Why Poor People Stay Poor
December 7, 2014 6:41 PM   Subscribe

 
As so often happens, Terry Pratchett said it well.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:54 PM on December 7, 2014 [52 favorites]


Previously, if you need some more rage.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:55 PM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


OMG. Like the time my daughter caught chicken pox at the daycare. Then they told me she couldn't come back until she was over it, but I still had to pay for daycare while she was gone. And then I had to put her with another mother whose child had chicken pox and pay her, while I was paying the daycare where she caught it at the same time. It almost put me into hock. I was living paycheck to paycheck.

Then my car broke down, not twice, but thrice. And finally, it did put me into dire hocks. I couldn't take it, even after working 7 days a week. I was not only dog tired, but in the hospital and no longer able to work 7 days a week to keep up with my rent and car payment and day care. Along with a student loan that had come due after not being a student anymore.

I finally filed bankruptcy, only through the grace of someone giving me the money to pay a student lawyer to file for me. Over medical bills and a VISA bill that I couldn't pay because the credit union refused to release my $100 to help pay the bill and then they garnished my wages. Oh. Fun times. One little thing in your life leads to another and then it just cascades into more and more crap, despite working hard every day.

If I could do anything... it would be to give a rest home for single mothers. Come here for a day and chill out. Because it's really hard. I had family support, more or less, but I was really in the crap shooter for a while and it sucks big donkey dicks.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:00 PM on December 7, 2014 [164 favorites]


That's a brutal story... How many of us are moving towards that level of existence?
posted by HuronBob at 7:17 PM on December 7, 2014 [10 favorites]


I heard this author on the radio - can't recall which show, but an hourlong show like maybe Diane Rehm or Talk of the Nation or something - and she blew me away. She made a lot of forceful points with really strong articulation and broke down a number of BS rhetorical strategies you hear a lot from the bootstrap crowd. She talked reality, and it was a breath of fresh air. I've talked about all these things with people, but never heard them so well described and debunked in mainstream media by someone who knows what they're talking about. I put Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, her new book, on my list to give a few folks for Christmas. It deserves a lot of attention and would be a good thing to discuss in groups, especially with people who believe some of that stuff.

It's everything Nickel and Dimed completely failed to be.
posted by Miko at 7:20 PM on December 7, 2014 [40 favorites]


> How many of us are moving towards that level of existence?

I think we all are ...
Amazon's newest fulfillment center features hundreds of robots. Watch them work in an intricate ballet of customer service through increased speed of delivery and greater local selection. Also, ROBOTS!

~click through to watch the video~

Now imagine this with McDonald's hamburgers and every other thing we buy and watch Humans Need Not Apply again.
Combine that with the ideas bounced around in the recent Hunting Task Wabbits thread (Uber finds drivers via TaskRabbit to keep their expenses down, yay sharing economy, etc.) and the slightly earlier My name is Galt -- I'm a cop. thread and soon we'll have everyone who isn't struggling financially saying things like "well the poor people should just lower their prices and post more tasks, duh".
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:28 PM on December 7, 2014 [20 favorites]


Do all cities have a towing racket like that? I know Pittsburgh does, unless something has changed recently.

This is such outrageous, blatant pure evil, yet I don't believe I've seen so much as a letter to an editor about it. What is up with that?
posted by serena15221 at 7:31 PM on December 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is such outrageous, blatant pure evil, yet I don't believe I've seen so much as a letter to an editor about it. What is up with that?

How many of the paper's readers do you think would be this adversely affected by it and how many of the people who are this adversely affected would have time to write a letter to the editor?

So much of what is going on in the world is only happening because most people don't know about it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 PM on December 7, 2014 [26 favorites]


You mean to say bootstraps are not free? Or the free ones break when you try and pull on them?
posted by dougiedd at 7:41 PM on December 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


She is a compelling writer; I'm glad her book is out and she is getting the attention.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:42 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Making change in policy (like what a towing company can do) at the city level is something linked to privilege. Wait, I'm serious. You need to have the time to attend council meetings and speak up, the time to write to your council reps, the time to get familiar with the code and make suggestions about changing it, and enough control over your schedule to match availability. You need literacy and English language skills. You also need to know who the hell is in your city government and how to reach them, which is public information but you pretty much need either newspapers or the web or time to get on the phone and find a knowledgeable and helpful person to access it.

Systems like that are set up because they work, too. Towing companies know that even poor and broke people will get the money somehow, because the car is needed so badly by them. They'll ask friends and relatives, they'll borrow, they'll take a payday loan, they'll delay paying a utility bill or rent, whatever - because they have your vital resource hostage. Sadly enough, more often than not people do come up with money, which makes such policies smart and profitable, from a towing company point of view.
posted by Miko at 7:47 PM on December 7, 2014 [44 favorites]


It's everything Nickel and Dimed completely failed to be.

If it exposes to people in comfortable circumstances some hint of the incredible barriers facing anyone trying to "grittily bootstrap" their way out of poverty, then it's doing exactly what Nickel and Dimed did for me when I read it in college.
posted by escabeche at 7:48 PM on December 7, 2014 [62 favorites]


This is capitalism in its purest form - those with power (money) exploiting the weak.

Society is rife with examples of how the entire system exists to exploit the poor and keep them that way. For example, the majority of bank fees (overdrafts, late fees, extortionate interest rates) are paid by the poor, in effect subsidizing the rich who don't pay much at all, and actually get fee waivers for having income / borrowings over a certain amount.

The economic reality we live in is the intersection between the capitalism and the hand that restrains it (the government). Australia has for the most part abolished the tow truck exploitation scam by clearly defining how property rights for vehicles remain regardless of where they are parked (so mostly, only the city gets to tow), and the courts are set to make banks repay millions in unfair fees by demonstrating the $30 late fee / overdraft fee is disproportionate to the actual cost to the bank (cents per transaction) and thus tantamount to exploitation.
posted by xdvesper at 7:50 PM on December 7, 2014 [36 favorites]


It's a hundred times better, at least, than Nickel and Dimed which was a pretty shallow and unrealistic breakdown of the challenges of poverty and, more to the point, the intractability of poverty and why systems are set up to prevent people making it off the hamster wheel. it's much better argued.
posted by Miko at 7:50 PM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


>Ugh, this is one of those things I can rant at great length about. It's affected me, my parents, and many friends.

What i always want to subject the bootstrappers to is the perfect storm snowball scenario that gets brought up in this post, and by others in this thread. How quickly, even if you weren't totally living paycheck to paycheck, a couple big unexpected problems/emergencies/sudden job loss/a combo therein can instantly put you on the street, or fuck up your life for six months or a year.

Do all cities have a towing racket like that? I know Pittsburgh does, unless something has changed recently.

Seattle and all the surrounding cities do, even the tiny ones. My friend just narrowly avoided his life completely falling apart because of that crap. He got pulled over in a moving truck with everything he owned in it, refused the search or a breathalyzer, taken to the station so they could force one, then released immediately after. But the tow lot in bumfuck assville had instantly impounded his truck. Total cost was like $650+. Would have lost his(good) new job if I wasn't available to take another friends rented truck and go pick him and all his stuff up, since even with the money the impound lot refused to release his truck to anyone but uhaul, even after they called and said he was allowed to and even sent someone down with paper work. All because the guy refused to go in the truck, or let anyone else go in it, and grab the rental paperwork that's a temporary title/proof of ownership thing.

I've also dealt with the "we impound your car, but don't "process" it for a week so even if you call we'll say we don't have it and then send you a bill for impound+a week of storage" routine with my own car. I nearly told them to keep it. I know so, so many people with stories like this. Even worse when your shitty car gets stolen but since it got impounded, you're still on the hook. Even if you filed a report and everything. So you're out a car for 2 weeks or however long, then when you find out you can get it back you owe a ton of money to some impound lot. And possibly even tickets that will prevent you from renewing your license if you don't pay, and...

God I fucking hate tow lots. I have a perpetual fantasy of a sneaking in to one that has my car and just ramming it through the fences. I always wondered how much legal trouble i'd be in if I did that.
posted by emptythought at 7:51 PM on December 7, 2014 [64 favorites]


Here's the streaming audio from the radio show where I first heard about her work - On Point. If you have 50 minutes it's entirely worth it.
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on December 7, 2014 [17 favorites]


Cracked's John Cheese did two excellent articles on the same topic.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:03 PM on December 7, 2014 [8 favorites]


Heck, even the people's republic of Cambridge, MA (our fair city) had shitty towing policies when I lived there. When my car was towed and impounded (trip out of town, snow emergency, all cars not off the street were towed - which always boggled me: where are cars supposed to go when it's snowing hard enough to be an emergency?) - anyway, when I came home to find my car missing, it wasn't a huge hardship only because I had infinite flexibility at work, spare money for a cab out to the lot, and money for the towing/impounding bill.

I still remember that the fee had to be paid in cash only - no checks or credit cards - and slipped in between the heavy bars and through a tiny slot in what must have been a bulletproof window. Made me feel dirty just doing that. And of course I learned my lesson - on future trips, my car went into a covered parking garage because I didn't want to ever deal with the towing people again, and I could afford to just buy that problem away.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:06 PM on December 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


Cracked's John Cheese did two excellent articles on the same topic.

It's a good thing we have reputable journals like Cracked.

Now I'm going to go throw up at the fact that the previous statement is true.
posted by Talez at 8:08 PM on December 7, 2014 [11 favorites]


A friend of mine had his car stolen. The cops found it the next day and stuck it in the impound lot but then didn't bother to tell him for a week. Since the window was broken when it was stolen and it is Pittsburgh the whole interior was soaking wet from a week's worth of rain. So he was out the towing fee, the impound fee, a new window, a new steering column and the whole interior steam cleaned to get the mold out. He could afford it and was insured but that would crush someone with no financial buffer.
posted by octothorpe at 8:12 PM on December 7, 2014 [9 favorites]


From these horror stories, maybe one of the requirements of bootstrapping is not to need a car....
posted by storybored at 8:19 PM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


...which is to say maybe that those places with higher social mobility also have good and cheap public transportation.
posted by storybored at 8:21 PM on December 7, 2014 [9 favorites]


Yeah but try to find a job that doesn't need a car. If you're uneducated, you're probably going to be working retail or construction and you generally need a car for either of those.
posted by octothorpe at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Even worse when your shitty car gets stolen but since it got impounded, you're still on the hook. Even if you filed a report and everything. So you're out a car for 2 weeks or however long, then when you find out you can get it back you owe a ton of money to some impound lot.

This is happening to a friend of mine right now, in the East Bay; I've been watching the events unfold over Facebook. It's fucking terrible.

