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These OWS Protestors Aren't "Poor"

We’re about four weeks into Occupy Wall Street, and one of the common themes we hear is the protestors are dissatisfied with the 1% of Americans who are said to hold “all the wealth”.  Well, I will say that they have one point…. it is odd that “fat cats” are getting salary bumps during a recession.  I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you fall on, it seems weird that a company would fire thousands of employees and then pay their executives higher salaries.  That’s not a partisan observation on my part; it’s an honest one.  I’ll give Liberals and Occupy Wall Street Protestors that much, but I wrote this piece to focus on the plight of the 99% of people who “aren’t rich”.  Primarily, I want to focus on what it means to be “poor” in 2011.  I think some perspective is in order, because many people don’t seem to know what “poor” is.  Let’s begin.

When it comes to understanding poverty in America, there are two camps:  People who remember the 1970’s and 80’s, and the people who don’t.  Allow me to offer perspective.

You can be poor today and still live a comfortable life.  You can have internet, heat, air conditioning, 3 meals plus snacks, your own bedroom, medical care, and you can still do recreational activities like going to an amusement park or the movies.  As someone who grew up in the 80’s and was “poor” in the early 2000’s, I have some critical perspective that I think many are missing today.

I remember what poverty felt like in the early 80’s.  I hear it was worse in the 70’s, but my data banks don’t go back that far.  I remember winter mornings in the Midwest.  My parents’ car (singular) had plastic seats.  The kids at Occupy Wall Street can’t fathom what I’m going to describe next.  We lived in the kind of neighborhood where you don’t leave you car running unattended, so we would sit in it as it “warmed up”.  Cars had carburetors back then.  You couldn’t start them and drive away.  You could try, but the engine would keep stalling out, and eventually, you would be so frustrated that you would pull over and let the engine heat up like it wanted to.  So I sat there on plastic seats that were so cold that they hurt my bones.  I could feel the coldness even through my coat.  Not that it was a good coat.  See, technology has come a long way today, but in the 80’s, the cheap coat at Kmart was about “worthless”.  So I sat there on the cold seats and watched my breath make little clouds in front of my face.  That’s another thing… Car heaters back then didn’t really “work” until the car had been driven a certain distance, but we couldn’t drive yet, because the engine was still heating up.  So we sat.  We didn’t have anything on our iPhone to distract us, because iPhones didn’t exist.  And if they did, they would probably cost about $4,000, so it’s not like we would own one anyway.  We did have an FM stereo though, but it didn’t have presets.  It had big mechanical knobs, and you could feel tension when you turned them.  You could feel metal bands winding their way through the rectangular box as you chose your stations.  So we sat there looking at our breath while waiting for the car to be warm enough to be driven away.  You knew it was warm enough, when it “kicked down”.  Yeah, that’s a quirk about carburetors you might not know about.  The engine would run (loudly) at a really high RPM until it was ready to “kick down”.  You kicked it down by stomping on the gas pedal.  It usually took 2-5 minutes before it would go from “VRRRRRrrrrrrrrooooooMMMmmmmm” to “chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug”.  The engine chugged and sounded like it might want to stall because it was still too cold, and it probably had something to do with the density of the cold air outside.  I don’t know.  I was 8, and I hadn’t really figured out the internal combustion engine yet, but I remember what it was like.

Other things I remember are that we had one TV.  Just one.  And 25 inches was “big” for the 80’s.  So that’s what we had.  A lot of people had smaller TV’s in our neighborhood.  So imagine seven people watching a 25 inch box that was almost too heavy to pick up.  You know, a lot of you are reading this on an iMac that has a 27 inch screen.  Chew on that.  Heck, an iPad just about has a 10 inch screen.  Anyway…

