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Informed Poverty
In Real Life, poverty is a hard thing. People live from paycheck to paycheck, having to skimp on meals and healthcare, and having to live in poor conditions, if they aren't homeless entirely. In works of fiction, though, this isn't always the case.

Informed Poverty is when a character is stated to be poor, but in fact seems very well off. In some works, if a character doesn't live in a mansion and have an expensive car, they can be considered poor. In works where a teenager is supposed to be in a poor family, it's common for this "poverty" to be shown by them not having cars (or at least not having new ones) and having to work to afford luxuries. It's rare for them to be shown working to pay for necessities like food and house bills. The viewer is usually expected to accept the character's status as "poor" because all the other characters are filthy rich. This trope is more common in works aimed at teenagers. From a filming standpoint, this trope is usually in play because it's easier to film in large homes and sets, though it still doesn't justify having a pristine interior and exterior, fancy furniture, or multiple cars. Poor characters are also often seen as more sympathetic, so the "poor" label may be tossed on for that reason.

There may sometimes be some Values Dissonance with this trope. What is considered poor for some places may be seen as normal or even wealthy for others. For example, in the United States, houses tend to be larger than in many other countries.

Related to Friends Rent Control, where characters live in homes they shouldn't logically be able to afford. Also closely related to Pottery Barn Poor, where characters have large homes and nice furniture even if they're supposed to be poor. Bath of Poverty avoids this trope.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • In-universe example in Ouran High School Host Club. The fabulously wealthy host club members believe that Haruhi lives in abject poverty, but when they finally visit her home, it turns out she and her father live a fairly normal working-class existence. While they do talk about money being tight, they're not destitute.

    Film 
  • In Pretty in Pink, Andie is stated to be poor and even gets picked on for it, but she lives in a nice little house and even has her own (pink!) car. We're supposed to believe she's poor because all the other kids in the school are filthy rich.
  • In Some Kind of Wonderful, it's a similar situation to the above. The "poor" characters don't really have it that all that bad, and are really only considered poor because the other kids drive Corvettes and don't have to work for their college fund.
  • Done in She's All That. Lanley gets teased by the bullies with comments like "Isn't your dad my pool man?", yet when we see her house, it's actually very nice and could easily go for a good deal of money in real life.
  • A weird example in Life As A House, Kevin Klines character is a middle-aged architect who lives in a run down house and the movie takes place in a supposedly middle-class neighborhood. The problem is that kind of real estate on the edge of a cliff with a view of the ocean anywhere in California would be obscenely valuable.
  • Roger Ebert on Because of Winn-Dixie:
    "It is one of those parties you see only in the movies, where the people may be poor, but they have an unlimited budget for candles. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe, all over the yard outside Miss Gloria's house."
  • A variation in The Craft. Nancy is essentially white trash and visibly lives in a trailer. Yet she owns a rather large amount of goth clothes, jewellery and accessories. It's implied she's a shoplifter but she can't have gotten all those nice things from shoplifting. However, costume jewellery and thrift store clothing can go a long way.
    • It also helps that after her stepfather dies and her mother collects on his life insurance, she starts wearing much nicer clothes, even if they fit the same goth aesthetic as her old ones.
  • One of the problems with Daddy Day Care is that it stars a couple who are visibly quite well-off, living in a McMansion and driving matching his-and-hers BMW SUVs... and then when the husband loses his job, they're scared how they'll get by. Did we mention that they only have one kid? Maybe we're meant to assume that they're financially irresponsible and went deep into debt to afford their lifestyle...

    Literature 
  • One of the problems given by critics of Eragon. The main character's family is supposedly very poor, but they are given money to waste on trinkets and are described with relatively lavish dinners. They also seem to own an enormous amount of land and live in quite a large house.
  • Septimus Heap. Despite being called a poor Wizard family, the Heaps notably seem to lack any financial trouble.
  • Little Women is likely to strike the modern reader as this trope due to Values Dissonance; it's hard for 21st c. girls to see a family with a live in servant as 'poor' even if the older girls have to get jobs rather than just sit around the house looking pretty until marriage.
  • The Weasleys in Harry Potter are constantly described as being a poor family. In practice, this is usually comes down to them having lots of hand-me-downs and secondhand supplies. They live in a big house, always have plenty of food for their large family (and frequently Harry and Hermione as well), and are never mentioned to be in debt.

    Live-Action Television 
  • The Chances from Raising Hope are poor, but get to live in a pretty nice house by taking advantage of their senile grandmother. What isn't explained is how they can afford many of the things they buy, though it is implied that a lot of their possessions (like the computer) were acquired by Burt and Virginia through their jobs, and another episode showed Virginia is an Extreme Couponer. Virginia and the other maids all fight over the stuff that the very rich people they clean for throw out, as the computer was an older desktop is possible she got it that way.
    • Their house isn't even that nice...It is clean-ish but clearly is decaying, with paint coming off the doors, old thread-bare carpets, and old furniture and appliances that look considerably worn.
  • Maddie from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody constantly complains about being poor as dirt, but when you actually get to see the apartment that her family lives in, it's not bad at all. Likely supposed to be seen as poor because she's being compared to her crazy-rich friend who constantly goes on shopping sprees, while Maddie *gasps* has to work to get luxuries.
  • Wallace and Veronica from Veronica Mars fit this trope. Wallace's house is huge and the worst Veronica has to put up with are cold showers, yet they're both supposed to be "lower class."
  • Gossip Girl has the Humphreys. They aren't upper crust, but they are definitely played up as being poor.
  • 2 Broke Girls tries to avert this trope by regularly pointing out that two waitresses have to spend all their money on rent and food, and they have to obtain any additional spending money by working extra jobs or by selling a possession. The one area where the trope is played straight is with Caroline's horse, which is a leftover from her days as a rich heiress. With their income, they should never be able to afford to maintain and feed the horse. The horse ends up Put on a Bus and sent to a farm outside the city.
  • The Bundys of Married... with Children. A running gag is that Al earns next to nothing at the shoe store and drives a 20-year-old wreck of a Dodge, yet they live in a large, two-story house in a neighborhood that is at least nice enough for their wealthy next-door neighbors.
  • Mike and Susan in the last season of Desperate Housewives. They rent out their house to move into a cheap apartment, are prepared to do anything for extra cash, and claim to be in terrible poverty, but at the end of the day they're living in a large, comfortable, attractive flat and don't seem to have changed their lifestyle at all.