From these horror stories, maybe one of the requirements of bootstrapping is not to need a car....

This. Something similar actually happened to me--my brother crashed my car (which I was storing with my mom) while I was abroad and for some reason it was impounded. Neither my brother nor my mom nor I had the money to get it out (didn't help that no one told me for 2 weeks...) so they junked it. They live in a suburb of Sacramento; I returned to San Francisco with a credit card and about $2000 in savings and hustled my way into unpaid internships and eventually a job, but I was dancing above the void for a while and had I failed and had to move back home that would basically have been the end of my employability. It still gives me the shudders to think about.
posted by sunset in snow country at 8:24 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


For example, the majority of bank fees (overdrafts, late fees, extortionate interest rates) are paid by the poor, in effect subsidizing the rich who don't pay much at all, and actually get fee waivers for having income / borrowings over a certain amount.

"You have so much money that we should give you some. Because you have a lot, you should have more!"
posted by Seiten Taisei at 8:29 PM on December 7, 2014 [10 favorites]


One of my mother's proudest moments was winning an award for graduate students while at the University of Michigan. The other recipients were being honored for breakthrough research. When it was my mother's turn, they announced she had completed her degree as a single mother of four children. She got a standing ovation.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:29 PM on December 7, 2014 [115 favorites]


maybe that those places with higher social mobility also have good and cheap public transportation

I don't think anywhere in America (with the possible exception of New York) has good public transportation. I believe the three available tiers are nonexistent/fucking worthless/usually faster than walking.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2014 [26 favorites]


maybe one of the requirements of bootstrapping is not to need a car....

Which would be great if the middle and upper classes weren't rediscovering the city, reversing last century's trend and making rents climb in the urban core, where better public transport and walkable neighborhoods exist

Not needing a car to get to work has been a priority of mine for a long time, but it's been really hard to both have my career and make that work. I now live an 8 minute walk from work, but I pay a lot more rent than I would if I lived even one more mile away. My partner, meanwhile, has to drive to work. Lining up both of our jobs in the same 1-mile radius? Not realistic. People have to go where jobs are, and live where they can afford to live. Changing city values are impacting that. More and more, poorer people live in inner-ring suburbs with very poor public transport and little industry in walkable distance, before even dealing with multi-adult households and children, which both complicate transportation needs.
posted by Miko at 8:36 PM on December 7, 2014 [18 favorites]


more previously
posted by desjardins at 8:36 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Requirements for bootstrapping?

* Good public transportation.
* Health insurance
* Libraries
* Good public education.
* Affordable housing.
* Good personal choices.
* Good luck
posted by storybored at 8:53 PM on December 7, 2014 [82 favorites]


The problem with being poor is that it takes up all your time.

Willem de Kooning
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 8:54 PM on December 7, 2014 [18 favorites]


More more previously, from when we discussed that Cracked article. Good thread - MeFi would have been a good think tank for her book research.

While reading more about her, just Googling, I came a cross a ton of articles pissily describing why she wasn't that poor and did this all to herself, so don't listen to her. That sort of just reinforces the general idea - that people will continue to find fault with the individual stories about poor people, set a ridiculous set of hoops and criteria to jump through, and in the end conclude that failure to become middle-class or wealthy is an individual rather than systemic failure.
posted by Miko at 8:54 PM on December 7, 2014 [29 favorites]


I still remember that the fee had to be paid in cash only - no checks or credit cards - and slipped in between the heavy bars and through a tiny slot in what must have been a bulletproof window.

Yeah, I can still remember my shock at the same thing when my car got towed - the tow place was in some crappy corner of Somerville (could've been the same place!), almost underneath an underpass in a really sketchy part of town, and they wanted me to walk there carrying a few hundred dollars in cash. I have absolutely never been so certain I was going to get mugged in my entire life, even though I never saw a soul on the way there - I mean, it just made too much sense, if I was a mugger I would definitely set up shop near one of these cash-only towing places. Where else are you guaranteed to find so many people on foot with lots of cash?

I have a special hatred in my heart for these kinds of basically-legalized-extortion schemes which prey on the poor and desperate, and none more so than towing companies. The more I think about them the more incoherent with rage I get.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:55 PM on December 7, 2014 [30 favorites]


I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?
posted by angerbot at 9:09 PM on December 7, 2014


emptythought: "I've also dealt with the "we impound your car, but don't "process" it for a week so even if you call we'll say we don't have it and then send you a bill for impound+a week of storage" routine with my own car. I nearly told them to keep it."

The worst part is that, in most states*, if you do that they can sue for the "past due" amount, keep the vehicle anyway, and then proceed to garnish wages for the judgement.

* Surprisingly enough, Texas is not one of those so there's one point for my home state.
posted by fireoyster at 9:09 PM on December 7, 2014


I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?

There's also getting held up by unforseen circumstances that prevent you from getting to your car, towers making mistakes that they will never admit, and let's not forget the odd towing company that will simply illegally tow your car because there's nothing you can fucking do about it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:16 PM on December 7, 2014 [23 favorites]


I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?

There is a host of reasons why you could get unfairly impounded - people up thread gave the example of snow days, others I've seen are around stolen cars, lost tickets or even a presidential visit.
That the system makes something unfortunate into something disastrous is the problem.

And this is just one little excerpt from a full length book!
posted by bystander at 9:18 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?

It's legalized extortion. You're "paying" for a service you never signed up for.

Say I start a towing company, and I charge some arbitrary amount - say a 1 million dollar towing fee or I don't give you your vehicle back. Or I could charge you $10,000 per day for storage costs. Who gets to say what price is acceptable and what is not? It's a free market and I can charge whatever I want, right?

In a regular, non coercive transaction the buyer gets to evaluate the price and choose the best product among competing sellers.

(leaving aside the fact that - even further - if an operator wanted to make a quick buck - they could tow your legally parked car to an illegal location a few meters away, take pictures of it as "proof" of the violation, then take the car back to their yard.)
posted by xdvesper at 9:18 PM on December 7, 2014 [8 favorites]


Bank loans are ass backwards. The richest people with perfect credit get the lowest interest rates. Banks will happily ratchet up your credit limit to $10,000 at 19% interest if you're poor. But if you want to responsibly borrow the same amount all at once (for something like home repair) at a reasonable rate with affordable payments - say prime plus one percent - good luck.
posted by Brodiggitty at 9:18 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?

The main problem is it's really expensive to get your car back, and you don't necessarily know how much it will cost in advance if it hasn't happened to you before (or if you haven't heard a story like this before.)

It doesn't just happen with parking violations; it can be other kinds of violations, such as failure to have your current insurance card in the glove box. If you haven't got that with you when you're asked to present it, in at least some states that means you don't get to keep driving the car, and a tow will be called right then, and the storage fees start accruing immediately.
posted by asperity at 9:19 PM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


There is a host of reasons why you could get unfairly impounded - people up thread gave the example of snow days, others I've seen are around stolen cars, lost tickets or even a presidential visit.

Yup, for me it was when my car got stolen out of the lot while I was at work. When they recovered it, they brought it to impound.
posted by dialetheia at 9:20 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


In addition to everything else this story has done, it's also been a reliable meter for which friend-of-friends on Facebook are jerks. "Don't read the comments" doesn't just apply to Slate.
posted by immlass at 9:21 PM on December 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


....that people will continue to find fault with the individual stories about poor people, set a ridiculous set of hoops and criteria to jump through, and in the end conclude that failure to become middle-class or wealthy is an individual rather than systemic failure.

This is may be like the fundamental attribution error in psychology (i.e. if you do something bad it's because of malice. If I do something bad, it's because it was an accident).

So perhaps the sociological equivalent is: If I succeed it's because of my good personal choices, if you succeed it's luck or privilege. If I fail, it was bad luck or a lack of privilege, if you fail it was because of your bad personal choices.

Integrate these two assertions and you get:

1. If I succeed it's because of my good personal choices, if you fail it was because of your bad personal choices. (which is the equivalent of your quote above)

2. If I fail, it was bad luck or a lack of privilege, if you succeed it's good luck or privilege.

We do rush to judge. But it seems you can't really say anything either way about individual examples without walking a mile in their shoes. Trying to think about this clearly, it seems that success in bootstrapping relies on three interdependent variables.

(Good/Bad systemic support) X (Good/Bad personal choices) X (Good/Bad luck)

Perhaps the definition of good systemic support is that it is strong enough to offset the Luck variable when it goes bad.
posted by storybored at 9:22 PM on December 7, 2014 [15 favorites]


*shudder* I read some of the Slate article comments. Never again.
posted by bystander at 9:23 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also, as far as fees for automobile misfortune go: in many places, if you show up at traffic court, you may have a shot at getting the fines for regular moving violations or paperwork problems waived and any information about how horribly you've failed at life removed from your driving record.

The tow lots don't waive anything, ever, and the fees add up every day until they just sell your property.
posted by asperity at 9:23 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not to mention that towing companies often have ties to organized crime -- although it's not like the government bodies that enable them don't know that.
posted by junco at 9:27 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not to mention that towing companies often have ties to organized crime

I would love to read about this if you have sources. Not that I don't believe you, though. An unaccountable, extortionate, cash-only business that operates legally? What's not to warm a gangster's heart, there?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:30 PM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


The organized crime angle would explain why you wouldn't encounter a mugger while walking through that sketchy neighborhood on your way to the impound lot. The Very Legitimate Businessmen that run these places won't let some two-bit hood dip into their income stream.
posted by dr_dank at 9:36 PM on December 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


Banks have been THROWING credit cards at me since I filed for divorce because they assume my household income took a big hit (true, but I'm not that desperate).

Re: towing, I went out the other night, and drank more than I'd planned. I did the responsible thing and took a cab home. I had a "dude! where's my car?" moment the next morning and went downtown to retrieve it. I'm lucky it was still there; if it had been towed, who knows how much it would have cost me? Incidentally, fear of having your car towed is a strong incentive to drink and drive & I think the fees should be waived/capped for that reason.

In Milwaukee, if you have 2 unpaid parking tickets, upon the 3rd violation your car can be towed. Parking rules can be rather arcane; when parking overnight, you need a permit, you have to park on opposite sides of the street depending on whether it's an odd or even day of the month, except during certain months, except on certain streets, and you need a different permit to park during the DAY in certain neighborhoods. So - someone I know got 2 tickets, forgot about them, and parked on the wrong side of the street one night. Came outside in the morning, had NO idea where his car was, thought it had been stolen. Called the police, they told him it was at the tow lot. It came to roughly $400 IIRC, including the unpaid tickets. Fortunately, he had the resources to pay it, or it would have become a Big Problem in short order. I think the parking regulations are a racket, and the fines disproportionately affect the poor.
posted by desjardins at 9:36 PM on December 7, 2014 [15 favorites]


When it's raining in Philadelphia on Lincoln Dr., which is a very curvy gateway to NW Philly with a 25 MPH speed limit (but people go min 45), there is ALWAYS at least one tow truck waiting in a parking lot off the road just waiting to tow someone who has crashed. It's crazy.

