Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Something Fishy This Way Comes

There was an article in the Seattle Times, via the Washington Post, that set out to tell us why it's expensive to be poor in the United States these days. It's an interesting peice, but it seems to veer into advocacy, rather than journalism.

For example, at one point, the spotlight is on "check-cashing and payday-loan joints," which are accused of targeting the poor. (Who uses the term "joint" in formal writing that way?)

An angry Lenwood Brooks walks out of a check-cashing place in Washington, D.C. "They charged me $15 to cash a $300 check," he says.

Why didn't he go to a bank? He says he lost his driver's license and now his regular bank "won't recognize me as a human. That's why I had to come here. It's a rip-off, but it's like a convenience store. You pay for the convenience."
Okay - there's something missing from this narrative. Presumably, despite the fact that Brooks had a "regular bank," he didn't have any accounts there. Otherwise, he could simply use ATM machines for deposits and withdrawals, and not need to deal with a teller and show ID. And, one might ask, if the check-cashing places are so expensive when compared to banks, why doesn't Brooks replace his driver's license? Unless replacement DC licenses are REALLY expensive, he should break even relatively quickly. And this raises another point. Brooks can go to a check-cashing service and have a check cashed without any government-issued ID. How does the check-cashing service know Brooks is who he says he is? If their standards are lax enough, their potential use in money laundering seems almost like a bigger deal than their fees.

The point of the article is taken. Poor people can wind up paying more for things than better off people, because of a variety of factors. But using personal anecdotes to make that point seems to lack a certain amount of impact, and often raises more questions than it answers.

No comments: