This is the first part of a two part series. The first part discusses poverty in general, especially as it applies to the Occupy Movement. The second part relates poverty to the link between academic achievement and the economy. Tracking the stories we tell each other can reveal societal and cultural priorities. When the middle class was big, strong and vibrant, preachers claimed that when God promised His people abundant life, he meant believers would be healthy and wealthy in today’s world. Now that income inequities have never been greater, churchgoers do not hear the “prosperity” gospel so much. On another front, the US Census Bureau recently modified the determination of poverty levels. However, as Aaron Task points out, media avoids covering the rising rates of poverty in America. I’d like to take the rest of the so-called serious media to task for burying this story. I get that poverty is a depressing topic and a change to how it’s measured is a complicated story to tell.

Blaming the media is easier on the collective ego than each member of the 99% taking personal responsibility for their contribution to the problem. Media companies sell what they perceive consumers want to buy. Bashing the press is great fun. Same with the Occupy Movement. The 1% did not cause the Great Recession all by themselves. 250,000. Remember median income means 50% make more and 50% make less. No, like Pavlov’s dogs, they drooled over the mere thought of those juicy commissions. Remember what your mother said. When you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you. The story is told that Lord Chesterfield famously entered a contest to write the shortest possible essay identifying the biggest problem in the world. “I am.” Members of the 99% who are actually serious must first look to themselves. For example, landlords need to charge fair rent relative to the typical income of tenants, instead of what the market will bear. Tenants need to take good care of other people’s property.

One-sided contracts must be rejected in favor of contracts that promote mutual benefit of both parties. Wherever economic injustice is occurring, the 99% must make their power of their mass felt. For example, close bank accounts with exorbitant fees. Actually, banks should not be charging maintenance fees at all. The depositors own the capital that banks use to make money. For the privilege of use, banks should pay a fair rent, called “interest.” This interest needs to be equal to at least the rate of inflation in order to prevent erosion of value and buying power. If depositors lock up their money in a CD, then the interest rate should be greater than the rate of inflation, increasing with the term length. Reject the bank manager’s insistence that interest rates need to be near zero because the bank is a profit-making business. Paying fair rent for use of someone else’s property is a cost of doing business.

We know what would happen if a store owner told his commercial landlord he was no longer going to pay rent in order to make a profit. We have recently learned the power of consumers in mass when banks canceled their plans to charge monthly debit card fees. What was the consumers main argument? “It should not cost me money to use my own money.” Same goes for maintenance fees and interest rates. Refuse to rent from landlords and property managers who charge rent in excess of the HUD zip-code-based fair market rates. Report poor landlords and their properties to your city. If you are justifiably afraid to do so, go to your local Occupy Movement and find out if someone there can collect a group of anonymous reports from present or former tenants to present to the city hall. If you need a financial adviser, seek out the rare one who not a salesman.

This is hard because certification is less about learning to be a competent adviser and more about getting a license to sell financial products. A clue: an ethical financial adviser will not try to sell you what you do not need, like stocks when you have an insufficient emergency fund. “One critique of the protest is it lacks a unified message or mission. So, sure, maybe the Occupy Wall Street movement is a bit unclear in its views and lacks leadership. But to those who mock the protesters, I have to ask: What exactly is it that you’re defending? Rising income inequality and the slow death of the American dream? March if you want. Sit on the grass if you want. In the meantime, take concrete steps aimed at encouraging the rest of the 99% to resist exploitative, zero-sum type capitalism in favor of fairness. Do not let anyone suggest that fairness is synonymous with entitlement or that other favorite emotional button, socialism.

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