Book Review: Maid-Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

Over the past few years I’ve read several books on what it is like to live in the richest country on low pay, back breaking work, while striving to make a better life for oneself and perhaps one’s family. Some of these books include Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado, We Were Witches by Ariel Gore, The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel, and of course, Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic, Nickel and Dimed.

I didn’t think I could handle reading another one until I came across Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid-Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. (Introduction by Barbara Ehrenreich)

Not quite 30, Land found herself leaving an abusive relationship with a young daughter in tow. What followed her was a nightmare of homelessness, deplorable apartments, low wages working as a housekeeper, and a very unpleasant journey through the so-called safety net when it came to acquiring government assistance. Unlike some fortunate souls Land lacks a supportive family who help her in her time of need.

Land decides to clean houses to support herself and her daughter while also attending college. She works for a local housecleaning company but also takes on freelance gigs. Not surprisingly, housekeeping is truly back breaking, horribly paid, and demoralizing. Some of her clients don’t see her fully human and worthy of respect. And then some of them just don’t see “her.”

Not making enough money to buy even the basic necessities, Land has to go on government assistance, a tangled weave that is often very difficult unravel with its endless paperwork and noxious questioning of Land’s eligibility and worthiness. If one earns a few extra dollars, one can find their benefits slashed or lose them in their entirety.

Keep in mind, not only is Land taking care of her daughter and cleaning houses, she’s also attending college. I just dare any reader to call her a slacker. She is the antithesis of lazy. In fact, due to my research, most people receiving some type of assistance are working and/or going to school. They are not cheating the system and most are not lazy losers.

But back to the book…

Maid is searing with brutal honesty. Land’s love and devotion to her daughter is undeniable as is her willingness to make a better life using various options. Her resourcefulness is both admirable and clever. I couldn’t help but root for her. Does she at times feel sorry for herself? Well, of course. She is human, after all. There certain times in one’s life when you just got to cry over your lot in life, and then you move on.

In the end people who are struggling like Land deserve respect, not empty pity or utter derision lacking any type of empathy.

In the end Maid convinces the reader to look beyond the stereotypes you may have swirling in your brain when it comes to the poor, anyone on benefits or those faceless, nameless heroes and heroines who make our lives much easier through their blood, sweat and tears.

Maid is a treasure of a memoir. Land should be very proud of herself, and I hope she keeps writing. I expect more from her. She’s one to watch.

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Book Report: We Were Witches by Ariel Gore

It’s no secret I’m a fan of writer, author, teacher, activist and creator of the alternative parenting magazine Hip Mama Ariel Gore. Her memoir Atlas of the Human Heart is a favorite of mine. And I also love the non-fiction Bluebird and Gore’s primer on writing How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.

Now Gore is back with another tremendous book, a novel called We Were Witches.

“My body is a curio shop.” – Ariel Gore from We Were Witches

We Were Witches is a creative blend of memoir and fiction. We Were Witches is about a struggling single mom named Ariel and her beloved daughter Maia.

Ariel is determined to better her life by getting a college education and working less than desirable work/study jobs in a post-Reagan world of “family values,” skimpy child support checks, a shitty ex, less than ideal parents and a safety net made of spider webs.

But Ariel does have a lot of things going for you including an excellent education, an oddball assortment of loving friends, her own creativity, resourcefulness and writing talent. Ariel also has a street smart wisdom, her feminist spirit animals and Maia’s unconditional love.

As We Were Witches unspools Ariel learns to embrace being a square peg and refuses to whittle herself into a round one.

Vividly written with passages I saw in mind’s eye (especially the one on Maia’s birth, which chilled me) We Were Witches is simply one of my favorite novels of the year!

Book Review: No More Work-Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea by James Livingston

For ages, work equaled having a job so you could put a roof over your head, keep your belly full, clothe your back and pay your bills, taxes, mortgage, insurance, car note and other life essentials. And if you had some of your hard-earned paycheck left over you might treat yourself to a day at the spa, a night out on the town or attend a concert or sporting event.

But work doesn’t just mean money. Work also conveys discipline, education, skills, talent, passion, and making contribution to society and culture as a whole. Work is the solution to society’s ills, after all, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, right?

