Let's enlighten ourselves before we engage in class warfare.
Looking out onto the landscape of 2020, we see the makings of a historic year–but not in the best ways. Natural disasters like bushfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes are becoming more common and worsening in intensity, and the divide between the rich and the poor keeps growing. In fact, over 38 million Americans live in poverty. But before we can discuss how to rectify the problem (let alone who's to blame for the institutional failures), we as a culture have a weak understanding of what poverty entails. Some critics mock millennials for not being able to afford iced coffee and avocado toast, while in actuality they're the poorest generation since World War II, having felt the financial strains of a recession and inflation. Meanwhile, elderly boomers are facing dire circumstances as they're looking to retire amidst an economy that can't sustain them.
The problem, of course, is that unless you've been young and coming-of-age under the weight of the economy's institutional failures and also entered the twilight of your life to find your savings unsustainable for modern living, you don't know what those experiences are like.
So before we engage in our next argument about the state of the world, let's enlighten ourselves with these books that illuminate the truth about poverty.
Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1943)
Betty Smith based her iconic coming-of-age novel on her own experiences growing up in a poor Williamsburg neighborhood. The protagonist's struggles are punctuated with alternating tenderness and bitterness, turning Smith's novel into an American classic.
"Getting by" is a notably nebulous terms and it's in stark contrast to a "livable wage."
"What you don't necessarily realize when you start selling your time by the hour," writes Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, "is that what you're really selling is your life." The going hourly rate for your life is? $7.25 if you go by the federal minimum wage, which hasn't been raised since 2009. More than half of states mandate a higher minimum wage than the federal level. A minimum wage job will fetch you $10 an hour in Maine; $10.50 in California; and $12.50 in Washington, D.C. But where is that wage enough to get by?