Rome, NY Sucks

But At Least We're Not Utica

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Ca-Ching!: How to Get Money from Guilty Liberals and the Working Poor in America

I suggested that this should be the the title of Barbara Ehrenreich’s next book. After Nickel and Dimed : On (Not) Getting By in America (a book my mother actually bought) and Bait and Switch : The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, (which no one apparently bought) it seems fitting. More interesting to me is Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard. Unlike Ehrenreich’s experiment, Shepard did not burden himself with a car or any other trappings. He walked onto the streets of South Carolina and found a homeless shelter.

His choice to show how one (admittedly mentally and physically fit) person could come from nothing and move forward was the greater challenge. Anyone can start from nothing and end with nothing. Ehrenreich never got anywhere in part because she moved three times in three months. The American dream means that you may end up working hard to give your kids the better life. Plus, she had to spend money on gas.

I'd like to focus on what I call dumb arguments #1 and #2 in relation to Adam Shepard himself. First, a college athlete with a 4 year degree, a good family and white skin has an advantage in this country. Well, save for the athletics, I'm in the same boat. I was getting low wage jobs for years in the times I wasn't jobless altogether. Maybe I should move to SC.

Second, he sought to have $2500, a car and an apartment within a year. In 10 months, he had those things, plus an extra $3000 and a girlfriend. But apparently, some of the cranks in the blogosphere criticize Shepard for ending the experiment 2 months early to care for his sick mother. In "real" poor life, he would have to continue his moving company job to make ends meet. Not really. He could take that $5000 and take his '88 Sierra and live with his mother, which he did. Happens all the time to the working poor. In one of my temp jobs, a man gave up a good paying state job to go with his wife to take care of her mother. With no unemployment, (for voluntarily quitting a job) he ended up driving an hour to work on an assembly line.

Another circular argument that makes me laugh is that Shepard had a "safety net" of a credit card that, once used, would have nullified the experiment. Plus, he had a family back home that could support him. Yet, he is mocked for stating that attitude is important to moving forward in life. So, how can his detractors claim a positive attitude is meaningless while claiming his positive attitude is what made him able to succeed where others cannot?

I'm sure I could go on and on about how this relates to poverty in America, the relative costs of being poor in SC vs. being poor in NY, the need to economize, the tightening supply chain and health care. Instead, I'll focus on the main point. It is possible to prosper in America. There's as many ways to do it as there are people in America.

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