    Webcomics 
  • Dork Tower: Matt is an unemployed, unpopular cartoonist, Igor is running on a scholarship for a fictitious course and the occasional bribe from the U.S. military to never enlist, ever, and Carson is a talking muskrat. And Igor buys everything - videogames, new pen and paper games, a metric ton of D20 modules, and so on - usually by raiding the rent jar. Despite this, the only actual penalties they seem to suffer are occasional references to cheap food, selling plasma, and being unable to afford something they end up having a few strips later anyway; they regularly visit conventions, keep up with geek culture movies and their DVD releases and are seen playing dozens, if not hundreds, of different games over the strip's history. Either Ken, the only one with an actual paying job, is very generous, or this trope is going on.
  • Ménage à 3: The lead characters don't suffer from informed poverty so much as informed mediocre jobs. Aside from a couple of successful models, the primary cast are mostly waitresses, a call centre worker (who may be making a bit more money, but who spends it all on geeky collectibles), a comics shop assistant (hired with minimal negotiation, albeit as "counter candy"), and similar. But the lead trio share what looks like a nice apartment, seem to have adequate free time, and rarely worry where the next month's rent is coming from — despite their landlady being a serious hardass who greets new tenants not with "Hello" but rather "JOB?!?!"
    • Likewise, waitress Sonya can afford her own apartment, in a building with its own swimming pool.
    • There is some truth in television to all this, as depending on where one lives in Montreal, where the comic takes place, one can get a decently sized apartment for not a very high rent.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Family Guy where Chris goes to an expensive, private boarding school, he tells his roommates that he's poor. While one could make the argument that he's poor compared to the other students there, it's a little jarring that he's so quick to call himself "poor" when his family has two cars and a nice, large two-story house. One episode had them mention that they got the house as part of a settlement with a condom company, so their ability to have such a large house may stem from that.
    • This is lampshaded in one episode when Joe wonders how Peter can afford things like a helicopter.
  • An in-universe example in American Dad!. Unlike other examples on this page, it doesn't try to make the viewer believe the characters are poor, instead hangs a lampshade on the characters viewing themselves as "poor". Stan Smith is very well off and isn't afraid to show off, to the point where he invites his half-brother Rusty and his family over every Thanksgiving to brag about the stuff he has. Later, he visits Rusty's home and finds out that Rusty is a billionaire: anything Stan has, Rusty has it times a thousand. Suddenly Stan and the rest of his family (excluding Hayley, who had run off a few episodes prior) start complaining about how little they had because they were comparing themselves to Rusty.
  • Done in The Simpsons. While many episodes claim they're in the lower income bracket and that they have many financial problems (probably thanks in part due to Homer being a reckless spender), the family lives in a large two-story house, each child has their own (big) bedroom and the family has two cars (though one is in a constant state of disrepair). They also seem to be able to afford to travel a lot, even when one ignores the trips they got for free.
    • The Simpsons do have the occasional bit of luck on their side to help account for this. Homer initially couldn't afford the house, but Grandpa agreed to sell the house he won in a crooked game show to help Homer's family.
    • This is partially an example of Seasonal Rot: early seasons portrayed the Simpsons' socioeconomic standing much more realistically (such as the episode in which Homer impulsively buys Lisa a pony, and then has to work the night shift at the Kwik-E-Mart in addition to his day job at the power plant in order to pay for its upkeep), but this element was largely dropped in later seasons.

     Real Life 
  • In Real Life, a 2012 British survey revealed that the population thought a family of four needed £37,000 per year just for necessities. If you were to classify people living below that line as "poor", then some poor families are able to have two cars, a flatscreen TV, a house with the mortgage paid off, a mobile phone for everyone in the family, and so on.
  • People who spend a lot of time around very wealthy people sometimes ending up believing that they're poor because they're comparing themselves to people on the upper tier. Alternately, some people only appear wealthy because they spend a lot on luxuries to "keep up with the Joneses", even though this causes them to struggle financially. So when one hangs around with a lot of people like that, he may find himself thinking he's not very well off when in actuality, the people he's comparing himself to really aren't much wealthier than him, they just have poor spending habits and the collection of material goods just make them appear rich.
    • Sometimes this very trope, when seen in TV and movies, can cause people to believe they're poor for the same reasons. When a family on TV that is supposedly struggling financially manages to afford cars, a big house or apartment, the latest electronics and plenty of vacations, a viewer might think he must be really poor because he can't get those things.
  • Black Friday sales, savings, gifts, etc., are also things that happen to poor people that allow them to have nice things. You might be living bill to bill and barely scraping by, but have an iPhone that you got free from the phone company, a computer you got on Black Friday, and a car that was a gift from your parents. Most of which, in this day and age, are necessities for having a job, same as nice clothing. Poor people are allowed to have nice things. It doesn't mean they're not poor.
  • As current issues of inter-class strife in the US illustrate, it's becoming increasingly clear that most upper-middle-class and upper-class Americans simply have no idea what actual poverty is like.


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