The Working Poor
by JasonGooljar, Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 06:18:23 PM EST
In her book Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich ends with these last paragraphs :
When poor single mothers had the option of remaining out of the labor force on welfare, the middle and upper middle class tended to view them with a certain impatience, if not disgust. The welfare poor were excoriated for their laziness, their persistence in reproducing in unfavorable circumstances, their presumed addictions, and above all of their "dependency". Here they were, content to live off "government handouts" instead of seeking "self-sufficiency," like everyone else, through a job. They needed to get their act together, learn how to wind an alarm clock, get out there and get to work. But now that government has largely withdrawn its "handouts," now that the overwhelming majority of the poor are out there toiling in Wal-Mart or Wendy's well, what are we to think of them? Disapproval and condescension no longer apply, so what outlook makes sense?
Guilt, you may be thinking warily. Isn't what we we're supposed to feel? But guilt doesn't go anywhere near far enough; the appropriate emotion is shame--shame at our own dependency, in this case, on the underpaid labor of others. When someone works for less pay than she can live on--when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently--then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The "working poor" as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that others homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else. As Gail, one of my restaurant coworker's put it, "you give and you give."
But the last paragraph is the sweetest :
Someday, of course--and I will make no predictions as to exactly when --they are bound to tire of getting so little in return and to demand to be paid what they're worth. There'll be a lot of anger when that day comes, and strikes and disruptions. But the sky will not fall, and we will all be better off for it in the end.
Yes it's a bit Marxist in the end with the proletarian rising up and demanding better. But if a corporation exists only for the bottom line and increasing shareholder profit, then the worker must exist to look out for their collective best interests. That way both sides can negotitate and possibly strike a balance. For too long it's been one-sided with the corporations being the ones with far too much power and the unions with far too little. This whole welfare to workfare is hurting more than it was supposed to help. When you can't afford rent in an apartment or healthcare on the six or seven dollars the retail/hotel/cleaning industries pay workers, then it's just as like they are living in a homelsess shelter. Most of the people who are the working poor live out of cars or are forced to pay the high prices of $59 a day at a motel because they don't have the money saved up for a deposit on an apartment.