hand-to-mouth

This is a book just out that I just finished reading and needed to blog about. I’ve read many books about people living at or below the poverty line, subsisting on tips or minimum wage when they had a job. I’ve never read one written by such a person and its author, Linda Tirado, is such a person and she is a very good writer who describes life on the economic margins with biting wit and a lot of insight. I am not a celebrity who lives a cloistered life. I’ve marched in picket lines and spoken at rallies alongside poor people. I’ve slept on the floors of many a working class family I was organizing with or when I was researching films like “The Dollmaker” and “Nine to Five” (of course that was back when my joints and bones were more forgiving.) But I learned a lot from Tirado’s book, stuff rich people need to know; stuff that conservative, anti-food-stamps and TANF types need to know. Really. I’m writing this blog in the hopes that it will motivate you to read it — especially people of the latter ilk.

I’ve been interested in the whole issue of restaurant workers who live on tips and how incredibly hard their lives are. I’ve heard women speak who work with the Restaurant Opportunity Center which addresses issues of wages and sexual harassment (from customers as well as employers) which waitresses endure–women who live so hand-to-mouth they dare not complain for fear of losing their jobs. I follow the amazing successes of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). As “Modern Family” actor Ed O’Neill recently said at a LAANE dinner, “Any group that can raise wages for tens of thousands of hotel workers and truck drivers and airport workers is doing something right.” I pay attention to these things. But I realized reading “Hand to Mouth” how much I didn’t know, hadn’t even thought of.

Below are a few among the many passages worth repeating from the book:

“If you feel that something must be done before the villagers find their pitchforks, here is what you can do: Stop being a dick to service workers whenever possible. Start filling out those stupid surveys when someone’s done their job well, because they really do make us get a quota of them. Stop pretending you’re doing us a favor or performing some high moral duty by refusing to tip. And start admitting that you need us as much as we need you.”

“Next time you see someone [she’s talking here about waitresses] being “sullen” or “rude”, try being nice to them. It’s likely you’ll be the first person to do so in hours. Alternatively, ask them an intelligent question. I used to come alive when someone legitimately wanted to know what I’d recommend”

“During World War II, we had government-sponsored day care facilities. It was generally acknowledged that single-parent households, which the families left behind by the soldiers were, needed extra support. Maybe, and this is just a thought, we could do that again. Child-care crisis solved. Plus it’s another jobs program.”

“I do not see a difference, the way some people do, in the federal money. Whether you are getting your benefits in the form of SNAP cards or deductions, it’s the same thing….The one difference? Rich people get way more from the government than poor people do—see above-mentioned mortgage interest, capital gains, light inheritance tax, retirement savings breaks, subsidies—but the poor are the only ones getting shamed for it.”

Plus, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote the Foreword.

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