Most kids I knew didn’t have their own room.  They shared one.  Sometimes they shared the same bed.  The lucky ones had bunk beds.  I was in the military before I ever got to sleep in a bunk bed.  In case you wondered, it’s really not as fun as it looks, but they are quaint.  Most of us brown bagged our lunch or had a lunch box.  My mom made me take food to school in a Tupperware container.  I really wished I had a lunch box.  I don’t know the economics of the 80’s, but apparently, it was cheaper to make your own food than to buy it from the school then.  I think it’s cheaper to buy it from the school today.  (but again, I haven’t priced out what a “brown bag” would cost)

For most of my childhood, we didn’t have air conditioning, at least not central air.  When I was 7, we got a window unit that kept the dining room cold, but our bedrooms still felt like crap.  If winter mornings sucked, summer nights might have sucked worse.  It was hard trying to sleep when you sweated in your bed.  They sold box fans back then, but in all honesty, it felt like they made more noise than they did the circulation of air.  So I didn’t sleep much during the summer.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to lay awake until 1 in the morning.  Central air conditioning would have been nice.

Our car didn’t have air conditioning either.  You ever hear of the “460 air conditioning” system?  A lot of people said that they had that back then.  You drive 60 miles an hour with all four windows down. (hence “460 air system”)  Air conditioning in our car would have been nice.

Since I’ve talked so much about cars, I may as well throw this out there… By the time I was 15, almost everyone I knew had to have a car’s engine rebuilt by then.  You don’t really hear about that very much anymore.  Transmissions, sure, but engines, not so much.  Today, when people blow an engine, they usually just get a different car.  That was a fantasy when I was growing up.  I personally rebuilt three by the time I was 18.  One of them was mine.  The others belonged to family members.  I don’t really think many kids at OWS would know how to do that.  I’m speculating, and I could be wrong, but this is my hunch.

I mentioned having your own bedroom earlier in the post.  I don’t know what getting government assistance was like back then, but I know some things about what it’s like in California today. (not from personal experience, mind you)  I’ve talked to some of my neighbors with 4 and 5 bedroom houses and found out that in California, if you have the right mix of boys and girls (and enough of them), then when they assist you with housing they HAVE to give you enough money to rent a house that has “enough” bedrooms.  It’s an interesting little clause, because that means these people get to live in nice houses while living on the government dime.  Think about it… most apartments don’t have 4-5 bedrooms, and the ones that do are pretty expensive/nice.  And most houses that have 4-5 bedrooms are also pretty expensive or nice.  So a lot of “poor” people I know live in nicer houses than my friends that work and went to college.  That’s another thing you might want to chew on.  Food stamps (or EBT)) out here in interesting too.  You get “about” $200 per person for food stamps.  The people in the 5 bedroom houses are getting close to $1000 a month in food stamps.  That’s not bad, especially because food stamps will buy many more things than they did in the 80’s.  My dad was out of work and got food stamps for about 2 months when I was growing up.  I remember there were many restrictions on what we could buy.  Today, you can use an EBT at Taco Bell or a strip club.  Times have changed for “poor” people, my friends.

Even on the more reasonable spectrum of things, the “working poor” have it better than my family did growing up.  I rented an apartment in 2001 that had air conditioning, a dish washer, a nice patio, a decent community gym, pool, and 24 hour maintenance.  It was actually pretty nice.  The cost?  $420 a month.  That was with no government assistance.  It was just what a cheap apartment went for in the Midwest in 2001.  I live in California now, and affordable apartments are about $800-$1300 a month for everything I described above.  In the scheme of things, that’s a lot of comfort for a price that most people with a job can afford.  Those options didn’t really exist when I was a kid.  The cheap places to live had no air conditioning, dishwashers, gyms, etc.  Sometimes they weren’t even what you would call “clean”.