Plus anyone who ever has seen Parking Wars knows how it is at an impound lot.
posted by daninnj at 9:38 PM on December 7, 2014


Not to mention that towing companies often have ties to organized crime -- although it's not like the government bodies that enable them don't know that.

Sometimes the "government bodies" are the organized crime. Google "Operation Tow Scam," a federal investigation of the Chicago Police Department.
posted by desjardins at 9:41 PM on December 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


My friends often use me as a story about hard work = "making it", and I really hate it when they do that.

The fact is, I was super duper lucky. Right after school (which I was lucky to attend, but that was a different story) I got my first go round with Crohn's Disease. I had been diligently saving my pennies, but my health insurance was not really good for the big stuff, so my two week hospital stay not only took all my savings-- it also knocked me more than 15k in debt. I also lost the temp job I was working. I had to pay everything with a combination of credit cards and loans from friends. Nice little coming-of-age present at 21.

I literally think what saved my financial stability is I used some early Internet credibility to talk myself into a job in NL, and worked there for most of my young adulthood. In the Netherlands, you can bootstrap-- you honestly can-- because you don't need a car and because you don't have to worry about going broke with medical bills. Later I could reenter the US system (or Hong Kong in my case now, but it's similar) because I had enough of a cushion to be able to handle paying myself for better insurance. If I had to pay a prescription out of pocket I could afford it, and because I was senior enough to demand that preexisting conditions be covered.

My Crohn's was so severe and so active in that period that I have no doubt at all that had I stayed in the US, I never would have dug myself out. My family didn't have the means to help me carry the load.
posted by frumiousb at 9:43 PM on December 7, 2014 [28 favorites]


We're keeping our heads above water, but every time I see someone in more dire circumstances, all I can think of is "there but for the grace of God go I." (Even as an agnostic.) So much of getting to a decent place in life is just luck. We've all made bad decisions in life, but a lot of us never had them come back to haunt us. Not everyone is so lucky. And circumstances can be fickle. Ever run a stop sign you didn't see? Hey, no one was there, no harm no foul. Unless someone was driving through. Maybe you were playing things a bit risky but you didn't get that girl pregnant or get pregnant yourself. Maybe you were lucky enough to have found a job with decent insurance right before you crashed your bike and ended up in the hospital. I could go on and on but you get the point. The people who had the luck to not have the wrong thing happen at the wrong time, or the people lucky enough to be born into a very good financial situation, they are the ones who have a leg up. For everyone else life is a roll of the dice. I get so sick of the bootstrappy crowd acting otherwise (and it's almost funny in a way how so many of them rely on the government... I know one couple where both are employed by the government and yet they're rabidly anti-tax, plus the people on Medicare/SS or ther programs.)
posted by azpenguin at 9:54 PM on December 7, 2014 [14 favorites]


The other thing tow companies will do is steal every last thing inside your vehicle and calmly direct you to fill out a complaint form when you call them out on it.
posted by deadbilly at 10:07 PM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]


Ugh. Tow companies.

I got in a minor accident in Austin. Rear-ended another car. My little Honda wouldn't start and had to be towed away.

The tow company must have figured the thing was totaled - the front end did look pretty bad. Between the time the car was towed and the time I got down to the middle of nowhere lot, they had stolen my wheels and replaced them with mismatched junk wheels, all with flat tires.

Fortunately, I had taken pictures of the car after the accident, before it was towed. Faced with crystal clear evidence that they done fucked up, they gave me (different, shittier, stolen from some other poor bastard's car) wheels with tires that held air and waived all of the towing and storage fees. Which I accepted, because I didn't know what else to do, I was a 20 year old college student.

But if anyone is raising a mob to drive the tow lot operators out of the human race with pitchforks and torches, I'm totally in.
posted by zjacreman at 10:29 PM on December 7, 2014 [12 favorites]


I was pretty desperately poor for a few years in my early thirties while I was trying to finish my BS and was getting divorced and trying to handle shared custody of our son. But I had a ton of luck, a very helpful ex-wife, friends and family members who lent me money and the social and language skills to negotiate/bullshit my way out of a series of bad stuff. Without any one of those, I never would have made it through.

You can dig a really deep hole in a really short amount of time.
posted by octothorpe at 10:32 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


YES. Oh god yes. I once delayed leaving an abusive ex because I knew I couldn't afford both new tires and the security deposit on a shared apartment. I started buying toilet paper in bulk last year; partly because it saves money and partly because I get a rush when I buy it and think "I probably won't have to steal toilet paper from a public bathroom this year."
posted by a hat out of hell at 10:33 PM on December 7, 2014 [37 favorites]


I was once in a Denny's in Hollywood, legally parked in the lot, and around six of us came out to find that our cars had been towed away while we ate lunch. The lot they'd been towed to was miles away, so people had to club together to take cabs to retrieve their cars. There was also the insanity of proving we were at the Denny's while our cars sat in the lot for an allowable amount of time. This one actually ended well; they had to give all the cars back for free, but everyone still had to spend time/money to get out to the lot to retrieve them.

Towing companies are the devil.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:40 PM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?

I got a ride home from the bar one night (looooong ago) - left my car in a completely legal public spot in front a residence. The occupant called and was able to get my car impounded. $350. No way I could afford the time to negotiate bureaucracy and get that solved. Nevermind penalizing the towing company. Apparently, all you have to say is, "That strange car has been there too long."
posted by j_curiouser at 10:44 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


xdvesper: "Say I start a towing company"

You'd either need some serious power and muscle backing you, or you'd be beaten to within an inch of your life on your first and only warning that you should find another line of work.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:45 PM on December 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


Tom Wolfe used the towed-car-leading-to-the-disintegration-of-a-life in the novel A Man In Full. Pretty good up until one of the most unbelievable third act coincidences I've ever read.
posted by mannequito at 11:28 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's not strictly true that it's only your own personal choices which are seen in a favourable light. For most of us it's the choices of those who we know and care about too. When we give more than a cursory glance to someone's situation we humans are remarkably tolerant and empathetic.

Now, if you'll excuse me I am missing another television program about a billionaire who is having problems.
posted by fullerine at 11:30 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's no coincidence that the "the poor are just lazy" crowd think of the left, such as it is, as the "America hater" crowd. The worst part are the reactionary poor, who are just as liable to get a car towed and have it ruin their life for years to come as the people they think of as "takers."

Now, think of how much more fun all of this is going to be in the coming decades. As I always say, that's why I still smoke.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:49 PM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


because any unexpected problem that pops up, like they do, can set off that Rube Goldberg device.

I have an ongoing conversation with a friend about this...my thesis is that it all comes back to slack (in both the Bob Dobbs sense and the slack-in-the-value-chain sense). Slack is bad -- it means there's some inefficiency in there somewhere -- but it also means that if any stage of a chain gets messed up, it doesn't inevitably ripple downstream to fuck up everything else.

Capitalism is all about taking out the slack, and preferably depositing it in your own bank account. But it makes the overall system brittle; without slack, nothing can go wrong.

In my view, the government could restore slack to the system (sort of like market makers provide liquidity to lubricate the stock market) by taxing the people who've made money by extracting slack, and injecting it where the system is grinding people under.

If your car was impounded but you had the two Benjamins, then you'd get your car back. The tower would have more money to spend, but he'd get fucking cancer. And though he'd deserve it, he could pay his health insurance. So a doctor would cure him and make money to send his kid to college. (Ha ha, no, I mean the health insurance company would dick the towing guy over and he'd die before getting treatment. But you get the idea.)

But I guess the government is equally concerned with eliminating slack, so it's more efficient to just take all the tax money and give it to the rich (who are going to end up with it anyway).

Yay capitalism!
posted by spacewrench at 11:58 PM on December 7, 2014 [18 favorites]


Wow. I never knew about the tow truck scam before. I feel naive.

And I also feel like the protagonist at the end of a Lovecraft story who finds himself gazing into the abyss...
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:14 AM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Innsmouth Towing
posted by benzenedream at 12:19 AM on December 8, 2014 [27 favorites]


i sorta like the 'slack' analogy. i was thinking what our (US) society needs is to switch from steel bumpers to crumple-zones.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:00 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


here in kalamazoo, a local tow company was pulling all sorts of crap on people until someone started a facebook page against them and they sued the person who posted it, who countersued ... and it all ended up in the local media

it was eventually settled out of court but in the meantime this tow company lost a ton of business from other people who decided that when their car broke down they'd call another towing company that didn't have an impound lot or at least was honest - or businesses who decided that they didn't want this tow company policing their lots anymore

my suggestion is not to use tow companies that rip people off like this and not to go to businesses that hire them to police their lots

as for me, i'm a mere step above this level of existence - i can deal with a few things going wrong at once for awhile, but i'm well aware of how screwed up my life could become if something really bad happened

there's something that really bugs me about the whole situation with poor people in america - why aren't more people called out on how they're exploiting others by their victims? - why aren't people fighting harder?

i know, they don't have time, or don't know how, or whatever, but it's never going to change unless they do because most of the people above them don't give a shit or don't even know
posted by pyramid termite at 2:42 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?

Perhaps you would have a point of the sign read...

TOW ZONE
***WARNING***
Impound fees are expensive and are applied purely arbitrarily, and not based on a reasonable expectation of how you might think such a fee should be applied. Furthermore, the impound lot is located an isolated industrial location, poorly lit, inaccessible by public transport, and staffed by people who expect to engage in threatening behaviour or violence.
posted by mattoxic at 2:56 AM on December 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't know if it has been said in here yet, but one thing I've been thinking about when considering saving is how saving limits my ability to contribute to the economy in ways that give opportunities to those that live at the bottom of the barrel.

I.e.: I love going out to eat (aside from bar hopping on the weekends), and giving proper tips, but I can only do that so much. So I end up spending less at the grocery store to ensure I can eat every day. That less money is split amongst the many workers at that store, and thus becomes even more diluted.

And it's not just restaurants, daytime delis, and bars: it's the hobby store down the road, it's the cards and comics store by the grocery store, it's the theater, the concert hall, the sports stadium/arena, etc etc etc. They're all left gasping desperately for your money and mine.

So we're left balancing our stability with the needs of the rest of the economy, namely fluid money flow, and we've yet to master that, certainly.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:09 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?


