Now that we’ve enjoyed the latest jobs report -- nonfarm payrolls grew, blablabla; unemployment is down to 5.8 percent, hahaha -- let’s visit with the invisible people, the barely employed who labor so far from the halls of power they could be microbes on Mars.
Linda Tirado is the perfect guide. The author of “Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America” defines BAD, as in bad teeth, bad habits (smoker!), bad language, bad choices.
Even hustling three jobs -- bartending, canvassing, waitressing -- she barely broke 20 grand.
Bad Linda went briefly off the rails as a teen, dropped out of college and then birthed two babies with husband Tom, another valiant wage slave.
Luck was also bad, until she sat down -- after working all day at one of those jobs where you must ask for permission to pee -- and blogged an answer to one of those questions the non-poor feel compelled to ask.
“Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive?”
When her caustic explanation went viral and turned her into an author, it rather proved one of her main points: Planning is impossible in the chaotic land of the poor.
“Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain,” she writes. “When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.”
As a result, there are things Tirado doesn’t care about. She doesn’t care about whales. Owls don’t interest her, either. She’s glad someone is keeping an eye on the African rhino, but for now endangered humans are top of her list.
Tired All the Time
Those getting minimum wage or a few cents more are barely surviving. “The math doesn’t work.” Why do you expect a smile with that burger?
Just when did we get to be so crummy, cruel and mendacious? Is there anyone who really believes this once great country will collapse if employers paid $15 an hour?
Or ceased stuffing two temps into one full-time job to avoid paying benefits?
Tirado describes what it’s like to be tired all the time. “Rest is a luxury for the rich.” She gets up at six and might be in bed by midnight, unless the car breaks down. Living in a country distrustful of meaningful public transport adds its own layer of torment.
The Dickensian Pence
Fast food and the cigarettes reduce stress. Her comic rumination on why she can’t and won’t cook healthy vegetables made me think of that Dickensian politician, the wondrously named Governor Pence of Indiana, who spent part of the summer trying to deport 245 Central American kids. Pence just issued a message nicely timed to Thanksgiving.
The top Hoosier wants to take away food stamps from childless sloths so they will brush their teeth and walk to the unemployment (so well-named) office. Jobs, he says, are “ennobling.” Let’s starve people until they agree.
Expect to see Pence in the White House in the near future.
Lots of poor folks vote for people like Pence. So liberals often ask: Why do the poor vote Republican?
Tirado explains it. It’s because so many still hold on to the American dream and don’t want to punish a class of people they want to join. Fantasies are sustaining.
She has a 30 year-old friend who expects to worry about capital gains in a decade. Right now he’s working at a big box store.
Another votes GOP because she’s come to accept she will always be poor. So she votes on the issues that matter to her: The Second Amendment (for) and abortion (against).
An Open Letter
“Hand to Mouth” ends with an Open Letter to Rich People on topics like Civic Life, Sex, Parenting. Work kicks off with a question that made me laugh out loud: “What is it with you people and your meetings?”
Folks sit there with 10 percent of their brain engaged, “the remainder being occupied with fantasies of mayhem and whatever song they last heard.”
Nobody remembers a thing, really, and everyone waffles unctuously about the suckiest ideas, as in: “I don’t want you to think I’m opposed because it’s a fantastic idea you had to buy ten crocodiles and set them loose in a school as a publicity stunt, but I just don’t think it will work for us.”
Tirado’s modest proposal to reduce the numbers of American indigents is beautifully simple. It does not require them to be chopped up and packaged for dinner a la Jonathan Swift, whose way of reducing Ireland’s population was to fatten up the tots and feed them to their English overlords.
“I hear rich people complaining about being overworked,” she writes. “I hear poor people complaining about being underemployed. I feel like there is a solution here.”
Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Global Cities at Bloomberg News. Any opinions are her own.