It Sucks to Be Poor in America

I beg to disagree

SHOULD the goal of public policy be to insure that all Americans can have good jobs — or good lives? Politicians of both parties say one thing. Policy experts of both parties say another.

Politicians routinely promise that, if elected, they will create more good jobs, which are understood to be jobs with solid wages, regular hours and, perhaps, generous employer-provided benefits. …

… Far from the campaign stops, in university and think tank offices, the emerging consensus is quite different: Americans should be able to enjoy good lives, even if they have “bad” jobs — jobs with low wages, irregular hours and no employer-provided benefits. Bipartisan experts tend to agree that the decline in employer-provided benefits and the rise of unconventional work arrangements are trends that should be accommodated, by reforms including new portable benefits and expanded income maintenance programs, like tax credits for low-income workers.

For several decades, this consensus has been reflected in what legislators have actually been doing. Slowly, incrementally, Americans have been moving away from a system in which a good job with a generous employer was the key to having a good life to a new system in which even people with low-wage jobs can have access to the basic goods and services that define a decent life in a modern society.

Seriously? From what I’ve seen, people with low-wage jobs and no benefits have access to shit. On what planet is this wondrous transformation taking place? I’m not seeing it. Here in Real World Land, those without money are just SOL. And isn’t there all kinds of data saying that financial insecurity leads to broken marriages and drug abuse and whatnot? I think there is.

Portable benefits sound fine, but how is it supposed to work? Ultimately you’d need at least some kind of government program supporting it. A national health care system would help a lot, for example.

I realize that we may be heading for a bright new future in which “jobs” are no longer the basis of the economy, but so far I haven’t seen anybody replace “jobs” with anything but rhetoric. The Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers is nice (for families; if you are filing as a single adult you’re screwed), but in my experience it really doesn’t help that much. It makes the difference between barely hanging on, or not.

What do you think?

17 thoughts on “It Sucks to Be Poor in America

  1. I think that column is a bad joke!

    “Americans have been moving away from a system in which a good job with a generous employer was the key to having a good life to a new system in which even people with low-wage jobs can have access to the basic goods and services that define a decent life in a modern society.”

    This is conservative code for, “Well, a lot of “the poor’s” in America have HDTV’s, cell phones, microwaves, and refrigerators – even cars! So, how “poor” can they be?”

    Never mind that in today’s world. access to cell phones is critical. Especially as companies change the workers job hours daily – I’m looking at YOU Walmart and other “big-box” stores!

    And refrigerators and microwaves are also necessary, because many people work more than one or two jobs, just to be able to make it to the following week/month!
    They shop once a week, cook, and store what they’ve made in the fridge, to be microwaved later. Or, they buy ready to eat (crap) meals, that only need to be microwaved.

    As for cars, since in most of non-urban America, there is little functioning public transportation – and what little there is, certainly isn’t timely or convenient! And even many cities have poor public transportation systems.

    And cars use up a lot of money – gas, insurance, repairs, etc.

    As for HDTV’s, the prices have dropped so much that maybe someday soon, I’ll be able to get one for my Mom.

    Utter conservative bullshit!
    Or, is it “udder” cowshit?

  2. I had to go back and make sure he was describing America.

    And “bad jobs” are poisonous and destructive period.

  3. Kurt Vonnegut’s “reeks and wrecks”! Current outsourcing was just a prelude, since automation is happening in even China and Mexico.

    How bout bread and circuses? Soylent green and virtual circuses? Of course, any remaining conservatives won’t have much to say about such big gubmint when the mob gets that big.

  4. I think The Venus Project is the answer, but fat chance of a non- capitalist society that benefits all mankind ever standing a snow ball’s chance in hell.

  5. The puppet masters need for the peons to recognize what a good deal they have – how it’s all their idea, it’s good for everyone, and they need to be content. This is an attempt at PR damage control. I suspect that French aristocrats were told that all was good and the villagers were happy before the Bastille.

    The question is not whether the system will endure – it can not – but in what form the change will sweep away the system. It may be peaceful or it may be chaotic – but the idea that PR can hold back the tide is an illusion.

    Halfway House in Tampa. Will be around from time to time. Glad to see y’all are having fun without me.

  6. DOUG!!i T

    I tried to write several letters and send them, but with the arthritis in my hands and fingers, even I COULDN’T READ WHAT I WROTE!!!!

    I can still type, thankfully!

    But I have not printer, since it died a few years ago.

  7. I’m at a stage in life where I’m pretty comfy financially, at least compared to what I’ve been most of the time. I’m retired. I can now travel a fair amount, I can buy most whatever kind of food I like; I don’t need to worry about unexpected repair bills, etc. Yet even so there’s some incredibly annoying things in life that just don’t have to be. I do taxes each year and since I now have some investments they’re a little more complicated than they used to be for me, but the IRS has it in their power to make them incredibly easy. They’ve corrected my mistakes a couple times in the past few years (in my favor) which only reminds me that they could do what Denmark does and send me out a completed tax form for me to either accept and sign or edit. They don’t because they can’t, because our Congress has made it illegal for them to do that so that H&R Block and Intuit (the main lobbyists on the issue) can make more money. They make money by making me and millions of other Americans waste hours of our time with our tax returns. They make money by giving us grief.