HAHAHAHAHAHA oh man. You don't live in Minneapolis, do you.


These are the parking rules for a Snow Emergency. If you know that there is a Snow Emergency, remember which day of the Snow Emergency it is, can find an alternative place to park your car, work a 9-5 job with hours convenient to moving your car, and follow every one of these rules ABSOLUTELY PERFECTLY LIKE A GODDAMN ANGEL you will still get towed at some point, due to error, or due to the fact that the signs are covered with fucking snow because that is why there is a snow emergency in the first place, or because of Reasons and/or Fuck You. Then you get to wait in shitty line at the shitty impound lot, where you will freeze to death because that line will not be short.

Or you can park in your fancy heated garage, big shot.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:35 AM on December 8, 2014 [22 favorites]


Steely-eyed Missile Man: I don't think anywhere in America (with the possible exception of New York) has good public transportation. I believe the three available tiers are nonexistent/fucking worthless/usually faster than walking.

Oh fuck i'm doing BMX tricks on my hobbyhorse at this point, but am i the only one who thinks this has actually regressed?

I mean, the only sample size i have is my city and the surrounding area, but throughout my entire life i can clearly remember i've watched public transit get better, slightly, at the beginning of the 2000s and then just rapidly get worse. Routes, number of trips, condition of coaches, condition of stops/transit property. We got nicer buses in the mid 2000s but everything has been slowly falling apart back in to the stone age since then. I'm lucky if it's raining and the rain isn't coming through some gasket in the ceiling of the bus onto my face. And it'll be raining on my face, inside the bus, while it's packed like a some exaggerated caricature of a train in india. I stand at the fucking stop, bus pulls up, back door opens and it's a solid wall of people. It's like a human game of tetris, but whoever is playing sucks ass at this game.

In my childhood, and in high school, and shit even at the beginning of college their tagline didn't seem like some backhanded snark. If you had access to a computer* or the local equivalent of the knowledge(and there were plenty of excellently illustrated, beautiful, NYC subway style maps) you could get anywhere. You'd even know routes that could get you from certain areas to others oddly quickly, and could probably recommend unexpectedly awesome places to live to noobs based on this. I had a job totally across town, and could regularly get to the place in under 30 minutes, sometimes even under 20 if i timed it right because of how it was spaced out.

I fucking loved busing everywhere, and was the public transit equivalent of one of those "i don't own a tv" people who rode the bus everywhere, cycled in leisure time, and sneered at those who went out of their way to buy cars when the lived and worked in the city. Shit, i was proud of the system. I'd meet or know of people who were disabled and easily got to and from work and whatever else they wanted to do on the buses.

My first girlfriend moved out of town, way out in to the woods. After some extended online searching and surveying of transit maps i concocted a carefully orchestrated transit journey that was something like 3 hours, and involved another solid hour and a half of walking. I visited her a bunch of times, this way. I did the same when another friend moved the opposite direction in to nowhereville. We regularly bused to and from there. I really can't exaggerate how great it was within the city though. There were very few areas that you couldn't get, and in most of the high traffic and even some of the more residential areas the buses basically ran from 5am to 1:30, 2, or even 3am.

And now it's just an overloaded, cut-back fuckmess with an upsetting number of buses that are visibly in shambles, that can't really make it anywhere on time, and is surprisingly full even on a sunday evening. There's heavily trafficked bar/"nightlife" areas where the last bus runs at like fucking 1am or even earlier.

I can't help but see elements of pulling the ladder up behind them here, especially when in my neighborhood every third car on the road is a fucking BMW or audi or something. Every job i've ever had, has at some point relied on public transit. And shitting that up, which has admittedly been more of a state and county thing than anything, just seems like a big extended middle finger to anyone who relies on that system.

And barring yea, basically new york, it seems like these systems are under assault most places. And all i can really muster in response to that is "what the.. fuck?"

So yea, this doesn't really feel off topic to me. It seems like the bootstraps are getting shorter and shorter, and you're having to lean harder and farther to even get a chance at reaching them. This is not a mistake, it's a conscious decision hammered in place by right wing assholes who don't want to "pay for buses full of poor people i never ride".

*smartphones in that time period either didn't exist, or were something your friends dad who worked at microsoft or something bought and they cost $1000 and maybe had to be ordered online from another country
posted by emptythought at 3:53 AM on December 8, 2014 [20 favorites]


Innsmouth Towing

This is going to be a an awesome sitcom
posted by clockzero at 4:21 AM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is not a mistake, it's a conscious decision hammered in place by right wing assholes who don't want to "pay for buses full of poor people i never ride".


Riding poor people to work isn't very fast, but it's cheaper than paying for gas.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:32 AM on December 8, 2014 [16 favorites]


One big problem with our transit system when you're poor is that it's largely designed for the classic 9-5 office worker coming into downtown from the outer neighborhoods or suburbs. So there are lots of inbound busses from 6AM to 9AM and outbound from 4PM to 6PM but much fewer outside of those times. So if you live in a poor inner neighborhood and are trying to work at the mall, it's a serious pain in the ass to get a bus out there. Also the entire system shuts down at midnight so forget about working at a bar or nightclub.
posted by octothorpe at 4:47 AM on December 8, 2014 [20 favorites]


While tow companies are evil, if you are driving a 10+ year old car, there are a lot of random things that can go wrong with it and cost you $500 or more to get the car back in action.
posted by smackfu at 4:51 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


I just came by to defend Ehrenreich. Nickel and Dimed was a major and very important warning and it is still a bracing read. You'd have to convince me hard it didn't do something "it was supposed to," whatever that means.
posted by spitbull at 5:02 AM on December 8, 2014 [30 favorites]


People misunderstand what I wish they would take away when they hear my personal story. Inevitably some express that I've achieved the American Dream against great odds. That it was purely the result of hard work, good choices, and sacrifice, that have enabled me to build a family and a career, but that misses the reality by a wide margin.

I grew up in a home with a disabled mother, not knowing my father, living off of SS checks. We moved every couple years. When I was 16 I had to quit school and get a job due to problems with a violent, unstable boyfriend of hers. I ended up sleeping in abandoned houses and for a stretch on the Frankford El.

Here I am today, with a home. I am a software engineer and it is not job, but a vocation. And most important, I've built a great family, where I have no tradition for having one. Truth be told, sometimes I need to pinch myself to believe I am where I am today. It's a lot of work, but it is so worth it, but impostor syndrome, and a kind of survivor's guilt looms large in my psyche. I'm still learning how to navigate middle-classdom. How do I save for my daughter's education? How do I complete college myself someday? How can I give back now that I have been so blessed?

I stumbled a lot in my 20s. I made mistakes, some of which I feel terrible about, the kind you make when you are living close to the edge, and are living raw. One that is relevant is my ruining of my credit score by being taken to court by the gas company. But I wasn't a mother, and I wasn't a minority, and I'm under no illusions that me being white didn't help me find opportunities. I learned to keep my broken smile (my teeth are tetracycline stained) hidden. I learned to hide my class, and never talk about college or my origins, because it would reveal I am a member of of a different tribe. I worked hard everyday, building up a resume that includes wonderful references of people whose trust I earned. It enabled me to build a network of mentors, of support, where I did not have one to start with. Lastly, I tried not to make the worst kind of mistakes that I saw others make, that when you are rich, or upper middle class, are recoverable, but when you are poor, or working class, are a ticket to stay mired in poverty. The towing story here is an example of that. Not buying a weekly transpass would lead to a potentially horrific loss of mobility. Linda Tirado's story absolutely speaks the truth.

These days, the gas company decision would be used against me when looking for better housing, or a new job. Each of us has permanent records, trails of data, that calcify our identities, and by doing so, reduce our options. In this environment, where a slip on the ladder might have resulted in a broken rung, the world appears even less forgiving now. Like emptythought said, it seems like there are those pulling up the ladder behind them on the way up.

storybored has a good list (especially the line about luck), but to that I'd add: opportunity for jobs with living wages, and hours that enable you to sharpen your saw and grow, because if you are working all the time, you are not growing. You can't level up your education. You can't network with those in your field. You can't build a family. Education, your support network, your health, and your family (not matter its shape or form), are the four pillars that middle class life depends upon. Everyone in the free-agent age we live in is forced to be a hustler to get by.
posted by kmartino at 5:10 AM on December 8, 2014 [36 favorites]


That's a brutal story... How many of us are moving towards that level of existence?

From a statistical perspective, all of us.
posted by odinsdream at 5:11 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here she is on Bill Maher.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:14 AM on December 8, 2014


I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?

This is only sometimes about being in the wrong physically-marked location. For instance, I went to a very small college in a tiny town. The public safety guys clearly had a thing going with the local towing company, because if you did slightly the wrong thing (oh you can't park 8 inches away from the curb, it says so in this handbook you don't have) with your car it was towed off 2 miles down the street. You then owed the college fee for the infraction, the towing fee, and had damage to your car to repair.
posted by odinsdream at 5:19 AM on December 8, 2014


I just came by to defend Ehrenreich. Nickel and Dimed was a major and very important warning and it is still a bracing read. You'd have to convince me hard it didn't do something "it was supposed to," whatever that means.

Nickel and Dimed is a great example of the left-wing circular firing squad. We have a widely-published author calling attention to a serious problem but because she can't shed her privilege like a snake's skin and her analysis isn't perfectly in line with [speaker's position] it's OH MY GOD NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:21 AM on December 8, 2014 [34 favorites]


Speaking as someone who navigated thru those waters, Ehrenreich did a good job writing about them. I'm looking forward to reading Linda Tirado's book.
posted by kmartino at 5:29 AM on December 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


"You have so much money that we should give you some. Because you have a lot, you should have more!"

Nothing against Louis because it's a great, important bit, but he's playing a part there. Those who want middle American to believe in the "American Dream" will point to bits like this on Youtube to show how the poor can pull themselves up by their boot straps to be a big tv/movie/sports star/overnight entrepreneur, but they never show the mountain of uninsured/destitute bodies of American nightmares that handful of Americans are standing on to finally make it.

Louis was never broke, even at that time he could have tapped his intellectual bank account and booked a tour of cruise ships and have a six figure year any time he wanted, but he wanted to make it on HIS terms, which entailed being broke until he figured out how to do it. To quote the great George Carlin - they call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.
posted by any major dude at 5:30 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


While tow companies are evil, if you are driving a 10+ year old car, there are a lot of random things that can go wrong with it and cost you $500 or more to get the car back in action.
posted by smackfu at 7:51 AM on December 8


My wife's family is decently well off and as a result we have a "financial planner" who manages their money and our student debt (we're comfortable, but not financial planner comfortable). On a recent form, we were asked to list assets and I wrote down the value of our car. I got the form back with a handwritten note that said "A car worth $700?!" I have no idea how to explain to her that I was being generous.

