As the country slides deeper into recession, the grim triage of home repair — which lots of people, living in homes that they could never really afford to begin with, face today — spotlights the economic ladder we’re all precariously perched upon. There’s what we can’t afford not to do, what we should do but have to let slide, and what we may not do again for a long time.
They saw it coming. The working poor always see it coming, well before the Wall Street analysts and the Federal Reserve wonks. From the bottom rung of the ladder, you get a more immediate view of the economy and the direction it’s taking.
As well as the questions–so apparent in the inequality issue–that no one asks:
Does anyone really need a $20 million salary? If you have that salary, do you need a bonus? If you take that much, won’t somebody else be deprived?
Levison, author of A Working Stiff’s Manifesto, stages these thoughts around an anecdote of an under-employed carpet installers not yet on the dole. We wonder who’s watching to see how their ranks are expanding. Katherine Newman and Victor Tan Chen’s The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America, now available in paperback, makes a similar statement about the working poor. Fall beneath the poverty line–roughly $20,000 a year for a family of four– and you’re a visible statistic and ripe for benefits. Rise just above it and you disappear.
Levison’s final point, “the people who understand money the best are the ones who don’t have it” puts a bitter twist on the irony of it all. Too bad it’s true.