    I’m also going through the decisions surrounding which Medicare-supplemental providers I want to use. It shouldn’t cost me cash, but it’s taking hours of my time wading through literally dozens of possible providers’ offerings. You know what my girlfriend had to do when she turned 65 in Canada? nothing. Even when she first signed up for their medical system it was a matter of showing them her birth certificate and ID and… done.

    These things are annoying. At best. And I have time, and money enough. There’s loads of people in my situation with neither, and their lives are harder than mine just because a bunch of rich assholes decided their lives should be hard. And the stuff I just complained about is the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg that most Americans can’t avoid running into. An iceberg that shouldn’t even be there.

  8. First of all, It’s good to hear from you Doug. We all wish you the best and hope that you will find some way of using the time to do good works. You seem like the kind of person who keeps at the work of making the world better despite the cards that you’ve been dealt.

    I lived in Tampa for many years, I hope you get to move around a bit, Doug. It reminds me of the old joke about entering a contest where the first prize was one week in Tampa and the second prize was two weeks in Tampa.

    JDM, I’m still dithering about Medicare, but, I think I’m pretty close to choosing.

    My neighborhood is mostly fairly secure working class people. They work hard, started small businesses, usually swinging hammers. Their wives keep the books or work at Walmart, but, they keep their lives pretty simple, and somehow it works. But, there is the classic kind of “good old boy” connections (this is a poor choice of words since the neighborhood, their church and their families are diverse in the sense of including African Americans.) But, without the “connection” and referrals for work, life would be a lot tougher.

    A while ago I wrote about my hardscrabble friend who asked me for a ride to the emergency room one evening. (I respect him a lot for not wanting to waste an ambulance service.) He had pneumonia, I gladly drove him the seven miles to the medical center and offered to give him a ride back. He didn’t want to call me at 3:00 a.m. so he walked the whole seven miles back, with pneumonia, in February. I got to dropping by his house when I was on the way to the grocery, because walking three miles with sacks of groceries is a chore that I’ve largely escaped. That sort of difficulty would wear most of us out.

    He was basically a smart, hardworking guy who was always willing to work for some extra cash. But, whenever he put some money together, and I’m not talking about more than twenty or thirty dollars, he’d repay debts with it or lose it one way or the other. The old saying that it’s “expensive to be poor” is as true as sayings come, and it’s shameful.

    I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t have answered the phone at 3:00 a.m. anyway.

  9. @goatherd I think you’ve stated the great open secret of life in modern America. “Connections.” I recall reading a column by Megan McCardle years ago in which she described how she found employment after her first attempt at a career disintegrated. Connections. The connections she made at her college and her Daddy’s connections from the time he was a regulator of contractors in New York City (he also spent some time as a contractor himself, using the connections he made while working for the city government). The difference between the 0.01% and the 1% isn’t education, or skill, it’s connections. If you can make the right connections, your life is secure, you can always get out of whatever bad place you find yourself in, you will never starve. I was lucky to be born into a solidly middle-class family, so I got the implicit connections, the language, the behavior, the “values,” that made my way so much easier, that made me recognizable as a member of the tribe. As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

  10. The financial insecurity = bad social outcomes isn’t proven – but it was seen that in recently impoverished (generally white) communities, a lot of the same outcomes that “hold back black people from success” were observed. So there’s very strong correlation.

    I don’t quite fathom the mind that can suggest that we’re moving toward a nation where good things go to all, because Republicans pay lip service to EITC and the Democrats push it because it has the best chance of actually happening.

    We *should* be moving toward the world where “a good job” isn’t the key to a decent life. There are fewer and fewer people needed to keep the world running smoothly, so we need to look at a system where people don’t have to work 40 hours a week to have good food, shelter, medical care, and some measure of security.

    But the notion that this is *happening* is like claiming that “we’re finally taking global warming seriously”. It’s a nice thought, but, “dude, what *universe* do you inhabit that you look at the US and think that’s happening?”

  11. I agree, Procopius, I had the opposite problem with implicit connections, and I guess that I have always been a bit eccentric, so I didn’t interview well. It took a long time to find my first break. I sure fell lucky when I did.

    I remember Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines forecasting big changes ahead with what we all used to call “automation.” But, I think with the level of technology that we have and the level to come shortly, “there will be fewer people needed to keep the world running,” as LHW wrote. So, if life is going to be tolerable for the majority of us, big changes will have to be made. I wish I were smart enough to know what those changes would be, but, I have some ideas. unfortunately, none of them seem probable.

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