I’m still thinking about that poverty essay I blogged about a while back where the guy constructed a budget for a family of four in Los Angeles with one full-time wage earner and one part-time wage earned who both make minimum wage.
He was trying to rebut the claim that a family can’t live on the minimum wage.
The more I think about it, the more I’m realizing how silly that is. No one is claiming that there is no combination of mathematics, budgeting, and good luck that will not allow a family to live on the minimum wage for a finite period of time. Saying “a family can’t live on the minimum wage” is shorthand.
When Barbara Ehrenreich wrote Nickeled and Dimed, she wasn’t arguing that never in America had anyone been successful working at the type of jobs she worked. She wanted to demonstrate how hard it was. How painfully, back breakingly hard. How even if you worked that hard, things could happen to put you under water.
When Adam Shepard replicated her experiment and had a better experience, as a younger, healthier, male American, how could this possibly be treated as a damning rebuttal?
Adam Shepard had more privilege. He had credit in the eyes of society that Ehrenreich didn’t have, and even Ehrenreich had credit that many people in America will never have because society just will not give it to them.
Adam Shepard is basically my son. Rich, white, not disabled (though that can change), and we expect him to be reasonably well educated. My son is going to have about five hundred truckloads of privilege. How do I raise my son to understand that whatever he achieves is partly his own efforts, and partly because of what society just gives him by virtue of his social status? How do I make sure he knows that others have worked far harder for far less?
I didn’t understand poverty when I was growing up, even though my mother encouraged us to give to charity. I didn’t even know that people grew up in apartments. I thought if your parents got divorced and thus you had slightly less money, you lived in a townhouse. I thought we were lower income because we didn’t have a boat and go to Vail. Privilege and ignorance is not a good combination. Too bad Alan Shepard didn’t use his sojourn to clear up that second part.