15 Comments

Rainy Mornings And The Working Poor

Child in her rain gear.

Child goes to a school that is full of poor kids.  Child is a poor kid.

I am proud and resourceful, so Child’s experience of being a poor kid is different from some of the poor kids she goes to school with.  We are also not always poor.  We are never rich, but we are sometimes lower middle class instead of poor.  It is the way with freelancing.

Child’s first grade teacher told me that she typically loses about half of her students to moving for reasons of financial hardship.

That totally blew my mind.  When I was little, we got maybe one new kid a year, and occasionally kids wouldn’t show up for the following year, but they NEVER left in the middle of the year.

Another thing that blew my mind?

Last year, Child was in a special reading program.  So every day, we did the hour’s worth of homework Child got from her reading help and from her regular class.  Her reading teacher thanked me repeatedly for helping her with her homework, for holding her accountable.

I thought, “but that’s what parents do.”

Rain

I take child to school every morning because we live too close for her to get bussed.

And every morning, we working poor people kiss our kids goodbye in our work outfits, some of us are in our pajamas.  Some of us are incredibly young, pushing strollers, or pregnant, or too skinny, or too round, or wear clothes that were obviously somebody richer’s castoffs.

A lot of the parents’ voices rattle from smoking too much. Have kids whose backpacks smell like stale cigarettes. A lot of the parents have stringy, unwashed hair.  A lot of the parents leave the dropping off to the grandparents.  A lot of kids come with somebody else’s parents.  But there’s a real feeling of community and teamwork in these moments.

They feel like home to me.  They feel like moments full of people coming together in a ritual.

Yesterday morning, it was raining.  I often think it’d be a fun view from the air, all the bobbing umbrellas, then the clusters of them at the entrance to the school while people keep themselves, their kids, other people’s kids dry.

When I was little, I barely had to go ten feet from my front door to another dry spot.  I was released within inches of my elementary school, under an awning.

The kids at Child’s school know about trekking for blocks, and they see the value of an umbrella, which is something I had no concept of until I was in my 20s.

And as I crossed High St. on the way to the Pajama Factory, I saw a dad on crutches, getting drenched, shuffling five kids across the street, and I thought, “maybe it’s anecdotal, but there’s a guy who recognizes the importance of getting his kids to school safely & on time.”  He stood, impervious to the rain, watching the kids, made sure they got onto school ground safely.

And as I thought more, I think it’s not anecdotal.  The poor parents I see interacting with their kids obviously love them.  They obviously care about the education.  The trouble is, it takes a lot more hours at $7 to make a living than it does at $30, $100.

And all this ridiculous rhetoric about how poor people are lazy, and Romney’s denial that he’s dismissive toward Americans who don’t pay taxes make me crazy with anger and frustration.  I wonder how many times Romney, not his hired people, helped his children with homework.

How is there any universe in which somebody parenting multiple children and working full time for minimum wage–regardless of the choices, circumstances, etc that led them to that life–could be considered to be lazy?  Working part time for minimum wage and parenting a single child is a greater task than anyone sane would take on outside of parental love.

The fact is that the working poor do not have the time or energy to deal with their kids’ homework.  When the greater pressure is making sure the kids are dressed and fed, who gives a shit about a math worksheet?

It’s not right that our world is like this.  It’s not right that anybody would complain that people who live in poverty don’t have to pay taxes.  It’s not right that there are individual humans who receive enough money annually to pay for private educations for every single one of the underserved kids in my county.  Or that those same humans are pointing their bloated, greedy fingers at the poor–of whom they possess no realistic conception–and saying, “You’re the problem.  You are.  You’re the reason America’s broken.”  How can a group with no voice break America?

But people–even the working poor–listen.  Why?

I would love to understand.  Please help me.  Do you understand how it happens that the filthy stinking rich people who hang out in their luxe mansions, summer homes, golf courses, race tracks, and order more food get to blame and criticize people who have so little they can’t even see to their kids’ educations properly? And why anybody with a modicum of sense would agree?

15 comments on “Rainy Mornings And The Working Poor

  1. This post makes me cry. In a good way. I have limited available time so I’m just going to say this: YES.
    xox

  2. This is pure and fire-bright. Well-fucking-said. In answer to your question: I don’t think it is anything that anyone with a modicum of sense could believe. I think it’s something that people deep deep deep in the extreme mental illness of denial and addiction (to money, to power, to privilege) can believe.

  3. Raises the question of who’s truly impoverished, but also exemplifies the tendency for one stereotype to breed others. If the privileged point to the working poor as the “the problem,” it’s really tempting for the working poor to point the finger right back, and I suspect durable, equitable solutions do not lie in the direction of finger pointing.

    • I agree with you, Grace. Finger pointing won’t help.

      But I also think that the privileged have a much larger say in what’s happening in and to our country than the working poor. And I’m not talking about upper middle class here, (one house in the suburbs, two nice cars, two kids, a dog, maybe a country club or fancy gym, you know: the “American Dream.”) I’m kind of unabashedly pointing at the 1% in this.