According to James Livingston maybe we need to take a look at our age-old idea of work and turn this idea on its head. And he goes into this further in his thought provoking book No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea.

According to Livingston, professor of history at Rutgers University, gainful employment is seen by Americans, of all political leanings, as a proper goal for all of us instead of a problem that needs to some serious overview and overhaul, both morally and economically. We need to examine why we go to work and how it is affecting us as human beings and as a nation.

There are several problems with gainful employment for your average American worker. One includes technology and automation are replacing humans for various business transaction. We do are banking on-line, use the self-checkout at the grocery store, and check out various travel websites rather than talk about our vacation plans with a travel agent.

Another factor Livingston examines in No More Work is how we have reached peak productivity levels that do nothing more than provide a cushion of leisure for most of us. Yet it is mostly the one percent among us who truly benefit primarily due to the how both wealth and work are dispersed. We have far too many workers make less than a truly life sustaining wage, often using public assistance just to make it. And it’s not just people working at Wal-Mart. Even people who are college educated and working white collar professions rely on food stamps and other “entitlements.” Meanwhile, some CEOs make huge sums of money in both income and assets even as they make decisions that can sink a company.

And there is this idea of the “romance of work,” the age old Protestant work ethic most Americans swear by even though it doesn’t always benefit us financially, mentally, emotionally and so on.

So what is the solution according to Mr. Livingston? One solution is taxing corporate profits, which often aren’t used to fully invest in ways that benefit most of us. By now I think most of us realize “trickle-down economics” is a complete myth.

What else does Livingston suggest? Livingston also suggests implementing a guaranteed minimum basic income. This may sound familiar to many of my readers when I debunked Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark’s badly researched take on this concept in my review of their book Right for a Reason.

A basic guaranteed income for all citizens is being examined again and is supported by both those on the left and the right. Personally, I think the idea is very intriguing, and even with this type of income, most of us will seek some type extra of employment to make more money and to get benefits, especially health insurance.

No doubt No More Work is brings up several controversial issues, but I do hope it’s used as a springboard when it comes to the concepts of full employment, corporate America, guaranteed basic income, raising the minimum wage, income inequality, our current tax system, entitlements, and our concepts of work, leisure, life, and money that are deeply etched into our country’s psyche.

Taking One for the Team: Right for a Reason-Life, Liberty, and a Crapload of Common Sense by Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark

right-for-a-reason-life-liberty-and-a-crapload-of-common-sense-198x300Has this election season made you a nervous wreck? I know it has me at the end of my tether, and with my bad allergies, morbid depression, and chronic insomnia, I don’t know if I should make a plate of brownies, charge my smart phone, or buy a truckload of Xanax. Either way this election goes (I’m going to plug my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton), by this time next week we will have a new President-Elect.

Anyway, here is my latest installment of “Taking One for the Team,” Right for a Reason: Life, Liberty, and a Crapload of Commonsense by Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark, two Indiana-based conservative pundits who go by the name of Chicks on the Right. The Chicks have a radio show on WIBC in Indianapolis, an occasional newspaper column for the IndyStar, their own website featuring their opinion pieces (under the pen names Mockarena for Weaver and Daisy Jo for Clark), links to other like-minded conservative websites and memes well-versed in the radical right mindset. Their social media has plenty of followers and they are often profiled and interviewed by more mainstream media outlets.

Not living in Indiana, I first became aware of the Chicks when they wrote a scathing screed for the IndyStar lambasting liberal feminists for wearing vagina costumes or thinking tax payers should pay for their birth control pills or being all-around entitled, whiny, crybaby harpies. They claimed they were the true feminists because even if their husbands left them for “younger models” they would just pick themselves up by their bra straps, soldier on, and not expect any type of safety net to bail them out. And for some odd reason, stiletto shoes were also involved in the world of Chicks-fried feminism.

Well, as one of those liberal feminists the Chicks love to hate. I can’t recall seeing anyone in a vagina costume, and I don’t exactly expect anyone to pay for my birth control; I just believe there should a safety net for people who are struggling and a woman’s reproductive issues are a very important component of health care. I hardly think this makes me a virulent shrew. And I have to remind the Chicks, even this libtard, feminazi in sensible sling backs, pays her fair share of taxes.