Incidentally, when it was recently impounded the people were lovely and we could pay the fees without too much trouble, but I still had to borrow a ride and miss work because the lot was completely inaccessible by public transit and closed at 4:45.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:33 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


In Milwaukee... Parking rules can be rather arcane; when parking overnight, you need a permit, you have to park on opposite sides of the street depending on whether it's an odd or even day of the month, except during certain months, except on certain streets, and you need a different permit to park during the DAY in certain neighborhoods.

Oh geez, parking in Milwaukee. I can remember how surreal it was the first time I visited, pulling into town after twelve hours on the interstate, and then having to call the city to get a parking permit to park on a perfectly ordinary residential street, and the address I was reading off of a scribbled notepad was in the wrong format or something, and the whole thing was way more stressful and unfriendly than it needed to be. It's seemed to me to be a setup that maximized your chances of getting a ticket or getting towed simply because it would be almost impossible to always be in compliance while going about an ordinary life.

I just came by to defend Ehrenreich. Nickel and Dimed was a major and very important warning and it is still a bracing read. You'd have to convince me hard it didn't do something "it was supposed to," whatever that means.

I can remember when her book came out, and how it became required reading at a lot of colleges. She did an amazing job of opening people's eyes to the ways, small and large, that being poor is a full time job in itself, and how many barriers there are to simply pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. I haven't read it since it was new, so I'm not sure how dated it is at this point; I can also remember being a bit unsatisfied with her handling of her own privilege but it's been a lot of years and I may be misremembering. At the time I read it I was working with people who were extremely poor (developing country poverty rather than US poverty, with all the difficulty of comparisons that entails) so that played into my reading of her book, too. I strongly believe that her book was extraordinarily important, whatever its flaws might have been, and Ehrenreich deserves enormous credit for it.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:41 AM on December 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


While tow companies are evil, if you are driving a 10+ year old car, there are a lot of random things that can go wrong with it and cost you $500 or more to get the car back in action.

If you live in a state with yearly auto inspection, that time of year is one of terror when you're poor. Now that I have a decent car, inspection usually costs me less then $100 but I've been hit for over a thousand dollars in mandated repairs in past years. It doesn't help that the garage that does the inspection is the one that does the work. I remember one year running with an expired sticker for months, just praying that no police officer noticed.

I have a friend who would routinely buy a $500 car with a valid inspection sticker each year and then junk it when the inspection was up rather than pay for inspection. He'd then buy another $500 beater and run that for the next year.
posted by octothorpe at 6:09 AM on December 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


Towing plays a large role in this, but so does the Locksmith. I was locked out and looked up a local locksmith on my smartphone.

See all those locksmiths? They all appear first in the phone listings, such as AAA locksmith and 24/7 locksmith. They quote $50 then show up and tell you that you lock is special and end up charging between $200-$499. (Bullshit, I bought my lock at Home Depot, it is probably the most common brand.) Typically, they cannot charge more than $500 or they would need a contractor's license. I ended up paying about $275. It would have been cheaper to break into the window and then replace the window.

A few weeks later, I got the phone book from my land-line provider, (I always recycle these, because I have no use for them). The first 1/4 of the A section was all locksmiths, and about 1/3 of these had the same phone number.

Looked up BBB for my locksmith and the results were really strange. They all were either F rating, no rating or no longer in business.

Someone should do a journalistic investigation. These guys are all local, and regulated all locally, so they are like a hydra that when you cure one tiny section, more pop up.

Now I have keys with a local friend so that I never have to do this again.

What other industries are like this?
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 6:15 AM on December 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


> While reading more about her, just Googling, I came a cross a ton of articles pissily describing why she wasn't that poor and did this all to herself, so don't listen to her.

This is exactly what you're doing to Ehrenreich.
posted by languagehat at 6:21 AM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


Someone should do a journalistic investigation.

There was an FPP about scam locksmiths a while back, actually.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:22 AM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


In Milwaukee, ...

My son was living on the East Side until this past summer, what a clusterfuck the parking is, and always has been, down there. Last winter I got a "my car is gone" text from him, living where he did my initial thought was "It got towed". And it did. Actually every car on that street got towed. I took him down to the tow lot and had to drive the car off of the lot for him (his license had expired). While I was waiting to be driven to his car a young woman approached me and asked me if I could drive her car off of the lot for her (you have to provide a current license and proof of insurance to dive your car off of the lot). I wasn't able to oblige as I was already doing that for my son. I don't know if she was able to get her car that day or not. I hope so because it cost my son $130 for the tow and ~8 hours of storage I can see that shit adding up real fast. On a side note: Is there a sadder place in most American cities than the municipal impound lot?
posted by MikeMc at 7:05 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]




As so often happens, Terry Pratchett said it well.

I've been wondering about whether this is really true in today's world. Will a $10 shirt actually last ten times longer than a $1 shirt? What about a $100 shirt? Sure, they're probably of somewhat better quality, but I don't know if it even approches a linear, or as in Pratchett's example, superlinear relation.

Today it seems more like you pay for the small logo on the stuff you buy, and quality has less effect on the price. Your average $150 smartphone probably works just as well and last just as long as that shiny new iPhone. That $30 toaster mentioned in the article probably has the same insides as the $10 toaster, and just looks a bit nicer and maybe has a few extra functions.

The important thing, as the article explains, is buffer money. When a middle class family's $30 toaster stops working, they can afford to pick up a new $30 toaster on the way to/from work the very same day without even giving it a second thought. When a poor family's $10 toaster dies, they might have to budget and find out where they can shave off $10 in the next month.
posted by ymgve at 7:10 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


"I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?"

I'm disabled and don't leave home much and I'm very poor. Consequently, keeping stuff current on my car isn't at the top of my priorities. A few years ago, the apartment complex I lived in decided to enforce the "all vehicles must have current tags" clause in the lease. My tags were expired, so they towed my car. But because I rarely go anywhere, I didn't learn of this until the mailman knocked on my door to deliver a registered letter notifying me that the towing company/lot had filed a lien on my car's title for the unpaid lot fees. I had a weird, disoriented moment when I had to go check to see that, yes, in fact, my car wasn't in its parking space.

It had been gone for about five days.

So not only did I have to come up with the hundreds of dollars of towing and lot fees, but I had to get it in cash, find someone (an aunt) to give me a ride to get the car, go back home when I was told I needed the title to prove ownership, and then I had to get an emissions inspection and then get the car registered before I could park it back at my apartment because there was no way I was going to risk it being towed again. I talked to the management and explained the problem, but they wouldn't promise me they wouldn't have my car towed again for just one day. Luckily, I had another aunt who let me park my car at her house overnight, and I got all the registration stuff done the next day.

This all amounted to something like $800 -- and it could have been much more. as many places have lot fees upwards of $150 a day -- which I had to come up with immediately, and which I didn't have. I borrowed it from family.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:14 AM on December 8, 2014 [12 favorites]


...but so does the Locksmith. I was locked out and looked up a local locksmith...

These two tips have saved my ass too many times to count. Keep an extra car key in your wallet (never leave your wallet in your car) and hide an extra apartment key somewhere near your home. When I lived in the city I would wrap my house key in plastic wrap then duct tape it to an old fence filled with vines, it's been a decade since I lived there but surprisingly 5 years after I moved it was still there. Don't skip the plastic wrap part or the summer heat will render your key unusable.
posted by any major dude at 7:14 AM on December 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


Despite now being middle-class (and I grew up on the fine line between doing okay and my parents constantly worrying about bills), I still have a poor mentality. I worry constantly about something horrible happening and if something does, will we be okay?

I have had cars towed back when I was a single woman in Atlanta scraping by on retail job. Insane that tow lots are out on the fringes of the city where it's impossible to get to without a car (you have to ask a friend whose schedule lines up with yours). I have paid a lot of money I didn't have just to release my shitty car. I have owned cars where I never replaced the busted windows from people breaking into my car in front of my apartment. I have driven shitty cars where I couldn't fix the body damage from accidents.

A lot of this resonates--oh, now I'm remembering a crappy apartment that was roach-infested but it was all I could afford--and a lot of this reminds me to help out other people when and where I can. No one is an island, after all.
posted by Kitteh at 7:18 AM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Tom Wolfe used the towed-car-leading-to-the-disintegration-of-a-life in the novel A Man In Full. Pretty good up until one of the most unbelievable third act coincidences I've ever read.

Yeah he knows how to start a novel, and how to write some great stuff like the car towing scene in the middle......but how do you get out of the novel? "Bonfire Of The Vanities" just kind of trailed off, and he just said fuck it, I'll write a deus ex machina, in "A Man In Full". (Croker's destiny also seemed unconvincing, I thought).

The working poor character, Conrad, ends up being just totally destroyed by the car towing. Well he loses it and tries to force his way out of the lot, which gets him in jail, but he did that because it was all over for him without that car - no job, no money to get the car out, his marriage would be over, the full house of cards would collapse. Wolfe really got this right, to his credit, since I don't think he has ever been poor, and most people who haven't been poor don't get how it works like quicksand.
posted by thelonius at 7:20 AM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's almost as if the system isn't designed to raise people up but simply funnel cash towards the top.
posted by Legomancer at 7:29 AM on December 8, 2014 [21 favorites]


Kitteh I can relate to that feeling of constant anxiety. The memories of of the climb to where I am do not feel like I've conquered something, but instead lead me to feel I am on borrowed time, and that a few slips will lead to a long fall, now taking my family with me. I sometimes wonder how much of this anxiety permeates just about everyone, we are encouraged to look at each other as competitors in a zero sum game, instead of the brothers and sisters we truly are. "The Walking Dead" as a metaphor for our current economic journey.
posted by kmartino at 7:35 AM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


I actually drove a tow truck in the mid 2000s in California. I had trouble finding work at all, and it was something.

