Ergo, I took a job with a local big box retailer in their deli department.
Here is what I've learned about the poor in that time.
- Many -- most? -- are fat, even morbidly obese. It seems strange, no? You would think it might be the opposite because lack of money generally means lack of money to buy food in particular. However, the food they can afford is loaded with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, high fat content, and other things that not only sap their health, but as per the current National Geographic article on sugar, actually inhibit their energy levels, thus impacting the amount of exercise they get. Lacking valuable skills in general, their apparent -- apparent, mind you -- lack of concern with personal appearance is yet another strike against them, wouldn't it seem?
- They spend money they don't have to, part 1. Like I said, I work in the deli. If I had to break down our clientelle by income level, I'd say 1% is in the top income bracket (if even that), 25% are middle class, and the rest look as if they could receive some form of government assistance. That's being hugely judgmental, I'll grant you, and obviously you can't always judge the proverbial book by the cover. Nonetheless, you can generally tell when you're looking at a Rockefeller or a Rothschild and when you're looking at a character out of The Grapes of Wrath or Norma Rae or something. Our customers get a pound of this at $5.98/pound, a pound of this at $4.98/pound, and half-pound of another thing at $7.98 per pound, and a pound of chicken roll at $2.98/pound. (For those living in metric countries, one pound equals 453.59 grams.) That's over $20 when they could get more food for less money.
- They spend money they don't have to, part 2. Almost every one of them has a tattoo. While some have only one, very small tattoo, most have more than one, and they are not just a small heart with "Mom" written across it. They're huge, multi-colored, and must have taken several hours to complete. When you consider a rough average for a tattoo artist is $100/hour, and that a large tattoo can take up to three hours, that's a considerable chunk of cash. The really good artists make upwards of $300/hour. A large tattoo could cost nearly $1,000. When you're poor, how do you afford that?
- They spend money they don't have to, part 3. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've seen them texting or talking on their Smart phones. These phones cost between $70-300. The plans cost between $30-55/month. While driving my son to football practice this morning (American football, natch), I saw a woman in black pants, a white button down, collared shirt, and an a brown apron, indicating she was a working class woman with a job at some restaurant or grocery store or something, probably waiting for the bus to take her to her place of employment. She was smoking a cigarette (another huge cost), and as we went through the intersection toward school, she was texting on her large Smart phone, and when I drove back on my way home, she was still there, smoking and texting.
- They spend money they don't have to, part 4. They splurge. The crushing weight of poverty that gives one the sense of drowning when one is surrounded by a sea of wealth and attractive consumer goods that one just can't afford is maddening. I know. I've been there. I often am there (who am I kidding?). Thus when one gets a windfall of cash, the inclination is to splurge rather than to keep on the same frugal, tight fisted road. It is a desire for release from that life-sapping burden of being poor and constantly having to put off wants and do without. That's why you'll see poor people's homes festooned with flat screen TVs, their heads covered with Beats (or whatever the hip and hep earphones are called) and $25 baseball hats, their bodies draped in mock jerseys from their favorite team that cost $60-$130, their credit bills high, and their insistence that they need to pay for the cable or satellite package that gives them access to every NFL game (or NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS, whatever).
- Many are poorly mannered. How any of them hold down jobs when lacking basic niceties such as saying "please" and "thank you" and while being arrogant and condescending is amazing to fathom. Granted, poor manners are not limited to class. Those who are better off have been known to treat my colleagues and I with barely concealed condescenion and even contempt (you can almost hear the thoughts in their brains draining through the looks in their eyes, they seem so loud, 'What sort of a loser works in this store's deli?'). However, since I deal mostly with the poor, I'm thinking mostly of the poor here. You know the adage that if you're a woman professional, you have to be that much better than the men around you to simply get equal consideration? I think the same applies to the poor. There is a built in prejudice against them.
- They have a sense of entitlement. I saw something on TV this morning about a woman who procured a lost dog, and who tried to sell it on Craig's List. NBC News sent a reporter and camera to the door. She said she felt bad about the dog but not about the distress under which she put the owner nor the theft she committed. After all, she's a single mother with a 1-year-old and fraternal twins on the way (hmmmmmm), and she needs to buy diapers, the economny's bad, and she'll do anything it takes to care for her babies. So what if it's against the law? Yikes! It was distressing and disheartening and sickening to watch her show absolutely no shame in being confronted with her crime. Yes, this is one woman, but I do see this same sort of entitlement attitude (and that's what it basically is) on a noticeable basis at the store.
Snob alert: It wouldn't be so bad if the poor who make up our clientelle were buying something half-way decent. But they're buying white American cheese. What is the purpose? Life is too shart to eat bad cheese, and "American cheese" -- white or "yellow" (how can that be yellow? it's orange) -- is the worst of the bad (Cooper Sharp cheese is somewhat of an exception; it's OK). But if you're just looking for something to put on sandwiches, even though it totally obliviates the taste of the premium black forest ham or roast beef you just bought at $7.98/pound, why not terrible cheese? You're looking for effect and not taste at this point, so it's somewhat understandable.
None of this is to per se knock the poor. These are simply observations. Someone recently told me my place of employment is a "field," by which I'm guessing she meant "mission field." It is, but it also is a field loaded with people who need to learn what it takes to get ahead in this world.
The gap between rich and poor may be getting wider, but it's not necessarily the rich's fault.