This opinion piece went viral, picked up by other media outlets including Bust, Jezebel, We are Libertarians, and Democratic Underground. My curiosity piqued, I decided to learn more about the Chicks. I found their website, which included a high-heeled shoe in the logo (because the ladies love their shoes, amirite?). The Chicks’ apparent goal is to give conservatism a “makeover” because when people think of conservatism they think of old, white, silver-haired, dour and boring men. Well, actually I think of skinny blonde women talking smack…and writing smack.

Which finally brings me to Right for a Reason…

In Right for the Reason, the Chicks go deep as a Jimmy Choo in-step when it comes to serious topics regarding capitalism, race, feminism, guns, abortion, political correctness and LGTBQ issues.

On the surface, Right for the Reason’s first chapter, Capitalism is a Good Thing, isn’t exactly something I disagree with. I am very grateful for living in a country where entrepreneurs of all kinds from my friends Laura and Myra making a living designing jewelry to domestic diva, Martha Stewart, can hone their skills, talents and expertise and become successful. But capitalism is not without its faults whether it’s the malfeasance found on Wall Street or CEOs making 400 times what the average worker and treated to a golden parachute worth millions even though they make decisions that sink a company and screw over employees, clients, consumers, shareholders and other invested interests.

And then then there is their take on Occupy Wall Street, which to the Chicks, pretty much was made up of dreadlocked hippies pooping in the streets while updating their Twitter feeds on their iPhones. Sure, there were quite a few members of Occupy Wall Street that fit that tired stereotype. But if one looked any further, you would also find knitting grandmas, blue collar types and suit-wearing professionals. They also found one ridiculous Occupy Wall Street manifesto that they use to sum up the entire movement. That’s like me saying all members of the Tea Party can’t spell, are total bigots and dress like Paul Revere. I wouldn’t because I’m pretty sure the Tea Party types have a variety of people in their ranks, too.

When it comes to the poor here in the United States, the Chicks compare the poor in a first world country versus those in a third world country. Well, of course there are differences! We talking about a first world country compared to third world countries, where there are vast differences in policies, infrastructure, education, and so on. But the Chicks never delve into those complex topics. Instead, the poor in America often own TVs, DVD players, stereos, kitchen and laundry amenities, and even cars! Well, a lot of the poor live in apartments where kitchens come fully equipped and there are laundry facilities. One can buy certain luxuries like a TV used or have they been given as gifts. And if someone doesn’t live in a place with reliable public transportation a car is a must to get to work, school and to run errands. Yes, a lot of poor people work and/or going to school. Not everyone who is poor is lazy, popping out babies, uneducated, not working, watching “Jerry Springer” and fully dependent on the taxpayer. And it seems to the Chicks the only people who pay taxes are themselves and their fellow conservatives.

As for corporate welfare? The Chicks briefly refer to corporate welfare was the bailouts, which mostly happened in 2008—when Bush was still President.

In this chapter, the Chicks bring up the idea of “mincome,” which apparently all of Canadian liberals played around with back in the 1970s and it was a huge failure because everybody became a lazy slug or something like that. I had heard of mincome so I did some investigating. Turns out mincome was something relegated to mostly Manitoba, and the only people who pulled back on working and earning a paycheck were teenagers and mothers with babies and very young children. Most citizens continued to work regular jobs while also receiving a decent minimum income from the government.

And just who were among these unwashed hippies who came up with the idea of mincome? Milton Friedman, yep, that Milton Friedman.

In America is Exceptional the Chicks go all neener, neener on liberals who have the audacity to point out America’s flaws, both past and present. And Weaver tells the tale of her father coming to America as an immigrant and having nothing but good things happening for him, not quite owning up to the privilege he already had in place—being white and highly educated. He certainly had it better than some immigrants coming from places like Mexico and Syria, or what my great-grandfather, Max, faced coming here as a poor orphan from Germany when he was still a teenager. Anyway, the vastly smarter and funnier, Jimmy Dore, sums up what’s great about America in the final chapter of his book, Your Country is Just Not That Into You.