I won't claim that the business itself is ethical, but my boss was. Also, the local laws prohibited towing in circumstances like illegal parking and accidents without getting a call from authorities to request a tow. A towed car could be impounded long enough that fees would allow the towing company to keep the car, but that meant a one month minimum in impound, plus a lien on the car through the courts. The towing company lost money on nearly all the cars that were impounded and eventually owned by the company through a lien. We did impounds for local police through a contract, which also had contracts with a number of other towers- most cars impounded due to accidents were sold to the pick and pull junkyard for a huge loss. Dispatch for police calls would call towing companies in a strict order so that no single company had more business. My boss previously owned a truck stop and had no ties to organized crime. He was a smart business owner but wasn't crooked. We frequently had people showing up with guns or very large relatives in the middle of the night to get their car back, though we weren't open- my boss usually handled these situations, as he was kind of a big guy himself (but was never actually violent). We did paperwork quickly, and if a car had been impounded it could be picked up the next day- this was also a legal requirement of local towing companies. So, yes, it's still a racket, but it's not always a purely evil business. And FTR I have been on the other side and have no love for towing companies.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:47 AM on December 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


Oh man, towing. I've probably spent a couple thousand on towing over the years.

I used to live on a street with rush hour parking restrictions. 7 AM to 9 AM on the west side, 4 PM to 6 PM on the other. If you left for work late or stayed home sick, you'd probably get towed. The tow trucks sat idling on the street while the parking officer wrote the tickets. As soon as it hit the windshield, they'd hook it up. At minimum you'd pay $40 for the ticket. If it got towed it was $200 for towing, $60 per day for storage (minimum 1 day) and $40 for the ticket. $300 cash or $330 if you wanted to use a credit card. Only got towed once, but they got my brother once, and I probably got 2-3 $40 tickets. $410.

I also lived at a corporate managed apartment complex that had tow trucks patrol the parking lot. I came out one day and my car was gone, because I had forgotten to renew my registration (my car was otherwise fine and obviously not abandoned). My girlfriend at the time drove me to the lot, which was 30 miles outside of the city where I had to negotiate with a mentally disabled man wearing a monk's cassock. $260.

One time I got in an accident that was not my fault coming home from rugby practice (fortunately on the way to the bar, and not coming from the bar). Guy pulled out in front of me, I t-boned him. Totaled my car, sprained my ankle and the police towed my car to a nearby junkyard. $160 for towing, $85 per day storage and the other insurance company tried to weasel out of paying for storage after two days (the night I got into the accident and the next day). The car was totaled, so the junkyard waived the storage fees if they could scrap the car. They were cool about it and let me retrieve some personal items from the car before they crushed it. Would've been around $500, but ended up being zero.

Another time my car was stolen, I filed a police report and expected to never see it again. I got a new beater and about a month later I started getting parking tickets in the mail from places that I had never been, but were maybe a half mile from my house. A cop shows up at my door, talks to my brother and tells him my car had been towed for unpaid tickets and that I need to pay the tickets to get it back. I think someone had screwed up the paperwork and they were trying to let me know where it was without admitting they fucked up. I drove 20 minutes to the impound lot, they told me they couldn't release it without having the tickets satisfied and pointed me to the parking office downtown. I drove 20 minutes back to the parking office, they told me that if it had been reported stolen parking tickets wouldn't have been given and that I needed to resolve it with impound. I went back to impound to tell them what parking had said, and fortunately a cop that had stopped by overheard what was going on, went over to one of the computer terminals, printed something out and told me to give it to parking. I drive back over to parking, give them the paper, they ask "How did you get this?" Then they disappear into the back for 15 minutes and come back with the release. Back to impound, car miraculously starts. Radio is gone, CDs are still there, passenger's side is full of chicken wing bones and a fat man's shorts. $0 (but many hours)

A few years ago we had 30" of snow over a week, which is unheard of in Baltimore. We live on a snow emergency route, but there was physically nowhere to put any snow and our busy downtown street was mostly unplowed for a week. Towards the end of the week, we're the first people on our street to dig out our cars. Result: We are the only ones towed, because ours is the only car that's accessible. $330.

The thing is, I'm a relatively smart guy, I have a good job that pays well and lets me have time off on short notice, I have local family/friends that can give me rides or loan me money and this was *still* a huge pain in the ass and was a financial burden. I can't imagine what it'd be like if I didn't have the resources to handle it.

I get why you need tow trucks, but damn it seems like there's better ways of handling things.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 7:48 AM on December 8, 2014 [12 favorites]


You don't have to be towed to have the problem she faced. I had a car stolen. I reported it to the police and some time later (weeks, not days) I got a call that it had been found a state away from me. It was being held by a private lot which charged by the day and I already owed a few days on it. (I wasn't informed immediately by the police and it would take me time to go get it any way.) When I finally got there, it wasn't drivable in its current state (needed a clutch repair). Also, its license plate was no longer valid (when I reported it stolen, I was encouraged to "virtually" turn in the plates.)

In the end, I paid several hundred dollars and illegally and unsafely drove the car somewhere to be repaired. Luckily, I could afford it (and wasn't stopped while driving it in an illegal condition.) I was the victim, not the perp, but everyone got their cut of the action.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:49 AM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


"I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?"

As a couple other have stated, it's not necessarily tied to parking spots or tow-zones. Theft and bureaucratic fuckups aren't uncommon causes here.

Quite a few years ago now, I had a little Peugeot moped that I would run longer-distance errands on around town. This thing was only worth a couple hundred bucks, but I really liked it, and at the time it was the cheapest way for me to engage in the hobby of fixing a machine that moves you around town.

Long story short, it got stolen. Never found the folks who did it. When it got stolen, I filed a police report with the VIN and all the details about it. Then I promptly forgot about it.

Over a year and a half later, I got a call from an impound lot saying they have my bike. Awesome! Rad! I don't even care if its all messed up, I'm gonna get my little fun project back! Then I take down all the information from the impound lot.

It's in fucking Stockton, California. I'm in Portland.

So as a non-car-owner I figure I can wait a couple days until my weekend, rent a truck and go pick it up. Still a small price to pay for recovering a cool little bike. Then the guy tells me that'll be something like a couple hundred bucks in storage fees to wait that long…we're talking closer to $1000 than not. I straight up tell him I can't afford that. He tells me that If I don't pick the bike up, and pay the storage fees, they will send me to collections. Oh, or alternately, I can pay them a couple hundred bucks to transfer the title over to them, and they can just own it.

I end up paying them three, or four hundred bucks just to keep it from going to collections.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:01 AM on December 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


Universal basic income and bankruptcy reform now!!
posted by fraxil at 8:05 AM on December 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


but what is the political logic of this piece or Ehrenreich's ouevre? if this were published 400 years ago, it seems like it would be: "if only the good king knew how the people lived." Now its: if only the good middle class readers of Slate or The Nation knew how the people live...

But its a system, they play their part, you play your part and everyone plays their role regardless because the costs of not playing are always greater than the benefits of going along and everyone has someone further down the ladder whose head they are stepping on.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:05 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Will a $10 shirt actually last ten times longer than a $1 shirt? What about a $100 shirt?

Well, my $300 Allen Edmonds shoes have lasted a good five years of pretty heavy office usage, and are still in great shape, while the $100 "Calvin Klein" branded things I picked up at Men's Wearhouse were trash within a year. So the principle may apply variably to other items beyond footwear, but he wasn't making that up.

(I'm pretty sure Calvin Klein had never seen those shoes.)
posted by Naberius at 8:05 AM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


Someone should do a journalistic investigation.

There was an FPP about scam locksmiths a while back, actually.


Also: they are not all locksmiths.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:14 AM on December 8, 2014


what is the political logic of this piece or Ehrenreich's ouevre? if this were published 400 years ago, it seems like it would be: "if only the good king knew how the people lived." Now its: if only the good middle class readers of Slate or The Nation knew how the people live...

But its a system, they play their part, you play your part and everyone plays their role regardless because the costs of not playing are always greater than the benefits of going along and everyone has someone further down the ladder whose head they are stepping on.


Yep. I mean, the entire civilizational project is about fucking other people for your own benefit (and getting fucked for the benefit of others, if you ain't on top, and incredibly few are). We do an awful lot to sweep that basic fact under the rug and otherwise leave it unseen and unacknowledged, but the fact of the matter is, in a hierarchical society (which civilization demands), some people will be winners and some will be losers, and everyone tries to kick as much of the loser dirt down the ladder as they can, until finally it ends up on people who have nowhere to kick it and have to eat it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:21 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The towing company lost money on nearly all the cars that were impounded and eventually owned by the company through a lien.

I don't doubt that for most of these cars, the value of the car is less than the sum total of the towing and storage costs.

But unless the lots were in central Manhattan or something, it can't possibly be true that the towing company lost money on those cars. I'd be shocked if the actual marginal cost of towing and storing a car was even a quarter of the price being charged.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:30 AM on December 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


The New York locksmith company that created illusory phone listings for phantom businesses in southeastern Wisconsin has been ordered to stay out of the state and to pay $25,000.

I ran into something similar when I was trying to have a car window replaced after a break-in. When I googled "Baltimore auto glass" or something similar I would get tons of results, like 3 or 4 within a mile of my house and another dozen near my office. I checked out one on Google image search because it was right next door to a restaurant I liked, and hadn't remembered seeing it, and it didn't exist. Nor did any of the other A1 Auto Glass, Reliable Auto Glass, First Response Auto Glass or whatever. They had testimonials and google reviews (good and bad), websites, the whole deal, but they physically just did not exist.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 8:46 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Will a $10 shirt actually last ten times longer than a $1 shirt? What about a $100 shirt?

Clothes are an interesting question. Some clothes are worth the money in terms of durability and staying in style. Others are designed to fall apart fast or go out of style quickly. I don't think there's an easy answer. I have had boots which I bought two decades ago for a moderate price outlast cheap ones. On the other hand a fast fashion t-shirt might only last a wash or two, by design.

Price just isn't defined by durability and utility. Convenience, fashion and social considerations probably influence prices more. A Brooks Brothers shirt and no-name one from Land's End or Mark's Work Wearhouse might both last five or seven years of wear, but one will be much more expensive than the other. Generally a $20k Hyundai will last as long as an $80k Audi, and will be cheaper to run. A bottle of spring water is no more thirst quenching than bringing a bottle of tap water.

Vimes' choice is sort of correct, sometimes. Things like workboots and hammers and paint are quite often get-what-you-pay-for items. But sometimes you forget to bring a bottle from home and fork out that $2 for an over-priced bottle of water, and Audis are important if you feel you need to keep up with the Jonses.
posted by bonehead at 8:53 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Naberius is right, Vimes was very accurate about boots. I've got a pair of $120 boots that have lasted me for nine years now, with once-every-two-winters $20 repair within the last four, and two more pairs of $120, $130 boots entering their third year with waterproofing done in the autumn. In the meantime, before I figured that out I used to get boots from Payless for $40 (starving graduate student) which, when bought in December, might see March. Might. (And I never did have dry feet with those.)

I didn't read the Boots Theory until after I had been making okay money, but it was a "what's he doing in my head?!" moment.
posted by seyirci at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


> While reading more about her, just Googling, I came a cross a ton of articles pissily describing why she wasn't that poor and did this all to herself, so don't listen to her.