And that’s the thing…  There used to be a really big difference between the “haves” and the “have nots”.  The “haves” didn’t sit in a frozen car staring at their breath.  They had multiple televisions.  Their kids got their own bedrooms.  They had air conditioning.  The had dishwashers.  They had the internet.  They had computers.  (poor people did not have computers… there was no such thing as a $200 netbook… computers were well over $1,000)  And minimum wage was less than $5 an hour.  Poor people in the past were lucky to have a clean place to live.  A lot (or all) of the kids at Occupy Wall Street don’t know these things.  They don’t know what poverty feels like.  They don’t know what fixing their own car feels like.  They didn’t eat peanut butter sandwiches out of a Tupperware container at school.  Folks, potato chips were a luxury to me.  I was jealous of the kids that got them.  Most of these protestors don’t know what “hard” is.

The most beautiful irony of all is this…. “Protestors” at these “occupy” rallies can read this blog and tell me that I’m a “stupid douche bag” from a cell phone that they’re using while they “camp” out.  It’s freaking hilarious.  In 2002, only the “rich” people had camera phones.  Nine years later, these brats can surf the internet and blog about how terrible “rich” people are from a device that fits in their pocket.  I love it.

I’m not saying that poverty doesn’t exist, and I’m not saying that inequality doesn’t exist either.  I’m not even saying that it’s prudent to raise salaries for executives while firing thousands of employees.  I’m not saying any of that.  I am saying, however, that most of these protestors aren’t “poor”.  They don’t know what poverty is, and a lot of hard working capitalists have created this comfortable world that coddles them.  If anything, they should hug a rich person, not hate them.  And if any of them wants to hear what being poor is really like, I’m more than happy to show them my photo album.  Oh, wait… we couldn’t afford a camera when I was growing up.

 

Rich Mitchell is the Sr. Managing Editor of Conservative Daily News. His posts may contain opinions that are his own and are not necessarily shared by Anomalous Media, CDN, staff or .. much of anyone else. Find him on twitter, facebook and google+
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  1. Anonymous; expect us says:

    http://www.redstate.com/ What the GOP Must Do: Finding Common Ground With the Occupiers Posted by Erick Erickson Friday, October 14th at 1:16PM EDT

  2. Anonymous; expect us says:

    I saw an article on a liberal blog and realized just how responsive it was to the article above. The responsive article I saw was responding to a young man who in picture, was holding up a sheet of paper that said:

    I am a former Marine.
    I work two jobs.
    I don’t have health insurance.
    I worked 60-70 hours a week for 8 years to pay my way through college.
    I haven’t had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years.
    But I don’t blame Wall Street.
    Suck it up you whiners.
    I am the 53%.
    God bless the USA!

    The response was this:

    I wanted to respond to you as a liberal. Because, although I think you’ve made yourself clear and I think I understand you, you don’t seem to understand me at all. I hope you will read this and understand me better, and maybe understand the Occupy Wall Street movement better.

    First, let me say that I think it’s great that you have such a strong work ethic and I agree with you that you have much to be proud of. You seem like a good, hard-working, strong kid. I admire your dedication and determination. I worked my way through college too, mostly working graveyard shifts at hotels as a “night auditor.” For a time I worked at two hotels at once, but I don’t think I ever worked 60 hours in a week, and certainly not 70. I think I maxed out at 56. And that wasn’t something I could sustain for long, not while going to school. The problem was that I never got much sleep, and sleep deprivation would take its toll. I can’t imagine putting in 70 hours in a week while going to college at the same time. That’s impressive.

    I have a nephew in the Marine Corps, so I have some idea of how tough that can be. He almost didn’t make it through basic training, but he stuck it out and insisted on staying even when questions were raised about his medical fitness. He eventually served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has decided to pursue a career in the Marines. We’re all very proud of him. Your picture reminds me of him.

    So, if you think being a liberal means that I don’t value hard work or a strong work ethic, you’re wrong. I think everyone appreciates the industry and dedication a person like you displays. I’m sure you’re a great employee, and if you have entrepreneurial ambitions, I’m sure these qualities will serve you there too. I’ll wish you the best of luck, even though a guy like you will probably need luck less than most.