Other subjects where Chicks have all the intellectual heft of a feather include the idea of hands up, not hand-outs. I guess you’re alright to get some help if you’re a single mom who identifies as a conservative. The rest of us can just die in a fire.

When it comes to the first amendment the Chicks bitch their right to free speech is being violated due to one set back on Facebook, not quite acknowledging they have a radio show, a newspaper column, an active social media presence and a book. If that’s called having one’s first amendment rights being trampled on, sign me up! They also call political correctness stupid with all the maturity of kindergartners in a sandbox, claim they don’t see color when it comes to the thorny topic of race, stomp their stiletto-shod feet for their right to own things that go Pew-Pew-Pew (to the uninitiated they are talking about guns, not Pepe le Pew). They think the war on women is a load of crap (yep, these two classy dames love to use the word crap), but throw plenty of insults when it comes to women they disagree with, often using hateful dialogue to disparage a more liberal women’s looks. They are proudly pro-life and are convinced that all clinics that provide abortion services resemble the horrors of Kermit Gosnell’s clinic; most clinics don’t resemble Gosnell’s clinic at all.

And if you happen to be gay? Well, quit being so obvious about with your same sex wedding announcements, gay pride parades and suing Christian bakers. Yea, like the heterosexuals have to hide their lifestyles and loving with abiding shame.

In the final chapter the Chicks offer their declaration on why it’s time for a conservative makeover. They claim it’s not cool to be a conservative, not mentioning conservative ideas and opinions can be found all over in print, televison and digital media. As I write this, one of the hottest pundits in right wing media is yet another skinny, blonde, Tomi Lahren. Heck, she’s so hot she’s allegedly dating a cast-off of The Bachlorette!

But just how do the Chicks plan to give conservatism a make-over. Well, according to the cover and the contents of Right for a Reason it has to do something with Christian Loubatins, clothes from the MILF Collection at Forever 41 and calling out Nancy Pelosi for using Botox. Actually, the Chicks call conservative makeover consist the following:

1) Discuss conservatism with young people
2) Stop being prudes (it’s okay to cuss)
3) Remember the 80/20 rule (it’s okay if other people agree with only 80% of the time)
4) Stop with the labeling (interesting, considering the Chicks have a pretty strict guideline for what makes a true conservative)

As for the GOP, among the things the Chicks suggest include being offensive (no problem there with Trump as a possible next president—shudder) rather than defensive, use limited government, the Constitution and personal freedom when it comes to messaging, empower women and minorities, use all media platforms, and fight fire with fire.

Okay, the Chicks do have a point on certain things. I think they bring up interesting concepts when it comes to messaging. And they call out both Todd Akin and Todd Rokita for their positively boneheaded remarks, Rokita making condescending compliment regarding CNN’s Carol Costello’s looks and Akin’s opinions regarding rape. And though the Chicks are pro-life, they are also in favor of contraceptives and Plan B.

But ultimately, Right for a Reason is just a shrill and malicious, with writing on par with a middle school mean girl’s Twitter diatribes against various liberals, feminists, progressive activists, not to mention President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sandra Fluke, Beyoncé, Al Franken, Sheryl Sandberg, and Whoopi Goldberg. They offer no promise of hope and how to reach across the aisle to truly improve the state of the USA in the 21st century. Right for a Reason is also devoid of carefully honed research on issues that are crucial to us as citizens at one of the most critical times in country’s history. In the end, you aren’t left with the feeling conservatism doesn’t need a makeover; it needs a complete do-over, a total reboot, the kind of boot that can’t be found at any pricey shoe boutique.

Right for a Reason: Life, Liberty and a Crapload of Common Sense is right on one thing. It is a crapload.

 

Book Review: Under the Affluence-Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America by Tim Wise

under the affluenceEvery once in while there comes a book that makes me want to shout from the roof tops, “Everybody, please read this book if you truly care about humanity and society!” Tim Wise’s book Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, is one such book. And though it may sound melodramatic, I truly think Mr. Wise’s book is an excellent primer on exactly why our nation seems so skewed, confused and messed-up, especially during one of our most scary, yet important presidential election years ever.