This is exactly what you're doing to Ehrenreich.


The big difference is that Ehrenreich was never actually poor by any useful definition. That made her unable to fully inhabit the mental space and experience a wider array of struggles and trade-offs that Tirado knows intimately because they were her life, not her project. Here's an older MeFi thread where we discussed Nickel and Dimed at length and I talked about how I looked at it. As someone who's also navigated these waters, I read it when I came out and, though I appreciated a light being shined on the issues, and was glad somebody at least was talking about it, the conditions weren't unfamiliar to me and it wasn't an eye-opener because my eyes were already pretty open, having lived some of those scenarios. There were elements of her privilege that bothered me; she could opt out of many of the constraints and demands of ongoing poverty because she was interested in shorter engagemens with working conditions and economic structures.

I can appreciate that someone who had little contact or personal experience with living on a low income and having poor cash flow would find the book really helpful in broadening their perspective. At the same time, Tirado's book is much more detailed and knowledgeable - she's given far more thought to these structures because she's lived them rather than being a tourist in them, and that perspective makes a difference. So I'd say if you really liked Nickel and Dimed, you will probably love this.
posted by Miko at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Rereading one of my notes in that older thread, it's interesting to see that I noted that her privilege actually helped gain her an audience, because for affluent readers "it had to be written by someone who was truly 'native' to the affluent world, one of their own -- otherwise, the narrative would be easy to challenge and disbelieve." Which is the dynamic that Tirado is calling out.
posted by Miko at 9:01 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


The thing is, there's a definite need for tow trucks, and it's a fairly labor intensive business with a lot of risks that would lose money if the fees were lower.

I think the problem is that cities contract out these services, rather than handling them in house. A city tow truck could hook you up and move you around the corner if you're parked in a rush hour zone. A private truck doesn't really have much incentive to do that, because they're not making money if they don't bring it back to the yard. But cities are under constant pressure to cut costs, lower taxes and find new revenue streams, so not maintaining a towing fleet, payroll and pensions for the drivers and a maintenance facility, as well as assuming the risk for damage etc is probably pretty attractive.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 9:09 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Well, my $300 Allen Edmonds shoes have lasted a good five years of pretty heavy office usage, and are still in great shape, while the $100 "Calvin Klein" branded things I picked up at Men's Wearhouse were trash within a year. So the principle may apply variably to other items beyond footwear, but he wasn't making that up.

This is exactly how the author's dilemna affects the middle class too. I work a white collar job and earn a middle class income, however, my circumstances are such that I don't often have an extra several hundred dollars left over after my monthly financial responsibilities are taken care of to spend on shoes. No doubt, a high quality $500 pair of shoes may very well last me 10 years and be a better overall economic value than buying a $70-100 pair that don't last the year, but that requires you to be in a situation where you ever have a spare $500 to dedicate to shoes.
posted by The Gooch at 9:09 AM on December 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


I just paid $140 dollars for a decent pair of winter boots and I couldn't stop panicking about the cost. I kept asking the salesgirl, "These will last at least five years, right? RIGHT?" (Disclaimer: the company assures me that they are good for quite a few Canadian winters but that doesn't mean I will ever stop feeling bad about spending that kind of money on shoes.)
posted by Kitteh at 9:17 AM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


A city tow truck could hook you up and move you around the corner if you're parked in a rush hour zone.

They probably could, but in my experience, anyway, cities are just as likely to screw you as private operators for a taste of that sweet, sweet revenue, so they wouldn't.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:26 AM on December 8, 2014


Interestingly, for all the disussion of Ehrenrich, she actually wrote the foreword to Tirado's book. Here is the excerpt that Amazon has posted:
I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. Well, not this book, because I never imagined that the book I was waiting for would be so devastatingly smart and funny, so consistently entertaining and unflinchingly on target. In fact, I would like to have written it myself – if, that is, I had lived Linda Tirado’s life and extracted all the hard lessons she has learned. I am the author of Nickel and Dimed, which tells the story of my own brief attempt, as a semi-undercover journalist, to survive on low-wage retail and service jobs. Tirado is the real thing.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:32 AM on December 8, 2014 [32 favorites]


cities are just as likely to screw you as private operators

Yep. I work on some city construction projects and we were just told that we can't move cars (as opposed to towing them), because it violates the agreement they have with the towing company.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 9:33 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am pretty much to the left of Robespierre, but on the (thankfully few) times I have dealt with city employees, they have been unfailingly unhelpful and slavish in their devotion to usually hostile policy.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:49 AM on December 8, 2014


smackfu: "While tow companies are evil, if you are driving a 10+ year old car, there are a lot of random things that can go wrong with it and cost you $500 or more to get the car back in action."

And if you can't afford to fix it right away you might still hold onto the car because you can't buy another one and might be able to scrape together the money in a few weeks/months/years. But if the car lacks valid plates or registration, it might get towed. So in my neighborhood I see a fair number of cars hidden away behind houses so they can't be ticketed or towed.
posted by maurice at 9:57 AM on December 8, 2014


"Louis was never broke, even at that time he could have tapped his intellectual bank account and booked a tour of cruise ships and have a six figure year any time he wanted."

Wait, what? Maybe he wasn't broke when doing this bit on his tour... Maybe he was a trust fund kid... But unless I'm mistaken, pretty much all stand up comics start off broke, and as they pursue their profession can assume to be broke for the rest of their lives (oh, they *might* make it big, but probably not).

"Any time he wanted?" Nope, certainly not that, comics starting to be comics don't begin their profession as people that can be booked for six figures.

Maybe there are folks commenting on youtube that claim that anyone can work hard and make in showbusiness, but shit man, don't read youtube comments. I'll take any stand-up comics word on it that they know what actual poverty looks like.
posted by el io at 10:00 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


The other thing to note about the "bootstraps" crowd is the abuse of language and logic involved in even mentioning bootstraps in the first place. You can't pull yourself up by your bootstraps; that's the whole point of the saying. It's like the lame defence we've heard an awful lot from institutions since 2008: "it wasn't our fault; there are just a few bad apples." Again, no. The whole point of that proverb is that a few bad apples spoil the lot. By openly saying you have a few bad apples among you, you're admitting that your entire institution is irredeemably corrupt.

In each case, the extent to which the proverb is mangled is a good measure of the basic incoherence of the ideas being expressed.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:09 AM on December 8, 2014 [36 favorites]


there's something that really bugs me about the whole situation with poor people in america - why aren't more people called out on how they're exploiting others by their victims? - why aren't people fighting harder?

Because these problems don't truly affect the people who have the time, money, and energy to fight.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:53 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't get why towing is a big issue - is it unclearly marked tow-zones, or what?

So the problem with this is that it's not just random towing in tow-zones. It's generally the power of the state, combined with the greed of the private tow-company.

You can get towed for minor state infractions - such as not paying parking tickets, or not having a valid inspection sticker, or appearing to be a derelict. Normally, if the state was going to take your car to incentivize you to pay their tickets, the state would have to store it, and you had better believe if they were charging you exorbitant rates, there would be up in arms. But they get to wash their hands of the problem by saying "Oh, it's just the towing companies, we have no control over their storage fees." It's a ridiculous dodge, and we shouldn't tolerate it, but it's part of the privatization of many city functions that combines the worst of the state with the worst of monopolistic corporations.
posted by corb at 11:02 AM on December 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


I'd buy this book, but I can't afford it.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 11:23 AM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'd buy this book, but I can't afford it.

Public library, if your area still has them.
posted by immlass at 11:32 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


I am pretty much to the left of Robespierre, but on the (thankfully few) times I have dealt with city employees, they have been unfailingly unhelpful and slavish in their devotion to usually hostile policy.

This is generally true - but in my experience the very worst, most totally useless, hostile-to-the-public employees are those at government-sanctioned private monopolies. I'd rather deal with the DMV than Time Warner Cable any day of the week. Cable and internet providers, and impound lots, and the like, could basically just mandate that all their employees do nothing but yell "fuck you!" all day to the general public, and there's fuck-all that anyone could do about, it really. You need internet service. You need to get your car back.

Private sector, minus competition, is the worst. There's a reason why we have antitrust laws.
posted by breakin' the law at 11:40 AM on December 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


I am trying to get a handle on the unfairness amplification factors. Your life lottery puts you into any of these brackets and your bootstraps are jacked. The lower you go on this ladder, the more fucked you are.

1.Minority race (without a well off family)
2.Unskilled
3.Sick (Of not optimal health)
4.Woman
5.Mother
6.Single

Seems to me the optimal attack on poverty is to take better care of women (reproductive and other health) and newborns. My brain hurts thinking about solutions to this problem. However depressing it might be reading pieces like this, I tend to appreciate everything I was handed down without working for it.
posted by savitarka at 12:12 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Reading about the people having their cars towed from *their own residence* due to home owners corporations rules is enraging me beyond any measure. I am a mild person, and haven't been involved in any violence for decades, but if the first words out of the mouth of the person who did this to me weren't an abject apology I would be shortly in jail for assault.

But then I can afford the luxury of anger, and the risk of a court appearance, and don't have to live somewhere with such a shitty parking arrangement. And I don't have any disabilities, and I'm male and not a minority, and I could get time off work without losing my job.

It's almost as if they are targeting the poor and more vulnerable!
it's just disgusting.
posted by bystander at 12:32 PM on December 8, 2014


Cars and children; two luxuries which I decided, in my early twenties, that I could not afford on a minimum wage job. Since then I have only changed my mind about the vehicle but I live off a transit route so I can catch the bus to work if need be. However, I realise that not all cities have good transit service.

Regarding shoes, I always go for quality over quantity. For example I bought $200.00 boots (a shit ton of money at the time) my co-worker bought $60.00 boots. Her boots lasted 6 month. 15 years later I still have the $200.00 boots.
posted by Gwynarra at 1:30 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's almost as if they are targeting the poor and more vulnerable!

Well they're not going to intentionally target people who are wealthy and powerful.

...and you obviously they have to target someone, right? I mean, this is America, right? You gotta target somebody, or what's the point?
posted by aramaic at 1:59 PM on December 8, 2014


I'd buy this book, but I can't afford it.

Public library, if your area still has them.


This combination of comments made me want to cry.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:07 PM on December 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


> I can appreciate that someone who had little contact or personal experience with living on a low income and having poor cash flow would find the book really helpful in broadening their perspective. At the same time, Tirado's book is much more detailed and knowledgeable - she's given far more thought to these structures because she's lived them rather than being a tourist in them, and that perspective makes a difference. So I'd say if you really liked Nickel and Dimed, you will probably love this.