      HOWEVER, I agree that the solution–if there be one–does not lie in the blame, but in the discussion. And maybe in helping the working poor get a voice.

  4. I’ve spoken with enough of those sorts who Do Not Get It to be able to sum up a lot of their “reasoning” for why they blame the poor. Please understand that I hold these statements in total disregard, having been poor (albeit in a country with health care and other social safety nets) and having worked many hours at less than minimum wage in my life.

    Here goes:

    They’ll say, first and foremost, that there’s no empathy to be had for parents who are poor because they shouldn’t have had children in the first place. Don’t even bring up how this same group of people is frequently against birth control in general, or at least against medical coverage including birth control; they’ll snap back that women should keep their legs shut if they don’t want to get pregnant. And of course, they see all abortion as murder, so if a woman gets pregnant – be she married or not – then it is seen as a backhanded gift from god that she have to raise this child under hardship. But the children are, of course, the problem of those stuck in this situation, and rich people should not have to pay for other people’s wanton mistakes.

    I am very serious when I use those ugly words, because I have heard them. Poor children are seen as wanton mistakes. They are the product of slutty mothers. Rich girls are pure, poor girls are sluts. Rich girls have the good breeding and education to keep their knees closed. Poor girls are immoral whores, frequently seeking to trap innocent young well-to-do men who cannot help but be ensnared by such lascivious behaviour. And while it’s rampant in schools – because, of course, of the removal of Christian prayer from schools – it’s also dangerous to adults, which is why you’ve heard lately no doubt of pamphlets urging good Christian women to go home and put some clothes on.

    Because women are the bearers of original sin. Women are nasty, devil-driven creatures ever on the edge of lust, and good, honest, hard-working men have their eyes wrenched away from god to look upon the brazenness and be tempted by it.

    And that’s why you can’t say, “Um, here’s a married couple who were completely responsible with their parenting and their finances but unexpectedly fell upon hard times and are now poor.” Because in this worldview, it’s still their fault. They did something to deserve that. They were insufficiently pious. They didn’t plan properly. They weren’t frugal enough. They picked the wrong training in school. They didn’t work hard enough. They had a bad attitude. God didn’t grace them for some reason, and since god is perfect, it must be the fault of the poor.

    If the poor person or group in question has some other major differentiating factor from those looking down, so much the easier; be it a different racial background, a different linguistic background, a different ethnicity or geography or religion or anything that can be seized upon to define them as “other” and “lesser” even if the latter word is spoken of in more hushed tones. “I’m not a racist but it’s just not part of Hispanic culture to value education.” A story on NPR last year spoke of a study showing a majority of public school teachers believe that sort of statement. If you google about hispanics and education you will find a preponderance of articles and interviews emphasizing that meme. They are inferior people from an inferior culture, they are lazy (even as they steal jobs, which I still find the most ridiculous juxtaposition of racial stereotypes), so it’s their own fault that they’re poor.

    Even those who have been poor but become wealthy have a tendency to look down upon the poor with a sense of, “I pulled myself out of that: what’s wrong with you?” There’s an overwhelming assumption that they didn’t work as hard. Never mind disparity in schooling by geography or even the pure dumb luck of landing that one perfect teacher at the right time that gets a kid up and out of a bad system: it’s so much easier to say, “I worked hard, I’ve got mine, you can’t have it you lazy bum.”

    And once you’re insulated against having to know anybody who is poor – especially if former friends who fall into poverty have to move out of the neighbourhood, literally and figuratively – then it becomes easier to hear these talking points and believe them. Standard logical fallacies creep in, especially confirmation bias (well all of the black people I know are poor so something about them must make them that way), and the next thing you know, you have a rigid, self-perpetuating worldview. Privilege is very blinding that way, and guys like Romney typify all that is privilege.

    Sorry for the bummer but you asked to know why, and there you have it.

    • VERY useful observations, says the Mom who didn’t get herself pregnant.

    • I replied to this in the car, but it must’ve been lost, b/c it’s not here now.

      What I said was something along the lines of I loved this so much that it made me want to kiss you on your wanton, liberal mouth, despite the fact that I am so embarrassingly heterosexual, it would probably not result in as much wantonness as I should be capable of, my being a sinning, lascivious whore and all.

      xoxo

      • Yup, my wanton liberal mouth is attached to a dangerously educated filthy female brain. I am also a legal immigrant (having the privilege of wealth to allow that) who will be voting for the first time this fall. Oh, and I have an IVF baby who would not exist if Paul Ryan had his legal way. I am that which the GOP fears above all things. >:D

      • And better informed than many folks who were born here, in addition to your filthy harlot mouth attached to feminist brain & nontraditionally fertilized body. Welcome. I am glad you are here to vote. Xoxo.

  5. Well yeah…we filthy immigrant scum have to pass tests and stuff. And being the overachieving nerd that I am, I memorized all 99 questions and several answers to each (because some of them are things like “name a cabinet position”). I only found out a few days before the test that they only ask 10 and you only have to get six correct. Le sigh.

    But nobody votes as hard as an angry liberal immigrant. VOTE ALL THE THINGS!

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