Scholar, activist and writer, the aptly named Tim Wise, has focused on societal issues since college and one of his first jobs was working against former KKK grand wizard, David Duke’s presidential bid. Since then Wise has worked on behalf of many progressive causes and has written several books, Under the Affluence being his latest.

In 2016 Wise wonders why do we (as a nation and a society) shame the poor (and let’s face it, anyone who isn’t mega wealthy) while praising the super-rich? And what does that say about us and what impact is this having on society?

Wise calls this detestable movement “Scroogism,” and, yes, based on Ebenezer Scrooge from the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. And it is a theme that has shaped our thinking about the haves vs. the have-nots and have-lessers, much of it encouraged by big business, Wall Street, billionaires and millionaires, CEOs, the radical right political pundits, the current state of the GOP, conservative Christianity, mainstream media and often, ourselves. And yes, that includes the have-nots and have-lessers. And Wise offers evidence through nearly 40 pages of end notes to give gravitas to Under the Affluence.

Under the Affluence and its theme of Scroogism is divided into three well-researched, scholarly, yet audience friendly, maddening, heartbreaking and in the end, cautiously hopeful chapters. These chapters include:

  1. Pulling Apart-The State of Disunited America
  2. Resurrecting Scrooge-Rhetoric and Policy in a Culture of Cruelty
  3. Redeeming Scrooge-Fostering a Culture of CompassionIn Resurrecting Scrooge,

Wise carefully researches how in the 21st century the United States is a society that bashes the poor, blames victims, the unemployed and underemployed, embraces a serious lack of compassion and celebrates cruelty while putting the wealthy and the powerful on a pedestal. And Wise examines the origins of class and cruelty in the United States, the ideas of the Social Gospel and FDR’s New Deal, the myths and realities of the War on Poverty from its inception to Reaganism (and how liberals responded), and the concept how culture of cruelty affects who receives justice and who receives nothing at all except horrifically de-humanizing insults, both in rhetoric and reality. It is probably these two chapters that truly stirred my rage, and at times, I had to put Under the Affluence down and take a few deep breaths.But just as I was about to chuck Under the Affluence across the room and spend a week in the corner rocking back and forth, I read the final chapter, and felt a bit of hope. Perhaps, as nation things aren’t as bleak as they seem. In this chapter, Wise reminds us to look for possible roadblocks on the way of redemption. He also mentions that besides facts, use storytelling because behind every fact there is a very human face with a story that must be heard. He behooves us to create “a vision of a culture of a compassion” and how we can help communities to control their destiny.

Now, I am a realist. I know for the most part Under the Affluence is a book that preaches to the choir, especially in 2016. But maybe, just maybe, Under the Affluence will open minds, soften hearts and act an agent for, as Elvis Costello so aptly put it, “peace, love and understanding.” Under the Affluence is not only one of the most important books to come out in 2016; it is one of the most important books to come out in the 21st century.

Wise also takes a look at the world of the working poor and the non-working rich, the myth of meritocracy, horribly mean-spirited remarks, much of it coming from the radical right, including pundits and politicians, excessive CEO and big business pay, the devaluing of work that truly benefits all of society-nursing, teaching social work, protecting the public, improving our infrastructure, creating art, taking care of the elderly and disabled, and so on. And let’s not forget the very valuable work that doesn’t pay-parenting, eldercare, volunteering, etc.

In Pulling Apart, Wise takes a hardcore look at our current state of joblessness, wage stagnation, underemployment and how they affect us in this stage of “post-recession recovering” America. He investigates today’s realities and the long-term effects of income and wealth inequality. Wise contemplates who and what caused these problems and how race, class and economics are involved.

