_Nickel and Dimed_ is oldish, but still highly relevant, if you want to read a depressing book.
Well, I know the opposite first hand. The idea that poor are content being poor is totally out of this world, especially in the US where the welfare and "handouts" for poor people are a joke (compared to Western Europe, nordic countries, etc).
>Things work and all you need is to be able to hold a minimum wage job for a few years at a time and when you get fired you can take a few years off while another friend or family member is on deck, meanwhile you're contributing food stamps the whole time, 6 months of an unemployment check, money from a few scams here and there, electricity bill deductions and many other such benefits you can get if you are below the poverty line.
This is crazy talk compared to all the people I've known and listened in such conditions. This is much closer to how poor people working such "minimum wage jobs" actually live:
Yeah, the same way e.g. some people "choose to starve" because they value their notion of dignity more than e.g. getting paid for sexual services, even if they have the looks and they could always resort to that.
People thinking it's just some kind of "choice" really don't understand the problem.
First, let's ignore the (important) fact that the supposed "road to riches" by skipping town/state etc is statistically nothing to write home about even for those that do make the choice. Millions of immigrants that didn't do anything for themselves can attest to that, and the same goes for the rural poor going into the city.
The real problem is the disproportionate amount of such hard choices imposed upon the poor compared to the cushioned people. For some, that's par for the course of being poor, and goes without saying. I'd say that those can't even see the problem.
Cushioned middle/upper middle class/rich people get to value the same things (family, regional ties) just as much or even more, without having to make any sacrifice, just for the sake of (predominantly) being born into such privilege.
They play life in easy mode.
As Anatole France put it, "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread".
(Even worse are the occasional outliers, those who managed to get out of these circumstances -- always a small minority will manage of course -- and attribute it all to their hard work and great choices, and blame the lazy and stupid poor majority for not following on their path).
It's not the poor people's fault that they don't try 2x to 10x harder -- in fact tons work harder than any finger pointing, "hard working" middle/upper class person who criticises them.
Proud of their 60 and 80 hour work weeks programming or doing some office job? Cute, have them try balancing two shitty manual labor low wage gigs, perhaps plus kids and commuting, and also having nothing much to show for it.
Here's how a huge part of the "other half" lives and what they have to put up with, if anyone cares:
>This seems unlikely. Illegal Mexican immigrants have far less, yet don't usually end up homeless.
For a lot of them, that's because they value those things that prevent them from getting rich: family, relatives, etc, so get a support net from that. But even so,
from what I can find:
"Forty percent of the United States homeless populations are under the age of 18, and Hispanics make up 20 percent of the total homeless population".
"African-American and Latino New Yorkers are disproportionately affected by homelessness. Approximately 58 percent of New York City homeless shelter residents are African-American, 31 percent are Latino, 7 percent are white, less than 1 percent are Asian-American, and 3 percent are of unknown race/ethnicity.".
"People of color – particularly African-Americans – are a minority that is particularly overrepresented. According the PBS Homeless Fact and Figures ’07, 41% are non-Hispanic whites (compared to 76% of the general population), 40% are African Americans (compared to 11% of the general population) 11% are Hispanic (compared to 9% of the general population) and 8% percent are Native American (compared to 1% of the general population)."
An example will suffice: without the savings needed to put down a security deposit for an apartment, you are forced to leave in cheap motels (absent options like living with others or in a shelter), even though the monthly rate is higher. There's no kitchen in those motels and you may be working multiple jobs, which limits your ability to cook nutritious food and eat cheaply. And the cycle continues.
Some of the stories in George Packer's "The Unwinding"  emphasize how narrow the margin of error is. Everyone makes poor choices from time to time; those with resources (financial & social) can weather them.
Not in any place were welfare covers those costs. There are people unable to work for life (e.g. severily injured) that still get a special pension instead of getting thrown to the streets to be homeless.
And we're not talking about "unable to work forever" either. I've had hard working friends in the united states who blew all their pension savings because of some urgent need for a few months of hospital care or some surgery. This should just not happen (and it doesn't in other places in the West).
>The way to fix this is to measure poverty by consumption rather than income, but this is unpopular since it would reveal how little poverty really exists
How about you try lowering your personal consumption to the levels you find acceptable for the "non poor", and tell us how it feels? Or, try working 2 jobs to support a child as a single mother, and tell us all about the great cushy living these people have...
This idea, that poverty is some absolute value, and we should be thankful that we don't have to eat from garbage bins or live in caves really needs the Ole Yeller treatment...
Have you accounted for the commuting time? Like the bus that eats away 2 hours every day, and that he sometimes he has to wait for 3 hours?
Plus, nobody raised himself out of poverty by getting multiple part-time, bad-paid jobs. The way to do it is to get a better paying job.
Also: those 27 hours, are they regular, or the boss can reschedule him as he pleases (as often happens)?
This book is an eye opener of how people doing these jobs get by:
(the journalist forfeited her money et al, and worked and lived as a minimum wage employee for a year or so, in order to write the book).
No. It's a lacking response. Read the award winning "Nickel and Dimmed" to see how those very conditions, or very similar to them, also occur "at home":
Then do something about it, like denouncing any race-to-the-bottom for wages, and any lax attitude toward working conditions, and refusing to buy from the cheaper place.
Also don't take crap from neoliberals, including supposedly "progressive" nobel prize winners like Paul Krugman, that, from his comfy chair says that having the chinese workers work in dire conditions is better than not giving them work at all --as if this is the distinction that matters. How about giving them the work ALONG with the respect and pay they deserve for doing it? How about demanding that they get paid better and work in better conditions, or fine all and any companies that employee them (actually fine, like in "sanctions", not just individually refusing to buy their stuff)?
As an aside, next time your boss wants you to work unpaid overtime for long stretches? Just say no. Be warned though, that unlike some token feel-good action ("I won't get an iPad 3"), this might/will have real consequences. But if enough people do this, and insist of properly enforced regulations on the matter, it will stop the race-to-the-bottom in US workplaces too. Competitiveness has nothing to do with being a slave.
That being said, here's a book with a similar premise and a different outcome: http://www.amazon.com/Nickel-Dimed-Not-Getting-America/dp/08...
The author finds herself barely able to make it. Grant it, she approaches the situation rather pessimistically, the book still paints a decent picture as to why so many people are struggling.
Get dozens of book recommendations delivered straight to your inbox every Thursday.