Friday, August 12, 2011

Nickel and Dimed

Nickel and Dimed (2011 Version), On Turning Poverty into an American Crime
- by Barbara Ehrenreich
"The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has indeed been criminalized in America."
On sharing food:
"The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking. A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, leading to the arrests of several middle-aged white vegans.

One anti-sharing law was just overturned in Orlando, but the war on illicit generosity continues. Orlando is appealing the decision, and Middletown, Connecticut, is in the midst of a crackdown. More recently, Gainesville, Florida, began enforcing a rule limiting the number of meals that soup kitchens may serve to 130 people in one day, and Phoenix, Arizona, has been using zoning laws to stop a local church from serving breakfast to homeless people."
On criminalizing debt:
"For the not-yet-homeless, there are two main paths to criminalization, and one is debt. Anyone can fall into debt, and although we pride ourselves on the abolition of debtors’ prison, in at least one state, Texas, people who can’t pay fines for things like expired inspection stickers may be made to “sit out their tickets” in jail.

More commonly, the path to prison begins when one of your creditors has a court summons issued for you, which you fail to honor for one reason or another, such as that your address has changed and you never received it. Okay, now you’re in “contempt of the court.” "
What to do...
"So what is the solution to the poverty of so many of America’s working people? Ten years ago, when Nickel and Dimed first came out, I often responded with the standard liberal wish list -- a higher minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation, and all the other things we, uniquely among the developed nations, have neglected to do.

Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: if we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way. Stop underpaying people for the jobs they do. Stop treating working people as potential criminals and let them have the right to organize for better wages and working conditions.

Stop the institutional harassment of those who turn to the government for help or find themselves destitute in the streets. Maybe, as so many Americans seem to believe today, we can’t afford the kinds of public programs that would genuinely alleviate poverty -- though I would argue otherwise. But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down."


Dr. Mel said...

What an disheartening summary of the right-wing attitude toward misfortune. And many of these anti-sharing enforcers consider themselves Chrisitans--what a joke.

Here's a pertinent quote: ‎"If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we have to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and then admit that we just don't want to do it."
~ Stephen Colbert

Bix Weber said...

Article from Warren Buffett yesterday:

Dr. Mel said...

Saw the Buffett article and was very impressed by it!