Book Review: Saving Capitalism-For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich

saving capitalism“We are the authors of our own fates. But…we are not the producers or directors of the larger dramas in which we find ourselves. Other forces are at work in determining not only what we able to earn but also what we are able to accomplish, as well as the strength of our voices and the efficacy of our ideals. Those who are rich and becoming even more so are neither smarter nor morally superior to anyone else. They, however, often luckier, and more privileged and more powerful. As such, their high worth does not necessarily reflect their worth as human beings.”—Robert B. Reich

I’ve been following economist Robert Reich’s career ever since he was President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor during Clinton’s first term. I’ve read several Mr. Reich’s books, follow him via his Facebook page, and his documentary “Inequality for All” is a must-see, and was the first film my church showed during this season’s film series thanks to my suggestion.

Reich is currently a lecturer at UC-Berkeley, and his course “Wealth and Poverty” is one of the most popular on campus. Much of this class is shown in the documentary “Inequality for All” and it these scenes that show why this class is so popular, displaying solid evidence done in an accessible way, and Reich’s good natured humor (much of it at his own expense).

As mentioned, I’ve also read several of Reich’s books, so I was only too excited to come across Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. I knew I just had to add it to my home library. And though we’ve haven’t made it June, I can safely say Saving Capitalism is probably one of the most essential books of 2016, especially during one of the most contentious election years I think most of us have witnessed in our lifetimes.

Saving Capitalism is divided into three parts—the free market, work and worth, and countervailing power. The free market covers several topics including the five building blocks of the capitalism, freedom and power, and new concepts regarding property, monopoly, contracts, and bankruptcy.

Work and worth uncovers why the concept of meritocracy is basically a myth, why CEO pay has skyrocketed to huge proportions, the struggling middle class and their lack of bargaining power, the struggles (and rise) of the working poor who are not exactly who you think they are, and the rise of the non-working rich.

And countervailing power covers issues including the threats to capitalism, both the decline and the rise of countervailing power, overhauling corporations and how technology is taking over work once done by actual human beings.

One thing that struck me while reading the first part of Saving Capitalism, is how both business and the government are in bed together, which goes against the idea that government works against big business, not against it. And this alliance ends up throwing smaller businesses and individuals under the bus. Just how is this done? Well, mostly through the power of the dollar, which big businesses, and not to mention, the very wealthy have, and let’s face it, smaller businesses and most of us do not.

Lobbying also has access to government power and often curries favor for everything from military contracts, Wall Street, Big Pharma and corporate agriculture.

And while reading work and worth, I was struck by the idea of “meritocracy” and how it has become a myth in our modern age. Yes, we’d like to think that people who are truly talented, hard-working, well-educated and highly-skilled achieve deserved success. And when this truly happens, it’s a lovely site to behold. But, let’s face it, some of the most successful people don’t deserve their success at all, and we, as a nation are losing out. Reich’s examination of the decline of the middle-class, just what is behind immense CEO pay, the rise of the working poor (many of them educated, skilled, and talented), and the rise (and the power) of the non-working rich (oh, hi there, Walton family), will truly piss readers off. Furthermore, in this section, Reich’s discusses how all of this slowly unfurled starting nearly forty years ago through several carefully crafted methods.

In part three of Saving Capitalism—countervailing power— further describes exactly what got us here in the 21st century, which will piss you off, but also what we can do, and how we are not powerless as we think we are. Reich offers several solutions to the problems he explains in Saving Capitalism. Some of them include getting rid of Citizen’s United, reducing patent lengths, bringing back strong unions, taking a good look at excessive CEO pay and simply reigning in bad policies that got us in the mess we are in. One interesting idea, currently being looked into in Switzerland, is giving everyone a livable monthly stipend paid by tax payers. Yes, some people will sit on their butts, simply happy to get a stipend. But Reich believes most people will want to make more money and will feel more at ease seeking out employment and vocations that are truly fulfilling and will benefit society as a whole.

I do wish Reich would have focused on two factors that have played part in this bunkum. Firstly, I would have like to have read more about how lobbying influences our elected leaders to favor corporations, Wall Street and the very wealthy. I would have also liked to have read how the mainstream media, which is owned by only six corporations, kisses up to big business, the one percent and other powerful game players, and eschews the rest of us. Today, mainstream media seems to be more PR and marketing than actual journalism. But perhaps this can be further investigated in another book.

