By Cynthia Chang
| We often hear people say, “time is money”, but when we think about inequality in the United States, time poverty often seems to fall off the radar. Poverty is more than just financial constraints. For some, poverty of time causes inconveniences in life, but for many others, lack of time has bigger and more serious effects.
When we think of poverty, we often only think of financial terms; the very definition of poverty line only looks at personal income and wealth. But a few digits in the bank account shouldn’t be only determining factors when evaluating poverty. Economist Sendhil Millaninathan once said, “There are three types of poverty- Money, time, and bandwidth. “ Money is what usually pops up in our mind when the word poverty comes up. Second kind of poverty is what many of us experience when we are under the pressure of deadlines or when there’s scarcity of time. Last kind of poverty is bandwidth, which is the consequence of the previous two kinds of poverty.
Take students for example – when we are focused on urgent deadlines, we don’t have the cognitive power for later deadlines. While there are times where extensions may be granted, and pressure may be temporarily relieved, we still struggle to dig ourselves out of deadlines that are piling up- essays, the rent checked that was forgotten, and many other mundane tasks.
This is the similar to what the poor experience on a daily basis; only the poor have it so much worse. Whether poverty is financial or time-related, the urgent tasks of today supersede tomorrow’s demand, which often make the goal seems even harder to achieve. They are forced to only focus on what is in front of their face at this exact moment- they are forced to sacrifice the future for today.
In Malcome Gladwell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success” he mentions, “It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.” And time is indeed one of, if not the most determinate factors among these accumulative advantages. If one wants to advance him/herself to get a better paying job by acquiring a higher degree, one must first have time, the capability to take time off to achieve so.
Financial capability then often becomes a determining factor of how much time you have. If time scarcity were a constant, the poor have it a lot worse than the rich. When things get hard and complicated, the rich have the capabilities to buy knowledge and help by hiring lawyers, nannies, drivers, and even cooks.
Time poverty may become a serious issue as it dramatically reduces access to proper assistance. Take the most well-known student loan application-FAFSA- for example. When a poor student is already overwhelmed by fulltime school and job, an incredibly complicated form becomes a dreadful demand on physical and psychological capacity.
There needs to be a sense of urgency to reimagine and redefine our perception of poverty once and for all. If we want to help lift this “permanent deadline” for the poor, financial aids needed to be simplified and access to other assistance such as transportation, better childcare, healthcare etc. needed to be made. There are small steps that can be taken, and should be taken decades ago.
As John de Graaf said, “Happiness is not purely a personal matter—governments and corporations can create policies that improve workers’ time balance, wellbeing, productive and sustainability.” Same thing may be said with time poverty, there are many small steps to help overcome the current despair. Public policies can help. For example, I worked in Horns of Africa Services (HOAS) when I was a freshman in college, and we provide basic education and job training to English as Second Language refugees and immigrants. One of the most heard complaints is the lack of transportation and childcare to help sustain participation at HOAS. It is unrealistic to make a commitment to education and classes when you can’t find a way to get there, and you are worried about your children at home all the time. These are the small steps we can take to help get out of the status quo. It is not helpless to concur time poverty, but it needs our attention, and we need to stop waiting for tomorrow for changes.