Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Ironic Cherry... Reads

For those of us who really don't understand why people are fussing about the minimum wage, and complain when someone on food stamps buys steak, and get touchy when a checkout clerk doesn't smile and enjoy our small talk, Linda Tirado is here to clear things up.  In Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, Tirado takes us into her world.

For those of us fortunate enough to never have had to live without -- or need -- a safety net, or worse, to be living in an America where poverty is suspect and scorned, we are reminded (as so many have been in the last decade) that many of us are one mishap away from her world.  She reminds us that while we all talk about whether or not to raise minimum wage, there are a slew more of us who are living near enough to minimum wage to be enduring the same nightmare of trying to survive on not enough.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of Nickel and Dimed:  On (Not) Getting By in America, wrote the introduction, and that is as is should be.  Ehrenreich opened a lot of eyes in 2001 when she published the book describing her experiences going undercover and working several of the low-wage jobs that incredibly have only grown and gotten worse.  We apparently have a great ability in this country to hide the poor, and pretend that either they don't exist or they deserve what they got.

And Linda Tirado has had it.  The book is in the form of a rant, and it is one of the all-time great rants.  You want to know why that clerk at the dollar store is short with you?  How about she's been on her feet all day, has a sick kid at home, is in physical pain herself, is worried about how she is going to get home -- or get to her second job in time?  She describes the impossible but everyday circumstances of the working poor:  getting a car towed and then watching the cost to reclaim it skyrocket because she can't get there right away or doesn't have the money to get it back; dental problems that are ignored to the point of constant agonizing pain; juggling the demands of your children's schools and employers who demand that job comes first (to the point where you can't hold a second job because you are required to be always available even for a part-time job).

And then there are the frustrations of trying to move forward:  not being able to afford the clothes that would be acceptable at an interview; inadequate transportation; needing to take time from the job that is paying that small but necessary wage to look for those better jobs; not being able to get additional training because it would require time and money you don't have.

And then there are the legislators who we are paying a pretty decent salary (and benefits) who are passionate about not giving a dime to help those who are struggling just to try to get their heads above water.

And the anti-abortion wackos who will make it their life's work to prevent working women from attempting to have some control over whether and when to have a child, but don't want to spend a penny to help a woman who wants a child have better nutrition, better working conditions, better health care.  (Tirado talks about not having a doctor for her first child and the condemnation she received for not taking care of herself while pregnant.  The second -- planned -- pregnancy was met alternately with criticism for having a second child she couldn't afford, and anti-abortion crusaders taunting her as she walked into the Planned Parenthood clinic for her free check-up.  She gleefully recounts her brush with the protesters:

...they kept telling me, "You don't have to do this" and "You have options."  Since I was arriving at the clinic for my first ultrasound to make sure that the baby was healthy, I had a ball pretending to be outraged that they obviously wanted me to abort my baby.

Bathroom breaks.   That's right, there are jobs where employees have to ask for permission to use the bathroom.  If you find that hard to believe, you have definitely been out of the low-wage marketplace for too long.  I remember way back in 1970 doing "piece-work" in a factory (another whole way to abuse employees) and getting into trouble for going to the ladies' room before break-time.  The only way we have allowed that barbaric policy to continue is by refusing to believe that it happens.

Some reviewers of this book are a little put out by the language, others see Tirado as too strident.  I think I know what she would say to that, and I wholeheartedly agree.  This book started with an online rant, which led to a sizable amount of donations, and this book.  Some really snarky idiots have complained that that means Tirado is no longer working poor, and therefore has no business complaining that the working poor are stuck in poverty.  Yeah, that's pretty much how we ended up in a country with working poor, and no where to go but to those same dead-end jobs day in and day out.

And the future for the children of the working poor?  Well, Tirado will tell you how grim that story is too.

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