, and live on my friend's couch for a month, commuting 45 minutes to and from work each day to make it happen. It was not fun and I think I would rather die than go through all of that again. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that.
The thing is, a lot of people who are poor know they're being fucked with. Check cashing fees, pay day loans, wage theft and last minute schedule changes from employers, bad landlords, on and on it goes. When you're poor though, a lot of times those are the only options you have. Back to my homelessness and living on my friend's couch. I had to leave my living situation, room mate and all, but I had absolutely no chance of paying a security deposit and first month's rent on a new place. So I cancelled my lease, left that place, and crashed on my friend's couch. The only reason I was able to get out so early was because my girlfriend at the time, now wife, was an angel and was willing to trust me enough to get a place with me. The security of living with her, her being responsible and making money to combine with my income, was exactly what I needed to get out of debt. I'm now in a much, much better financial place today and I live a good life because of it. But, I literally could not have done it without her. Not a lot of people get a saving grace like that.
This is indeed a problem. Landlords and employers take advantage of people all the time because they don't know the laws. Predatory lending companies take advantage of people who lack the financial savy to understand how interest and late fees work. Ignorance is a huge issue, but the fact that there are people out there who are willing to prey on the ignorant to make a living are a huge part of the problem.
Don't feel bad about having an opinion and trying to think this stuff through. You actually have a very good idea about the whole cars thing in general, but not specifically cars themselves. Cutting unnecessary expenses to help tackle debt goes a long way. It's also important though, to not look down on poor people who spend money on things like movies and booze. Entertainment and leisure is important for everyone and it gives us a much needed psychological boost to help deal with the hardships of life.
Look, this stuff is hard. It's heavy. It is devastatingly painful to witness and it is even more painful to live. When people like kleinbl00, mk, steve and others talk about this stuff, it's because why they themselves might never have had this problem, they're smart enough to understand some of the trends and what causes them. (Edit: That's not to say you're not smart, because you very much are and I love seeing your comments on Hubski.) They're people you can listen to about this stuff because they probably know. You can listen to me, because I lived it and the majority of my peers are still living it, it's such a part of me that I don't think it'll ever go away, no matter how badly I want it to.
Let me just end with this. There are a lot of outreach programs for poor people out there, from churches to food pantries to social programs. They help tackle issues of all types caused by poverty, taking care of both short term problems and helping to fight the fight in the long run. If this is something that even remotely causes you concern, I highly encourage you to educate yourself on some of the resources out there and how to find them, that way if you ever see someone you love going through a hard time, you can lend them a hand.
Sorry this took a bit to respond to, but I've had trouble typing this out. This isn't stuff I like to think about and it seems like kleinbl00 has explained some of it. Here's what I typed out though, partially stemming from personal experience. . .
The thing is though, $8,900 is a lot of money for a large number of people. For paying back student loans, that's about $100 to $150 a month, something a lot of people can't afford. Let me break it down for you a bit, so you can see where I'm coming from because I found myself in this trap. Here we go . . .
Let's take a person, like me, college drop out working 2 jobs to make ends meet. Only, unlike when I was working 2 jobs, now thanks to Obamacare, the number of full time jobs out there is much lower. Now, people are working 2 part time jobs, max hours, with no benefits. That's two jobs, maybe above minimum wage, at roughly $8 an hour for 50 hours a week. That breaks down to . . .
$400 a week or about $300 after taxes. $1600 a month or about $1200 after taxes. That's about $20,000 a year or $16,000 after taxes. Money is fucking TIGHT. Here's the wild ride we're going down, and trust me, it's painful . . .
You take home $1,600 a month. Take away $500 dollars for rent. Congrats, You're down to $1,100. Now take away an additional $300, because you have to pay for utilities and your phone on your shitty plan. Now you're down to $800. Now take away another $300, because that's your money for your car insurance and gas. Heaven forbid you still owe money on that car because that's even more coming out of your pay. Now you're down to $500. Take away another $150 for food and another $150 for health insurance and you have yourself at the end of the month, $200. That's $200 dollars flex room, before student loans even come in.
Here's where things get shitty. Your car? It's a 15 year old GM J Body. Something breaks on it once every three months. There goes some of that money. What's that? You got a minor cold that somehow became an ear infection so bad that you have to go to the doctor because you woke up to literal puss oozing out your ear? That'll be an $80 copay for the clinic plus another $20 for antibiotics. In reality though, you spent half the day getting that taken care of so you're actually out more money, because you're not spending time working. After you get home from a long, half day at work because you work a shitty retail job, you find out that one of your roommates blew part of his money on a $25 dollar pizza delivery, instead of real food like rice and eggs. That's not the worse of it though, he bought that pizza to soften the blow of him getting fucking fired from his shitty ass job so now you have to cover his part of the rent until he can find something else. Now your rent just went from $500 a month to $750 a month and now you're hemorrhaging money every single month until he finds something new because you just can't kick him out, he's like family. Congratulations. You're now in a massive downwards spiral and you haven't even touched your student loans yet. Your debt is getting worse by the week and even when your roommate finally finds work again, climbing out of the debt will be that much harder, because you not only dug your hole deeper, but possibly wider. To make matters worse, if debt wasn't bad enough, the psychological pain of the inevitable collection calls and knocks on your door from the landlord will make things worse. Six years later, you're still afraid to pick up the phone whenever an unknown number calls you.
So many things go wrong when you're poor and everything that goes wrong ends up costing you money, making things worse and worse. There's a reason why savings are called "safety nets." Being able to afford to take care of problems when they first show up, keeps them from getting worse down the road, literally saving you money in the long run. You have to have that money to begin with though, to make things work.