If You’re Not Poor, Can You Teach Your Kids What It’s Like to Be Poor?

Teacher Helping Student Working At Desk In Chinese School ClassroomWhile I was growing up, my family didn’t have much money.  My dad worked first as a meat cutter and then at a factory.  During the recession in the ’80s, he was unemployed for nearly 2.5 years.  My mom was an at home day care provider.

We got our clothes as hand me down from older cousins or from thrift stores.  When I was old enough for a car, my mom bought me a beater, and I paid her back in monthly installments.  I was responsible for my own gas, insurance, and maintenance.  I always worked while in high school and college.  I paid for college with a number of student loans that I just finished paying off last year.

Through it all, I learned how to budget my money and how to find bargains.

Now that I have kids, I want them to learn the value of a dollar.  I’m not one of those parents who feels like I have to give my kids everything.  And honestly, this is easy for me because, while I’m in a better financial place than my parents were, I still struggle financially.

The true difficulty comes for parents who struggled as young adults or grew up in poor families but improved their financial situation so much that their own children don’t have to struggle.  Such is the case with the Obamas.

The Obamas Want Their Daughters To Work Minimum Wage Jobs

I read recently that the Obamas want their daughters to work minimum wage jobs.  Michelle Obama said, “‘We are looking for opportunities for them to feel as if going to work and getting a paycheck is not always fun, not always stimulating, not always fair, but that’s what most folks go through every single day'” (Yahoo!).

While I applaud the Obamas’ intent, how realistic is their plan?  Sasha and Malia are daughters of a U.S. president, and as such, they’ll never live even a typical American lifestyle, let alone one of an impoverished American.

Instead of asking their daughters to work minimum wage jobs, the Obamas might want to use the strategy of other wealthy people to teach their children what hardship in life is like.

Take a Cue from Princess Diana

Princess Diana knew that her sons couldn’t work minimum wage jobs.  Instead, she taught them that as children of privilege, their responsibility was to help others.  Princess Diana routinely took her boys with her to help the poor and needy and to visit those in hospitals.

Princess Diana’s biographer, Lady Colin Campbell stated, “‘Diana tried her best to show her sons what the world was like for people that were not royal.  She never tried to strip them of their royalty.  She tried to top off the royal glass with dashes of ordinariness to make them better royals'” (CNN).

Even if Sasha and Malia do get the opportunity to work a minimum wage job, it’s an artificial experience.  They’ll have bodyguards with them, and at the end of the day, they’ll return to the luxury of the White House.  They’re not from a poor family, and trying to pretend that they are for the “experience” is ridiculous.

Instead, the Obamas, like Princess Diana, could help their children learn the value of charitable acts and helping those who are down on their luck.  This is the strategy another American royal family, the Kennedys, used.  While the Kennedys were (and are) an enormously privileged family, they have done much social good for the world including creating the Peace Corps and the Special Olympics.

Those who are privileged, like Sasha and Malia, can try to work minimum wage jobs to see what it’s like to live like the poor, but it’s just a pretend game.  At the end of the day, they’ll return to wealth and privilege.  A far better strategy is to help those who need it, especially when they, as the wealthy, are in the best position to do so.

Do you agree with the Obamas that their daughters should work a minimum wage job, or do you think there’s a different way they can learn how others live?


If You’re Not Poor, Can You Teach Your Kids What It’s Like to Be Poor? — 8 Comments

  1. I agree with your points and I hope the Obamas are planning to do these things. I don’t think working a minimum wage job excludes them from helping others, and Michelle’s point about why is a good one – working at McDonalds wound show the girls what a huge number of Anericans go through each day. And at the end, they’ll take home their check and go “wow, I can’t buy that new purse with this”. I think seeing the low wages and understanding that some folks live that way is a good way to teach them (yes. It’s artificial. That doesn’t mean it can’t still be eye opening).

  2. A very thought-provoking article. It made me think, why do I live frugally? Beyond just saving money, if I know the deeper reason why it makes me a better person, then shouldn’t those reasons be our goal whether we are rich or poor? My husband and I decided that for us, 3 other reasons to save money is to be able to give more, serve more, and be more content. For different people, this is accomplished in different ways. Perhaps for the Obama children, working a minimum wage job would accomplish this. But for others, it might be going on a mission trip to India, giving part of their allowance to a humanitarian project, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or perhaps most importantly, watching their parents provide a good example of financial responsibility, generosity, kindness, and contentment.

  3. Yeah, I don’t really see the point of having your children work a minimum-wage job unless they have to pay bills and raise a family on it. I do think every teenager should work a crappy job, however. I worked a lot of terrible jobs when I was young and learned a lot from them.

  4. I think it’s a good experience for them to have, but think Princess Di’s approach was good too. Children of privilege all, but different cultural norms around the expectations and spotlights that will be on them throughout their lives. Can you teach sympathy? Yes. Empathy? No. Case in point the song Common People by Pulp, or the Shatner/Folds cover if that’s too hardcore for one’s taste.

  5. I think both approaches are good, and more importantly both had the right intentions. Princess Di comes from a line or royalty, whereas the Obamas are more of a “rags to riches” story — POTUS & FLOTUS probably worked those minimum wage jobs that they want their daughters to experience because in their experience there were lessons learned and they believe they can learn the same.

  6. I like what Princess Diana did. For most of us, our children have a lot and we can’t pretend that they don’t. I think it’s important to show our children how the rest of the world lives in some areas. Missions trips are a great way to help people, while also letting your children see that many people really don’t have anything as far as material possessions are concerned.

  7. That’s an interesting take indeed. Thanks for this great article. Appreciate the idea as well as the approach of writing. If one does not know the lows of life, he/she can only say the problems to the kids, not realizing the pain or suffering of the poor. Until and unless a person empathizes with the problems of a poor person, he/she can’t teach how it is to be poor. However, forcing something is not a right approach. One has to counsel children to make them feel how it feels to be distressed.

  8. I think both Obama way and Diana way are good. For me I will go for Obama way of teach the kid. Let them go and work in fast food restaurant and earn their own money during their holiday, let them manage their financial and not to give them pocket money during that period of time.

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