By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
You wrote: “What’s harder for the non-poor to see is poverty as acute distress.” In other words, most people assume that living on $7 an hour may not be loads of fun, but, aside from requiring a bit of belt tightening, it’s really not allthat bad.
They don’t realize having to skip a meal because you can’t afford it, when you’re working very hard physically, has serious consequences over the long term.
Which brings us to your observation that you had more stamina than some of your co-workers.
I found that the physical consequences of class are appallingly concrete. Here I was, really taking pride in the fact that, at 57, I was keeping up with the 23-year-olds, until I realized that the 23-year-olds had already injured their backs and their rotator cuffs and whatever. My physical strength and stamina were not due to great genes. They were the results of a good diet, a lifetime of good health care, and the distinctively middle-class privilege of working out.
Most of the employers you wrote about were surprisingly rigid on such issues as bathroom breaks, talking to co-workers, taking drinks of water while on the job, etc. It’s hard to believe all those restrictions are in the best interest of productivity.
Yeah. It baffled me. Management always seemed to operate on the assumption that the worker is a drug addict, a thief or, at the very least, a slacker who needs constant surveillance. And yet, I saw people being very self-motivated and self-organized. They pulled together when things were rushed. They supported each other when someone had a personal problem. I often wondered why management didn’t make use of this vast potential resource, which is the desire of people to achieve satisfaction in their jobs. Instead, managers fear the people at the bottom, whom they perceive as an underclass that will mug them in the parking lot if they get the chance.
What’s your secret hope for this book?
I don’t have any delusions. Next week I’ll be having lunch with some Democratic senators. And later in the summer, I’ll be having dinner with some Democratic congress people. But I have to say, I don’t know what you can accomplish during the Bush administration. It’s obvious what legislative measures one would hope for: national health insurance, a real governmental commitment to affordable housing, subsidized child care, genuine enforcement of the right to organize . . .
A rise in the minimum wage?
Sure. It seems to me these things are almost tedious, they’re so obvious. I’d like to see hearings nationwide about poverty as it exists today in the United States. But I have no illusions that books can accomplish those things. Somebody else once gave me an image in terms of the way I understand my work: You roll a marble, and you hope it knocks into a couple of other marbles, and they roll and knock into more marbles, and so on. You don’t imagine that any particular intervention into the public debate is going to be decisive.
Was there anything that really startled you in the course of your research?
I learned some grim lessons in terms of my ability to economize. You know, I thought, “I really know how to really save money by cooking cheaply and nutritiously.” Then I found out I didn’t have the capital equipment to even make my lentil stew. I needed a big pot, and some Tupperware to store the leftovers. But if I bought those items at Kmart, it would cost me $25. So I had to think, “Do I have the $25 to spare?” I’d forgotten that if you don’t have all the things I have in my real kitchen, it’s not so easy to be economical. It’s all going to be from convenience stores, and fast food. And that’s expensive.
I kept imagining you trying to make ends meet with the addition of a couple of kids in tow. If, after a full day’s work, you have to come home to an underequipped, tiny kitchen and deal with the needs of two or three kids, it’s hard to find the wherewithal to cook wonderfully cheap and nutritious meals.
And if you have very small children, you have still another problem because licensed day care is financially out of reach. So, more often than not, mothers have no choice but to stick their kids in these god-awful informal situations with some woman in the neighborhood who just plops the kids down in front of the TV.
You admit early on in the book that you could not, by definition, experience the soul-smashing anxiety of the people whose situations you were visiting, since you would eventually return to your multiroom house and your IRA accounts. So what were your own hardest moments in terms of the research?
Starting out in each place was hard. I became very, very anxious, especially in places far from where I normally live, just to be plunged into a completely new environment without the normal props of friends and work, and identity. It got to me.