    I understand your pride in what you’ve accomplished, but I want to ask you something.

    Do you really want the bar set this high? Do you really want to live in a society where just getting by requires a person to hold down two jobs and work 60 to 70 hours a week? Is that your idea of the American Dream?

    Do you really want to spend the rest of your life working two jobs and 60 to 70 hours a week? Do you think you can? Because, let me tell you, kid, that’s not going to be as easy when you’re 50 as it was when you were 20.

    And what happens if you get sick? You say you don’t have health insurance, but since you’re a veteran I assume you have some government-provided health care through the VA system. I know my father, a Vietnam-era veteran of the Air Force, still gets most of his medical needs met through the VA, but I don’t know what your situation is. But even if you have access to health care, it doesn’t mean disease or injury might not interfere with your ability to put in those 60- to 70-hour work weeks.

    Do you plan to get married, have kids? Do you think your wife is going to be happy with you working those long hours year after year without a vacation? Is it going to be fair to her? Is it going to be fair to your kids? Is it going to be fair to you?

    Look, you’re a tough kid. And you have a right to be proud of that. But not everybody is as tough as you, or as strong, or as young. Does pride in what you’ve accomplish mean that you have contempt for anybody who can’t keep up with you? Does it mean that the single mother who can’t work on her feet longer than 50 hours a week doesn’t deserve a good life? Does it mean the older man who struggles with modern technology and can’t seem to keep up with the pace set by younger workers should just go throw himself off a cliff?

    And, believe it or not, there are people out there even tougher than you. Why don’t we let them set the bar, instead of you? Are you ready to work 80 hours a week? 100 hours? Can you hold down four jobs? Can you do it when you’re 40? When you’re 50? When you’re 60? Can you do it with arthritis? Can you do it with one arm? Can you do it when you’re being treated for prostate cancer?

    And is this really your idea of what life should be like in the greatest country on Earth?

    Here’s how a liberal looks at it: a long time ago workers in this country realized that industrialization wasn’t making their lives better, but worse. The captains of industry were making a ton of money and living a merry life far away from the dirty, dangerous factories they owned, and far away from the even dirtier and more dangerous mines that fed raw materials to those factories.

    The workers quickly decided that this arrangement didn’t work for them. If they were going to work as cogs in machines designed to build wealth for the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies, they wanted a cut. They wanted a share of the wealth that they were helping create. And that didn’t mean just more money; it meant a better quality of life. It meant reasonable hours and better working conditions.

    Eventually, somebody came up with the slogan, “8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure, 8 hours of sleep” to divide the 24-hour day into what was considered a fair allocation of a human’s time. It wasn’t a slogan that was immediately accepted. People had to fight to put this standard in place. People demonstrated, and fought with police, and were killed. They were called communists (in fairness, some of them were), and traitors, and many of them got a lot worse than pepper spray at the hands of police and private security.

    But by the time we got through the Great Depression and WWII, we’d all learned some valuable lessons about working together and sharing the prosperity, and the 8-hour workday became the norm.

    The 8-hour workday and the 40-hour workweek became a standard by which we judged our economic success, and a reality check against which we could verify the American Dream.

    If a family could live a good life with one wage-earner working a 40-hour job, then the American Dream was realized. If the income from that job could pay the bills, buy a car, pay for the kids’ braces, allow the family to save enough money for a down payment on a house and still leave some money for retirement and maybe for a college fund for the kids, then we were living the American Dream. The workers were sharing in the prosperity they helped create, and they still had time to take their kids to a ball game, take their spouses to a movie, and play a little golf on the weekends.

    Ah, the halcyon days of the 1950s! Yeah, ok, it wasn’t quite that perfect. The prosperity wasn’t spread as evenly and ubiquitously as we might want to pretend, but if you were a middle-class white man, things were probably pretty good from an economic perspective. The American middle class was reaching its zenith.

