Time Poverty: A Real Burden

Ken Liu

Motivational speakers are fond of saying we all have the same 24 hours in a day, so "I don't have time" is not a good excuse. Sure, that’s a great inspirational message for those who have the luxury of time. But for people in financial poverty, "time poverty" is another real burden that weighs down their lives.

Lawyers in private practice who record their days in six-minute increments are all too aware that time equals money. But the flip side is also true - money equals time. And because poor people don’t have money, that results in a lack of time. For instance, those who can’t afford a car must rely on public transportation. A trip that takes 20 minutes by car can be double or even triple that by bus. This lack of time is not merely a nuisance; it often leads to injustice.

A single mom working two jobs might have to haul her kids across town to the only affordable babysitter she can find, then get to another part of town before her 7am shift. If she can’t find parking, she may rack up a slew of parking tickets she can’t afford, not have time to show up for traffic court, and end up with her license suspended, or worse, even jail time. That leads to her getting fired because she can’t get to her job, resulting in a downward spiral into poverty. Millions of Americans face these struggles everyday.

Lawyers serving the poor often get frustrated when their clients are late to meetings, arrive unprepared, or seem distracted. We think they don't respect our valuable time. But do we respect theirs?