Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America
Poor People Don't Plan Long Term. We'll Just Get Our Hearts Broken
I read this book last week and it described my life. The author does have some differences, she has children and the health to work multiple jobs. I do wish it had a chapter on those who lost their health or struggled on disability but overall she talked about the life of the poor in America in a realistic way. The soul-sucking dead end jobs that lead nowhere and sometimes pay so little they don't even pay for the gas to get there. The abuses that go with low-level jobs, from customers and bosses who don't care that you live on nothing and won't even accommodate the schedule for your second and third job that you need to keep a roof over your head.
I saw some guy commenting on this article, stating very succinctly, the jobs have gotten so bad, the poor have lost motivation to work, and he is right. Who wants to wake up everyday to abuse? The boredom of low wage work is something I remember. There is nothing to engage the mind. You are their robot with a fake smile. You are the human machine taking plastic pieces out of a plastics machine to box them up. My favorite low wage job was salad girl, left to cook salads in the kitchen, having to fill up the salad bar and being left alone, but that one was a rarity compared to the ones who even tried to script each word I said on the phone to telemarket or as a fast food cashier. That is the secret of low-wage work many of the rich don't realize, they treat you like trash and a throwaway. If the boss wakes up having a bad day, they will fire you and the "at-will" employment rules they've decided to destroy most of the lower tiers will mean you have no rights to protest.
I even find myself warning people with grown children, "Don't let them work that dead end job, help them get a decent job because the dead end jobs while they may keep you off the street in the immediate lead to NOWHERESVILLE." I know I majorly erred when young in following the advice from the wealthier, "Do what you love" and having a college degree and being forced to clean toilets was no fun. College today is no guarantee even for the more "practical" degrees. Take it from a woman, me, who worked at Arby's, a temp at a factory, a home health aide, a cleaner, and a multitude of dead end jobs I'd rather forget, today's menial jobs destroy the soul. Even my last job I worked before I was disabled was a daily trip to Hades. Fat Aspies with severe medical problems don't get the nice suburban or even rural teaching jobs, they do jobs no one else wants. I remember the hundreds of resumes, the endless nicely suited wealthy people who ruined my life telling me I wasn't "a good fit" and watched this happen to my husband, who managed a few working class newspaper jobs until the sharks grew in power.
One thing and the author talks about this, when you are poor, you don't have the right clothes or the right car. That is enough to lose the bid for the better jobs. I wrote the other day that I'm an outsider artist because I can't afford the entrance fees--often around 40-80 bucks for regular art shows nor the fancy framing they expect. It's the same for clothes. If you can't produce a wonderful wardrobe, even if you get one outfit to get the job in the first place, maintaining this is very difficult. I had times in my life during my weight gain, and I was working the awful job knowing I had absolutely nothing to wear and I actually got written up for having bad clothes, even though the job barely kept me off the street. How does one win in that? Skinnier people can get cheap clothes at thrift but fat ones cannot.
The menial jobs don't offer any loyalty or a safe life as nowadays, no one is allowed to be full time and they cut your hours according to the business coming in. As I have written here, I believe the jobs system is failing. The jobs are a joke, middle class jobs that actually support a family growing rarer then ever. The baby-boomers and beyond really are 47 times wealthier. I watch some of the people around here and wonder, how did they get those nice homes? How did they get that nice furniture, those trips? The endless knick-knacks on the shelf? Those new cars every two years? The rich live in a world I don't even understand. Their lives are a vista of opportunities, babies and children they could afford to take care of, and happiness. The thing I envy the most however is the feeling of belonging they have. I suppose someone cast out of their own family definitely would feel this.
The author also gets nails the depression of poverty. The positivity patrol expects the serfs to smile, but many of us serfs are suffering. When you are poor there is less to look forward to. That is the fact of the matter. Sure some of us brave souls venture out into the world doing art and photography to belie our pain, hanging out within 10 miles of home calling it a "day trip", fortunately I live in a place with some good scenery, but the life of the poor is always an "endless cycle of no".
"But still we're told to keep smiling and to be grateful for the chance to barely survive while being blamed for not succeeding. Whether or not that's actually true isn't even relevant that's what it feels like. Unwinnable. Sisyphean.
"Responsible poverty is an endless cycle of no. No, you can't have that.. You can't do that, can't afford that, can't eat that, can't choose that. This is off limits, and that is not for you, and this over here is meant for different kinds of people. More than once I've spent money I couldn't really afford simply to state that I could, if only to myself. Just to say it."
She talks about life with no medical care and her bad teeth which worsen and embarrass her. I found dental care via a charity program for the disabled. Without it, my own teeth were busily rotting out as I hadn't seen a dentist in 15-20 years. This nice dentist continued me past the year's worth of care too. Of course you all have already heard my sordid story of having to use the ER to keep me breathing and the thousands in medical bills I ran up. I don't take for granted being able to get medicines or a nebulizer now, because I remember the days where I could not get those things and how horrific it was.
The book explores the life of renting and how bad that can be when you are living in endless flophouses and rented rooms. She talks about how easy it is to get roaches in today's poorer apartments and it's true and now we all have to worry about bedbugs, which I live in terror of even checking every library book that comes in my apartment. I pay a rent I really can't afford to avoid the troubles of a cheaper place, namely noise and the threat of being a crime victim. When I lived in the ghetto the water wasn't clean, drug dealers rented an apartment down the hall to deal from. I'm too old and sick to take the bullcrap but realizing that almost half of our income is going to rent that rises every year and utilities alone is a bit scary.
It was nice to read a book, where someone was allowed to talk about how life really is for the poor. Our numbers are growing but in American society usually the poor are invisible. I know living in a more affluent community, we often feel alone in our suffering. It does drag you down. She is right that a "million things" remind you that you are poor everyday. Of course we are blamed, even as we struggle daily. Many poor people are told they are "losers" and "bums". We are told we "did everything wrong". I think to myself, why couldn't my husband have one nice boss who enhanced his career? Why did I have to deal with so many jerks, who were cruel to me even as I grew sicker?
Last night I was watching the TV show Intervention watching one of the drug addicts visit his relatives upper middle class homes, and had the thought, maybe he is getting blitzed every night knowing he never could catch up. I am against drugs and don't do them, but I think a lot of the poor turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate the inner psychic pain.
This week, I have to go to a food pantry most likely on Saturday morning. I can't afford glasses and everything is growing more blurry which since I am already deaf, is bringing some tendrils of severe worry into my heart. Life becomes a constant litany of putting things off, or seeking charity when you are poor, and bills that feel like they will crush you. Everything is an emergency, you live on the edge of it all crashing and it takes a major toll on your health and emotions.
Sometimes I and my husband sit down and have these discussions, "How did this happen to us?". "Why does there feel there will be so little hope?" "How can we change it?" and we are stumped. Sure many have advice to "change it" but the lack of a decent-paying job for my husband with actual benefits is the main problem. Now he could be looking at disability himself with growing health problems. Sometimes I have worried he got tossed out because of me and my medical costs on any supplemental insurance. I don't think I am paranoid to have these thoughts in today's shark infested world.
Poverty brings so many losses to one's life, I am glad a book was honest about it all.