    And the top marginal federal income tax rate was more than 90%. Throughout the whole of the 1950s and into the early 60s.

    Just thought I’d throw that in there.

    Anyway, do you understand what I’m trying to say? We can have a reasonable standard for what level of work qualifies you for the American Dream, and work to build a society that realizes that dream, or we can chew each other to the bone in a nightmare of merciless competition and mutual contempt.

    I’m a liberal, so I probably dream bigger than you. For instance, I want everybody to have healthcare. I want lazy people to have healthcare. I want stupid people to have healthcare. I want drug addicts to have healthcare. I want bums who refuse to work even when given the opportunity to have healthcare. I’m willing to pay for that with my taxes, because I want to live in a society where it doesn’t matter how much of a loser you are, if you need medical care you can get it. And not just by crowding up an emergency room that should be dedicated exclusively to helping people in emergencies.

    You probably don’t agree with that, and that’s fine. That’s an expansion of the American Dream, and would involve new commitments we haven’t made before. But the commitment we’ve made to the working class since the 1940s is something that we should both support and be willing to fight for, whether we are liberal or conservative. We should both be willing to fight for the American Dream. And we should agree that anybody trying to steal that dream from us is to be resisted, not defended.

    And while we’re defending that dream, you know what else we’ll be defending, kid? We’ll be defending you and your awesome work ethic. Because when we defend the American Dream we’re not just defending the idea of modest prosperity for people who put in an honest day’s work, we’re also defending the idea that those who go the extra mile should be rewarded accordingly.

    Look kid, I don’t want you to “get by” working two jobs and 60 to 70 hours a week. If you’re willing to put in that kind of effort, I want you to get rich. I want you to have a comprehensive healthcare plan. I want you vacationing in the Bahamas every couple of years, with your beautiful wife and healthy, happy kids. I want you rewarded for your hard work, and I want your exceptional effort to reap exceptional rewards. I want you to accumulate wealth and invest it in Wall Street. And I want you to make more money from those investments.

    I understand that a prosperous America needs people with money to invest, and I’ve got no problem with that. All other things being equal, I want all the rich people to keep being rich. And clever financiers who find ways to get more money into the hands of promising entrepreneurs should be rewarded for their contributions as well.

    I think Wall Street has an important job to do, I just don’t think they’ve been doing it. And I resent their sense of entitlement – their sense that they are special and deserve to be rewarded extravagantly even when they screw everything up.

    Come on, it was only three years ago, kid. Remember? Those assholes almost destroyed our economy. Do you remember the feeling of panic? John McCain wanted to suspend the presidential campaign so that everybody could focus on the crisis. Hallowed financial institutions like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch went belly up. The government started intervening with bailouts, not because anybody thought “private profits and socialized losses” was fair, but because we were afraid not to intervene – we were afraid our whole economy might come crashing down around us if we didn’t prop up companies that were “too big to fail.”

    So, even though you and I had nothing to do with the bad decisions, blind greed and incompetence of those guys on Wall Street, we were sure as hell along for the ride, weren’t we? And we’ve all paid a price.

    All the” 99%” wants is for you to remember the role that Wall Street played in creating this mess, and for you to join us in demanding that Wall Street share the pain. They don’t want to share the pain, and they’re spending a lot of money and twisting a lot of arms to foist their share of the pain on the rest of us instead. And they’ve been given unprecedented powers to spend and twist, and they’re not even trying to hide what they’re doing.

    All we want is for everybody to remember what happened, and to see what is happening still. And we want you to see that the only way they can get away without paying their share is to undermine the American Dream for the rest of us.

    And I want you and I to understand each other, and to stand together to prevent them from doing that. You seem like the kind of guy who would be a strong ally, and I’d be proud to stand with you.

  3. S. L. C. says:

    Here’s the thing about patents. A large number of ideas that receive patents, never become products. In reality, ideas are a dime-a-dozen. The ones that can be turned into successful products are rare indeed.