One more rant and then I promise to stop for a bit and return to things like genealogy or anecdotes about my random encounters with fake mustaches to celebrate Freddie Mercury. Of course, that is unless someone does something wacky like fly a Confederate flag over their Capitol building and wonders, “how on earth could racism possibly be alive today?” As usual, I digress.
A few months ago I was reading a post by Mike Rowe. Now let me just say, I completely adore Mike Rowe. He’s introduced me to a world of things I never want to do in my life, and he’s made me appreciate those who do. If you aren’t familiar with him, he’s the former host of “Dirty Jobs” and is the narrator for Deadliest Catch. (WOOO! Northwestern! WOOO! Time Bandit!) He has that every-man appeal, a beautiful voice, oh and he used to sing opera.
I follow him on Facebook to get my weekly dose of “Friday’s with Freddy” and to read his responses to crazy fan mail, which he always greets with a great amount of wit and humor. He’ll also occasionally tackle tough political issues, and while we don’t always agree, I always appreciate the eloquent way with which he explains his point of view. You can tell he’s put a great deal of thought into the subject at hand, and if I’m not in agreement I almost always walk away thinking, “While I don’t agree, I completely see and appreciate where you’re coming from.”
Back to that post from a few months ago – the subject had to do with livable wages and raising the minimum wage. What I want to talk about is not what Mike said, which was against raising the minimum wage, but the comments that followed. The gist of which seemed to be a highly vitriolic stew of, “people who work in minimum wage jobs are lazy. If they wanted to have more money, they could. No one to blame but themselves.” (Imagine all of that written rather hatefully.)
It reminded me of a training class I recently attended where they attempted to teach the class empathy by assigning us a made-up person, giving us the bare minimum of details, and then asking us how we felt as that person. Mine was a working mom who had two kids in school and lived in less than ideal living conditions. When asked how she felt I explained my life was hard in ways people couldn’t understand, but I was proud of my kids staying in school and I worked each day for them. Now because I could believe that a person in that situation was doing her best and would actually be proud of her children, I was told in front of the class that I was wrong, and the trainer clucked her disapproval at me sensing I clearly failed her assignment, missing the point entirely. (She later attempted to teach us how to read auras. I allowed her to see mine in all it’s shining glory which led to a small standoff. When I’m the problem-child in a class, something has gone horribly wrong.)
My point to that story is that not everyone who is impoverished needs your pity, and not everyone who is working a minimum wage job is lazy or lacking in some important way. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of working for minimum wage, you know there’s not a lot of time for sitting around and daydreaming. In many cases you’re serving the public either directly or indirectly. You’re stocking shelves, running forklifts, greeting customers, mowing lawns, trimming hedges, scrubbing toilets, or you’re scrubbing feet, and hands. You’re picking up trash in a truck or throughout a building. You’re in a file room, entering data or answering call after call. And when you’re done, you run to the next job, because you understand that there’s a great imbalance between the cost of living and the minimum wage. You have to keep a roof over your head, food on the table and oftentimes not just for you – you have a family.
I would argue that in general these are not lazy people. These are the hardworking people who keep our society running and help us feel civilized with our mani/pedis, our towel service, our pool maintenance, groceries, etc.
One of the world’s richest women, Gina Rinehart, once said, “ If you’re jealous of those with more money don’t just sit there and complain, do something to make more money yourself. Spend less time drinking, smoking and socializing and more time working.” I can only assume she inherited her fortune thanks to her avoidance of vice and of course her hard working nature (and delightful disposition). She then went on to push to lower the minimum wage for miners to below $2/hour, so that Australia could be more competitive.
Gina got to where she was thanks to her family (despite her blinders that tell her she’s an amazing little tycoon with certain tycooning gifts which include a disdain for her lazy, socializing, smoking, drinking miners). In theory her descendants will inherit that same fortune without doing much more than being born and having decent financial advisors along the way (all of whom I will presume will continue shunning the aforementioned vices). Much like the Royals. Much like the Hiltons or any family dynasty. In fact if you think about how you got to where you are you can likely attribute some of it is your drive, some of it to your environment, some of it to your education, and some to your personal network (whether family or friends). I am where I am because I am reasonably intelligent. I went to college and earned a degree, because I didn’t see there was a choice considering my family and friends; it was just a given. My parents went to college, most of my friends went to college and many of them have advanced degrees – there are plenty doctors of all types, whether they’re PhDs or MDs. (They’re a talented lot even if they are overachievers.) They’re the kind of people who indirectly push you in ways you don’t realize you’re being pushed.
The jobs I’ve held over the years are a result of family connections and personal connections; I didn’t do anything special other than show up for an interview. In fact, I can’t name a job that I have had that can’t in some way be attributed to someone else. Sure, I’ve moved up using my own skills, but I wouldn’t have gotten my foot in the door had it not been for someone else helping to crack it open. With hundreds of applicants applying for even the simplest of jobs, it helps to have someone say, “hey, would you talk to Beth, too” Not everyone has that network. Not everyone has the opportunities I have had. Not everyone is equipped to work in a white collar job, and you know what? That’s ok. We need everyone; they’re critical to our society..
My point is that there is a lot that plays into getting and maintaining a job, and while laziness may be a factor for a small group of people, it’s certainly not the defining characteristic when we’re talking about the poverty cycle.. If you think it’s an easy thing to break out of, then it’s likely you weren’t born into it. My father was. My father went on to be a professor of Social Work, and he can tell you best how he broke free, but suffice it to say it had to do with his environment, his education, his network of friends and a particular family that exposed him to new and different ways of thinking.
So, when I see people standing up and saying, “I want to be paid more to be able to live – to support my family – to give my children opportunities I didn’t have – to rely less on public assistance”. I don’t think disdainfully, “that’s just lazy talk”, I think about how we make that happen. If I pay more for a barely edible burger that I don’t need, and now a person no longer has to rely on SNAP to feed their family, then I’m ok with that. They’re not asking to move into your gated community, they’re just asking to live safely.
These people aren’t lazy, they just want to survive, and we should be mindful of that when they’re serving us and be thankful instead of contemptful of that person standing at the register. (Because at the end of the day they can spit in your food or dump your trash can on your immaculate lawn).
We should be doing our party to help.