We hear the phrase “time poverty” applied to middle class women who in addition to paid work do more than their share of housework, childcare and maybe eldercare. The stress and distress caused by this is no small thing. But time poverty is even worse for people in actual poverty.
Look at this article about parents working two and three jobs as home health aides (Median hourly income $11.35). Their kids eat fast food nearly every day because parents literally do not have the time to prepare a meal. They live in neighborhoods where there are few healthy options; and many low-income families live in neighborhoods without supermarkets.
You can find statistics on how horribly low wages keep families in poverty from many sources. I’d like to concentrate on how time poverty puts stress on poor families.
How much time does it take to support a family?
That varies state-to-state and community-to-community. Let’s look at Cumberland County, North Carolina, since there are good recent data there. The amount needed to support one adult and a preschooler there is $38,648 annually. The minimum wage in North Carolina is $7.25 an hour. So a single parent with a preschooler would have to work 5,330 hours a year to come up to a basic needs standard.
With no vacation days, sick days or holidays – that is 102 hours a week.
Of course, even if you power through your own illnesses, you need to take time off for ear infections, well baby visits and so on. So this single parent is in an impossible situation.
Shop for back-to-school supplies?
Internet shopping saves you time – and money because you can comparison shop easily. But online retailers are only an option if you have a credit card and an Internet connection.
I looked up the route from the National Diaper Bank Network’s headquarters, which is located between several low-income neighborhoods, to the nearest Staples, which is in the nearest suburb. The trip by bus ranges from 48 minutes to 1 hour, 2 minutes – so let’s round that to a two-hour round trip.
I entered NDBN’s zip code in this food desert mapping site and found several food desserts in our community. In a couple of these neighborhoods, more than 15 percent of people did not have access to a car.
Walking to the nearest supermarket– 24 minutes round trip.
Bus to nearest supermarket – 44 minutes round trip.
Let’s say your actual shopping takes 25 minutes per trip to the store, which of course is only realistic if your child is not with you. Assuming that you walk to the store, you spend 48 minutes on grocery shopping – but you probably have to do it twice a week, because you can only carry so many bags.
That’s a best-case scenario and does not include the time you spend restocking milk, bread and so forth during the week. You will probably do that at corner stores, where the prices are high and the selection is poor.
Register your child for camp?
You’ll need a pediatrician-signed health form. Remember, you don’t have a computer or fax machine. So you must physically go to the clinic, get an overworked medical assistant to take the form and direct it to your doctor, and then you must return after the doctor has filled it out.
Let’s be wildly optimistic and say that the doctor has filled it out when you return and you don’t need to make a second trip –Time: 1.5 hours.
You also need to pay in advance for camp. If you are unbanked, as 7 percent of Americans are, then you’ll need to go to the Post Office and get a money order – Time: 20 minutes.
The camp will surely require something that you don’t have: sunscreen, flip flops, a reusable water bottle. Again, you don’t have access to the Internet, so it’s back out to the stores in the suburbs. Time: 2 hours, just for transportation.
Total time on camp registration: 4 hours plus.
Many of us with professional and family responsibilities rely on paid help: someone to clean the house on occasion, shovel us out in a snowstorm, watch the kids for a couple of hours until we get home from work, bake the birthday cake. Or we might buy things that are a little more expensive but save us time: prewashed salad greens, macaroni salad from the deli, a rotisserie chicken. If you are in poverty, you can’t afford human help or convenient products.
And let me underline: We are talking about people who spend their days lifting people, maybe your parents, into wheelchairs; pushing around racks of baked goods that sweeten your morning coffee break; loading trucks to get your latest online purchase to you within 24 hours. If these people had household staff to wait on them hand and foot at the end of the day, they would still be exhausted.
Parents of young children can relate to being tired all the time. Imagine if that pace and that fatigue would never end and that you knew this – you knew your whole life would be an unanswered prayer for 20 more minutes of sleep.
Like the saying goes, time is money. Until everyone has the resources they need to meet their basic needs, there will be people who never have enough time.