Ultimately, Saving Capitalism packs quite a powerful message, and one that is delivered in a down-to-earth way that educates, angers, empowers, and hopefully, inspires change and making America truly greater for all of us.

 

Book Review: $2.00 A Day -Living On Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J Edin and H Luke Shaefer

2.00 dayAmerica is supposed to be the richest nation in the world, right? No way do we have people living in strict poverty, trying to survive on the barest of bones, right? America isn’t some “primitive” third world country, right?

Well, not exactly. In America we have citizens from the largest of metropolises to the most rural of communities struggling to live on a mere two bucks a day. And their lives are fully explained in Kathryn J Edin and H Luke Shaefer’s eye-opening and maddening book $2.00 A Day: Living On Almost Nothing in America.

In the 1990s, politicians, including President Clinton, figured the “War on Poverty” from the 1960s had quite worked out. Far too many families were living on public assistance. Thusly, welfare reform was implemented thrusting many families (often helmed by single mothers) off the welfare rolls. Now, this was deemed a success during the 1990s because of a strong economy and a tight labor market.

But as we know, the economy fell to pieces in 2007/2008, countless people lost their jobs and finding work became hugely difficult. Hence, many people fell into poverty (including those had been living comfortable middle class lives).

But these people weren’t mere statistics we heard about and read about. They were real people living on very little, and using methods, some legal, some not so legal to survive.

In 2012 Edin and Shaefer traveled around the country interviewing various families who were living on very little money. They interviewed families in Chicago, Cleveland and rural areas in the Mississippi Delta. These people’s stories were both unique and similar, and I hope are listened to with an open mind.

Why do we have so many people living on so little? Now part of it is due to the nature of low-wage work, much of it in the service sector. And even in the service sector, many of these jobs have countless applicants. I know this to be a fact; several years ago I applied for a job at a small marketing agency. This agency had over 250 applicants apply for this position. I can only imagine how many applicants apply for positions at much bigger organizations.

And because employers receive so many applications, they can easily move onto another candidate if they can’t reach another. Some of the poor in this book live in homeless shelters and therefore have difficulty being reached by would be employers.

But even those who aren’t in homeless shelters, lived in substandard homes and apartments. Many of the families lived in cramped spaces with many relatives. Some told horror stories of crumbling abodes that slumlord’s ignored. And some even mentioned dealing with various forms of abuse they dealt within their homes

When employed, those profiled spoke of altered schedules (often at the last moment) and employers concerned with the bottom line cutting workers’ hours. Some of these people also worked more than one job, which cut into time they could spend with their families. The poor also had to deal with wage theft and truly awful bosses. And then there were people who had physical and mental issues that made being employed nearly impossible. Some of them were on disability but even disability checks didn’t stretch far.

Many of these people had SNAP (often called food stamps), which was pretty much the only access they had to a public safety net. And many spoke of relying of charity and food pantries. But in rural places, it was difficult to find these places.

So how do these people survive? Selling one’s plasma is a popular tactic, as is selling one’s food stamps. And some mentioned selling sex to make a few bucks to live on.

Many of them live with family members and friends and pooling their various resources. One woman with a car offers her services to help people get around.

And yes, far too many go without. People mentioned skipping meals and not purchasing the basic necessities like buying underwear or having electricity or running water.

But there were places where those profiled could find comfort, libraries being named as one. Some found comfort in their churches or amongst family, friends and their communities. And those who could find good charities, also felt comfort.

Now what can be done? Well, making others aware of these people’s plights is key and this slim volume helps do that. On a personal note, I think it’s important to not see these people as “others” but as our fellow human beings, showing empathy, not scorn. Yes, we could say they shouldn’t have kids if they are so poor and why didn’t they get an education? Sure, but not having children and getting an education is no guarantee that one won’t fall into poverty. Even those of us who “did everything right”-had children when established and in a good relationships, received an education, developed skills and worked hard, may have to worry about falling on hard times. These people are not lazy, most want to work and contribute to society, and $2.00 mentions how both the public and private sectors can do join efforts to make this happen.

$2.00 is an important book at a very crucial time, especially as we get closer to the 2016 Presidential election, and a book I highly recommend.