So, I was in the express lane at the grocery store the other day when the woman in front of me reached into her bag to pay for her purchases. My eye was caught first by the gorgeous diamond ring she was wearing, second by the Louis Viutton bag she reached into, third by the Louis Vuitton wallet she pulled out of that bag and finally by the SNAP ebt card she pulled out of that wallet.
“Well, isn’t that just typical?” I thought.
Then, I caught myself. I had to ask what I really know about that woman. Is that a real diamond? Are the purse and wallet real? If they all are, did she once have a great-paying job and lose it? Is she a system leech? The truth is, I don’t know. I know literally nothing about that woman other than what I saw at first glance, which is to say – still – nothing.
I hadn’t read the book. I’d only seen the cover.
The whole incident reminded me of an article I read several months ago in the Washington Post – This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps. Take a few minutes to read that. It’s truly enlightening, if you choose to let it be. The woman and her husband were neither the Haves nor that Have Nots. They were the Once Hads.
And there are lots of us.
I work in an industrial setting. I make about a quarter of what I made two years ago. I went nearly a whole year with no income at all and nearly bankrupted myself trying to sell insurance – a job I’m not well-suited for. I worry about money all the time. I don’t make enough to keep up, but I make too much to get help.
And I’m not alone.
In that industrial setting, I work with more college graduates and even advanced degree holders than you can imagine. I work with former business owners who, like me, are not at all convinced that this recession is over, regardless of what the news says. We are all constantly looking for jobs that will pay us salaries closer to what we used to make; but, those jobs are tougher to find than you might imagine (and I seriously hope that the truths I’m sharing here don’t torpedo my efforts).
In the last two years of feeling like I constantly have my hand out asking for something, owing more people than I can consider if I want to sleep at all, and working harder to make less than I’ve ever made in my life, I’ve learned a great deal. I was much less socially compassionate than I thought I was when I was able to make ends meet. People just needed to worker harder or find better paying jobs. If it’s this hard for me with a degree, how much harder is it for someone without one? How about that kid with a GED? Should she have taken out massive student loans to earn a degree which may not do her any good? What if she’s from an environment that just doesn’t see that as an option? How many minimum wage jobs does she have to work to be able to afford a place to live? I can tell you that when I was making good money, I had no clue how difficult it was at the bottom of the food chain.
Having read at least part of the book, I have a better understanding now.