I am not a morning person. While my faith may tell me that with the rising of the sun comes a day filled with exciting possibilities, my daily response is closer to “Is it the weekend yet?” My waking moments are often consumed with my mental checklist, pouring over the tasks of the day ahead. I’ve learned that starting the day with prayer relieves my anxiety, yet it creeps back throughout a day of work and family concerns.
So the insights presented in a recent article by Ezra Klein really hit me where I live. Klein quotes the findings of poverty researchers Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo from their book Poor Economics, where they “try to explain why the poor around the world so often make decisions that befuddle the rich. Their answer, in part, is this: The poor use up an enormous amount of their mental energy just getting by. They’re not dumber or lazier or more interested in being dependent on the government. They’re just cognitively exhausted.” Klein goes on to discuss the concept of “decision fatigue,” which shows that “the more we need to worry about in a day, the harder we have to work to make good decisions.”
“Most of us do not have to worry where our next meal will come from,” write the authors of Poor Economics. “We rarely need to draw upon our limited endowment of self-control and decisiveness, while the poor are constantly being required to do so.” Klein also cites an online post by economist Jed Friedman: “The repeated trade-offs confronting the poor in daily decision making — i.e. ‘should I purchase a bit more food or a bit more fertilizer?’ — occupy cognitive resources that would instead lay fallow for the wealthy when confronted with the same decision. The rich can afford both a bit more food and a bit more fertilizer, no decision is necessary.” Thus, Klein concludes: “The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier…. It’s really, really hard to be poor. That’s because the poorer you are, the more personal responsibility you have to take.”
These insights come at a critical time in our political discourse and for me personally. My esteem for people who are poor and in poverty grows as I reflect on them, for I know firsthand the challenges of tending to the tasks of the day. Yet, Klein’s words and research cast a different and important light on my perception of what a hard day’s work really entails. Thus, our service through IVC is so critically important in honoring and sustaining the poor as they carry on from day to day. My mornings are a little brighter now, and I hope I pass that light on to others.
Maria Rodgers O’Rourke, the former IVC – St. Louis regional director, has served in church ministry for over 20 years on the national, regional and local levels in communications, adult spirituality, family life and retreat direction.