The Haves at the Have-Not Flea Market

I am a have-more.

When I was younger, I thought I was a have-not. I was wrong. I was a have-less, maybe. I grew up and married into a have family. Now I think we might live in the have-more category. I am now so used to being insulated in my community of other have-mores that I am shocked when I come face to face with have-nots.

Sunday my mom and I took the kids and we went to a flea market in Ardmore, TN.

Ardmore strattles the border of Alabama and Tennessee and is only a few miles from my door. We live in a affluent community, especially as compared to the rest of the South. In 2000, the median income for a household here was $63,849, while the median income for a household in Ardmore was $33,571. In Madison, 52% of people over age 25 hold at least a bachelor’s degree. In Ardmore, that number is only 13.6%. Even Huntsville, next door to us, isn’t as affluent. The tech jobs and military contracts bring in the money. To the surrounding communities (and even our neighboring states) we look rich because we are.

I forget that in poor, rural places not as much emphasis is placed on education. People don’t have the money to go to college, which prohibits them from getting better paying jobs. They stay in their small towns working blue collar/minimum wage jobs without insurance or other benefits. I was reminded of all of this on Sunday.

How could I tell that the people we saw were poor?

I saw very few adults with a full set of teeth. People who don’t have access to health care don’t get routine preventative treatments–in this case, dental cleanings, x-rays, and fillings. They wait until the tooth is so bad that it has to be pulled or just rots away. Don’t believe me? Check out some statistics at the CDC. Southern states have bad percentages for pretty much every question asked. Oklahoma scores are just as bad and I’m guessing the lack of health/dental coverage for Native Americans on reservations there has something to do with those numbers. Having a full set of teeth is a luxury of the haves.

The other experience was just as damning but much more subtle. A lady we were talking to at one stall was teasing Eli about trading Liza in for a puppy. (He didn’t want to make the trade, sweet boy!) I made my standard joke about how she would return the baby when it was feeding time. She looked at me as if I were suddenly not speaking English. “You mean, she doesn’t take a bottle?”

The working poor can’t afford to nurse their children even though it’s less expensive to breastfeed. They can’t take the time off work to nurse or to take breaks to pump milk. Nursing is also a luxury of the haves. Breastfeeding is something educated women are able to do because they either have a good enough job that they can afford to jump through all the hoops breastfeeding entails, or their spouses make enough money to support them staying home to care for their children. In my community breastfeeding is a norm.

I wondered if there were actual statistics to back me up on this and indeed the CDC comes through again. Check out especially Maternal Education, Maternal Marital Status, and Poverty Income Ratio.

And here’s a truly amazing graph I ran across while looking for my statistics. See what floor you live on. Are you a have-not? I’m guessing you aren’t if you are reading this at home on your computer. A have-less? A have-more?

The gulf between where I live and Ardmore is so wide it’s personally embarrassing for me. Before Sunday I had forgotten how blessed I am in every single aspect of my life and that’s embarrassing. I had forgotten how close to my own door the have-nots live. And that’s the most embarrassing thing of all.

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6 Comments

  1. Joyous
    on September 5, 2007 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Dang it all, you’ve provoked me into a comment too long to post here.
    http://joyeuse13.livejournal.com/369720.html

  2. on September 6, 2007 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Well, we will always have the poor with us. It’s just how we choose to shape society to attempt to level the playing field that truly matters. What a daunting moral obligation, eh?

  3. on September 6, 2007 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks Joyous, I liked your post too. I don’t like what divorce does to health care for kids and your post and people’s responses to it, bear witness to that.

    Geof, that’s the part that I have problems with. How do I address this problem? I’ve been thinking this morning that I wanted to do some research on organizations that do dental care for children, maybe through the school systems. One of the statistics I read said that poor children miss more school due to dental-related illness than more well off children. So why can’t we get these kids the care they need at/through school?

  4. LB
    on September 6, 2007 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Our church has set up a free medical clinic in in the inner city here in Little Rock. A retired doctor in our congregation started it.

    I believe these types of services to the “have nots” should be a major focus of the church in the U.S., but it seems that more focus is on missions outside our country. Don’t know why that is.

  5. duchess
    on September 6, 2007 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    The post made me think. Perhaps it’s because my parents come from a truly have-not background, and perhaps it’s because my extended family (overseas) and friends (here) are still in the have-not category, but I have been able to maintain an awareness of the gulf between my current life and what exists, as you say, “next door.” I always did wonder, though, why so much of the volunteer and religious focus (regardless of the faith) seems to be aimed for the overseas – doctors going to sub-Sahara Africa to make medical rounds, donating old glasses, etc, when there’s so much that needs to be done here. One of my uncle-doctors work in Tennessee, and he is always talking about how he and his colleagues regularly drive into rural Mississippi to offer free nutrition advice and preventive care. He always pounds the table and says, “They live in the richest country in the world, and they aren’t any better off than our people back home!” I think encouraging local organizations, whether it’s a business group, or a school volunteer group, to look nearby is one step towards not forgetting the divide.

    I came to a similar realization about breast-feeding being something only the well-off can do nowadays, too. A little jarring and sad, isn’t it?

  6. on September 6, 2007 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Duchess, the joke in Arkansas has long been that whatever low rank Arkansas holds for any given statistic, we can say, “At least we still beat Mississippi!” The southern states are very poor. And I am nearly to the point that I want my missionary money and time to go to those here in our own country that need help so badly.