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The High Cost of Poverty: Why the Poor Pay More

He puts back the liter of soda. Puts back the paper towels. Sets aside $9 worth of hot fried chicken wings. He returns $13 worth of groceries. "Y'all got some high prices in this [expletive]," he says, standing in Aisle 4, blue shirt over work clothes.

The clerk suggests that he take his cash off the conveyor belt, because if she moves the belt the money will be carried into the machinery. Then the money will be gone.

Carter, a building engineer, snatches up the money, then gives it to the clerk. His final bill is $39.07.

He looks at the receipt and then announces without the slightest indication as to why: "Just give me all my [expletive] money back. It's too high in this [expletive]." The clerk calls the supervisor, who comes over. The supervisor doesn't argue with Carter. She just starts the process of giving him a refund.

"I want my money back. This [expletive] is too high. My grandmother told me about this store."

The supervisor returns $39.07 in cash. "Sir," she says, "have a blessed day."

The food in this supermarket might be cheaper than the goods at a corner store. But Carter still feels frustrated by what he thinks is a mark-up on prices in supermarkets in poor neighborhoods. Carter walks out.

The poor pay in other ways, ways you might never imagine. Jeanette Reed, who is retired and lives on a fixed income, sold her blood when she needed money. "I had no other source to get money," she says. "I went to the blood bank. And they gave me $30.

"I needed the money. I didn't have the money and no source of getting money. No gas. No food. I have to go to a center that gives out boxes of food once a month. They give you cereal or vouchers for $10. They give you canned tuna and macaroni and cheese. Crackers and soup. They give you commodities like day-old bread."

The poor know the special economics of their housing, too.

"You pay rent that might be more than a mortgage," Reed says. "But you don't have the credit or the down payment to buy a house. Apartments are not going down. They are going up. They say houses are better, cheaper. But how are you going to get in a house if you don't have any money for a down payment?"

There is also an economic cost to living in low-income neighborhoods.


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