The Census Bureau reports that one in seven American is now living in poverty. Millions can’t find work, are losing their homes, living in their cars, bunking — when they can — with relatives. Millions are reaching for the thin, weak strained social safety net of food stamps and homeless shelters.
The shocking part?
That this should surprise anyone.
Recall the old joke, the friendship between the frog and the scorpion; as the frog swims across a river with the scorpion on its back, stung and dying. betrayed, he asks why. “I’m a scorpion. That’s what I do.”
In a nation where CEOs now crow with glee that they earn 300 times that of their lowest-paid workers, why would anyone find the growing chasm between the happy haves and the terrified have-nots unexpected?
The U.S. is a nation of laissez-faire capitalism. It’s a system as brutal and impersonal as a combustion engine. If you can find a way to accommodate its needs, you’re set. If not, you’re toast.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. But no one, anywhere, should gasp in shock at the ruin so many people now face. They played “by the rules”.
This is the sort of story that makes me want to throw a chair. From today’s New York Times:
Steven D. Hayworth, chief executive of Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust, is thrilled that his daughter will be working this summer at a women’s clothing store before heading to college in the fall. It is not the particular job that pleases Mr. Hayworth. Rather, he is hoping his daughter will make the connection between how much she earns each day and what that will buy.
“As a parent who has worked his whole life and has had a little bit of success in my career, one of the huge life lessons I learned early on is the value of a dollar,” said Mr. Hayworth, whose bank is based in Coral Gables, Fla. “Particularly for children of upper-middle-class and affluent families, there’s no perspective on value. When the new Range Rover pulls into the driveway, there’s no concept of how many hours of hard work went into owning that vehicle.”]
Unlike many collegebound children today, Mr. Hayworth’s daughter would have had no worries if she had not been able to find a job. She could have spent the summer by the pool knowing her parents had the money to put her through college.
I’m finishing my book this month, a memoir of working retail in a national chain of stores for two years and three months, part-time, for $11/hour. However much little Miss Hayworth learns from slumming it for a while on the sales floor, I doubt she’s going to learn “the value of a dollar” from crossing over to the dark side of the cash wrap
She doesn’t need the money. She’s taking work away from someone — maybe one of the millions of workers over 40 or 50 or 55 who can’t even get a job interview in their field or industry, even with decades of experience — who does.
Yeah, a little rich kid showing up to please Daddy is going to fit in just great with a group of co-workers who know the value of a dollar because they count every single one they earn. They may have many kids or be single moms or be putting themselves through college or, as were three of my colleagues, be working retail despite a prior criminal record, making it really tough to get any job.
Rich kids think work is sorta cute. Something to do before they head off the Hamptons for the weekend or start Harvard med school or head off on Mummy’s yacht.
A Range Rover costs $78,425 to $94,275. At a median national retail wage of about $8, she’d be working full-time for five years — if she didn’t, like people who really need her job, have pesky stuff like rent, food, car payments, insurance or student debt.
In the world of investment banking, $78,425 is pocket money.
You want to teach kids what a Prada/Range Rover/pair of Manolos really costs? Send ’em far away from home, so they’re paying the real cost of housing and commuting to that job. Make sure it’s the only job they can get. Make ’em stay in it for a full year, including the holidays.
They’ll still have no idea — because they’ll be too tired to shop and too intimidated to go into a store full of expensive shit they can’t afford. Many of our customers drove Range Rovers. They were some of the most spoiled, nasty, entitled people you could imagine.
I worked retail with two kids, both in their early 20s, one of whom stayed barely three months who was clearly from a well-off family. Not an unpleasant guy, but his sole raison ‘detre was scooping up as much of our product at the healthy employee discount as possible. The money, as anyone working retail knows, is low and the work both physically and emotionally grueling.
Playing poor is an insult to those who really are. Playing poor is no joke to those earning poverty-level wages selling overpriced crap to the rich.
She won’t last a month — because she won’t have to.