That's fine, and I wish you'd said that in the first place instead of just dumping on Ehrenreich ("shallow and unrealistic" etc.). The perfect is the enemy of the good.
posted by languagehat at 2:56 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


At what point do people lose their will to live?
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 2:58 PM on December 8, 2014


2008.
posted by spacewrench at 3:22 PM on December 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


emptythought: "And now it's just an overloaded, cut-back fuckmess with an upsetting number of buses that are visibly in shambles, that can't really make it anywhere on time, and is surprisingly full even on a sunday evening. There's heavily trafficked bar/"nightlife" areas where the last bus runs at like fucking 1am or even earlier. "

The greatest thing about this post is that it does occasionally happen that the social-progressives win one. Emptythought is referring to Seattle and to King County Metro, the local transit operator. And, right now, emptythought is correct: most buses roll up the carpet at 12a, though there are 10 or 11 routes that run "all night" (in quotes because it usually means a couple of trips through the downtown core or Night Owl routes that take long, winding, loopy routes to get anywhere).

But the best thing is, even though the suburbs smacked it down, Seattleites have always consistently said "give us more transit service," both for their own mobility and because it benefits even the weakest among us. This past November, Seattle voters said "sure, tax us" and paid for 266,000 annual service hours to be added to the King County Metro pot. This is so many actual hours of service, Seattle's Department of Transportation has only figured out how to spend 40,000 annual hours by basically taking out the bus wish list and handing it to Metro.

Now we're even talking about half-hourly overnight bus service on routes through places with bars and going back to places with housing units.
posted by fireoyster at 3:57 PM on December 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


S-EMM: the entire civilizational project is about fucking other people for your own benefit (and getting fucked for the benefit of others, if you ain't on top

That's kind of a narrow view of civilization though. Surely there are advantages to living in large urban centres where there's stuff to do and things to buy, education and health care? Economies of scale and all that. Unfortunately we've built a system that makes money the defining value for every measure of success, but that's a relatively recent innovation, at least in its current breadth of application.
posted by sneebler at 6:12 PM on December 8, 2014


15 years later I still have the $200.00 boots.

Keep in mind that you are lucky that they still fit your feet.
posted by serena15221 at 6:22 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The best (ie. worst) parking story I've heard was in Montreal. This guy who's a senior lawyer is out at an evening function, and when he gets back to his car it's been towed. So he gets in a cab and goes to the private impound lot out in the boonies. He enters the foyer where they have the bullet-proof glass and so on, and the guy asks for $300 for towing. The lawyer says, "no way" and tries to leave. But the door is locked and they refuse to let him out until he agrees to some deal (can't remember the details, but it was extremely unfair to the towee). Of course he got national media exposure and threatened the impound lot until he got what he wanted. How many other poor suckers had to cough up before this even came to light?

Also, Steve Goodman.
posted by sneebler at 6:23 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wow. I've never been towed, even when my house-sitting friend parked my car in front of a driveway around the corner for a week. The blocked driveway neighbor actually went through the trouble of going through the DMV lookup on a license plate and left a note on my door. I have almost come to blows in a parking lot which charged me overtime because I was two minutes late. I decided the additional few bucks charged was not worth an assault rap and besides, the car was full of drugs.

Now that I've talked about my tow avoidance magic, I will probably have a huge towing clusterfuck within a month or two.
posted by telstar at 6:45 PM on December 8, 2014


languagehat, there was really nothing wrong with my comment. I'm happy to expand when asked why that is my opinion, but also entitled to the point of view at which I've arrived. I can without the "enemy of the good" finger-wag. I'm available to discuss in MeMail if this continues to be an important issue for you.
posted by Miko at 7:15 PM on December 8, 2014


I can without the "enemy of the good" finger-wag.

Yeah that is really getting old.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:26 PM on December 8, 2014


Last year, my wife's car was stolen. By the time it was recovered, our insurance had paid our loss claim. I asked them if we could redeem the car by returning the settlement, but they said it had already been assigned to auction. If we wanted it, we would have to bid on it like everyone else. So we went to the towing company's lot, just to positively identify the car and to see if any of the stuff we'd left in it was still there. When we showed up at the lot, we got this weirdly hostile vibe off the people there, until we said who we were and which car was ours. Suddenly, they were all friendly and everything was cool. We saw the car, collected a few items from it, and chatted with the staff a while, then took off. Their attitude was mystifying at the time, but after reading this thread, I'm thinking maybe they were hostile at first because they expected us to eventually be arguing with them, then chilled out when they realized we wouldn't be claiming the car.
posted by ogooglebar at 7:29 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ugh, I couldn't deal with Nickled and Dimed because I was living it when it came out. Getting assigned to read it while I struggled through college as a scheme to get out of endless crushing poverty was salt in a wound. That was around the time that I couldn't get fucking food stamps because they required that your first visit be in person, except that it was a county office out in the middle of fucking nowhere that only had one bus a day that went there and I didn't have a car.

And tow companies are the fucking worst. I still have fantasies of burning down the shitbags who towed my car out of my own fucking driveway because some neighbor who didn't even fucking share the driveway called them about it. Got a trololololol "It's a mistake, but you still owe us for storage and towing! Also all your stuff is gone must be magic!"
posted by klangklangston at 8:09 PM on December 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


At what point do people lose their will to live?

Well, in 2009 one guy I knew killed himself in the house he bought from his mother since she couldn't afford it, and it was foreclosed when he lost his job.

In 2011 a woman I knew died from lack of treatment for chronic illness because the bills from medical care had made her homeless, so she just gave up and let her illness take her.

In 2013 an elderly man I knew called the cops, told them where to find his body, and killed himself because his declining health was consuming his meager funds, and he wanted to leave something to help his kids instead of giving it to the medical system.

So, to answer your question, at all kinds of points, all the time, just about everywhere anyone would care to look.

Cause baby, it's cold outside.
posted by dglynn at 8:35 PM on December 8, 2014 [17 favorites]


I still have fantasies of burning down the shitbags who towed my car out of my own fucking driveway because some neighbor who didn't even fucking share the driveway called them about it.

First of all, what kind of busybody neighbors would do this? Second of all, how in the world is it legal for them to steal your property from your own private residence and charge you to get it back?!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:01 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am pretty much to the left of Robespierre, but on the (thankfully few) times I have dealt with city employees, they have been unfailingly unhelpful and slavish in their devotion to usually hostile policy.

They generally have good jobs that aren't worth risking breaking the rules and getting fired over giving you a break that the rules governing their job say they can't give you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:52 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is capitalism in its purest form - those with power (money) exploiting the weak.

And that's why most of the discussion here is about tow trucks and tow lots. There's no way around the "C" word.

I like to joke that once it was considered a sin to lend money at interest; now it's considered a sin not to make interest on your savings.

Nothing will change until that does.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:58 PM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh. Fun times. One little thing in your life leads to another and then it just cascades into more and more crap, despite working hard every day.

Tetris Economics.
posted by flabdablet at 1:20 AM on December 9, 2014


What is the logic behind towing cars with expired tags from a private residence (i.e. not parked on the street)? I just don't get it. What does the apartment/property manager gain from that?
posted by Rhomboid at 1:36 AM on December 9, 2014


It's almost as if the system isn't designed to raise people up but simply funnel cash towards the top.

This would work much better for all concerned if the funnel leaked more.

We wouldn't need minimum wage laws if the taxation system imposed a de facto maximum income. I don't care who you are; if you need to own six cars to do it, you're doing it wrong.
posted by flabdablet at 2:26 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thank you! I heard this woman on NPR and really wanted to read the book but couldn't remember its name, or hers.
posted by gerstle at 2:26 AM on December 9, 2014


They generally have good jobs that aren't worth risking breaking the rules and getting fired over giving you a break that the rules governing their job say they can't give you.

Sure, whatever, I don't really care why, I was just countering the (to me laughable) assertion that city employees would be somehow inclined to tow cars to legal spots rather than drag them to the impound.

What does the apartment/property manager gain from that?

Kickbacks?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:24 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ham Snadwich: The thing is, I'm a relatively smart guy, I have a good job that pays well and lets me have time off on short notice, I have local family/friends that can give me rides or loan me money and this was *still* a huge pain in the ass and was a financial burden. I can't imagine what it'd be like if I didn't have the resources to handle it.

I think about this a lot. There were times in my life when $100, or even $50 was a fuckton of money. I've had to cut an entire day of work, or cut out early, or leave for a few hours right in the middle of a work day multiple times to deal with stupid fucking problems like this that no one should have to deal with. I always write off not just money, but time dealing with this kind of crap. That story above exploded at like midnight, and me and my friend and a couple other friends(who he was moving in with) spent 3-4 hours in the wee hours of the morning figuring out what the fuck we were going to do. Then me and another friend spent literally twelve hours the next day sorting it all. Getting the truck he was going to use to move anyways, going and picking up the other guy 60 miles away, getting to that truck and transferring all the shit in to it, buying gas, driving him back and barely making it to his job on time, unloading the truck, reloading it, unloading it some more, returning it in the pouring rain, getting shitty takeout. We started at noon, and ended after midnight.

Someone who didn't have friends who either by chance had the day off, or in my case could not only call in but write off a day of work would have no only been out a bunch of money that would have transformed in to bills and been sent to collections, but lost everything they owned.

And to me, the time seems like a way bigger deal than the money. Who the fuck has that much time to piss away on something like this? Who, in the face of the requirement of that much time, would have had their life fucking destroyed right then and there?

And these situations are always black holes of time, with the gatekeepers of every step rolling their eyes and getting annoyed that you seem to be in any sort of hurry while they whistle and drag their feet through each motion.

Steely-eyed missile man: First of all, what kind of busybody neighbors would do this? Second of all, how in the world is it legal for them to steal your property from your own private residence and charge you to get it back?!

On the first count, i lived next to a guy exactly like that for a while, and my friend grew up next to him. The guy was the ultimate fuckhead busybody and would either do, or try and pull off insane shit like this. Like calling the city and saying our band bus parked in the driveway was some illegal chicken coop/puppy mill/animal storage thing. Calling 911 repeatedly on us for smoking joints on our roof. Reporting every car parked outside our house that was there for more than 24 hours(and we had the corner house, and there was pleeennty of parking, including that guys huge private driveway/multi carport/garage), you name it. And the fucked thing was that it caused us a ton of hassle.

On the second point, the answer is basically "because". It's been brought up a couple times vaguely in this thread, but even if you guy towed in some way where the tow company is 100% in the wrong and made a mistake, you always have to pay. Because SOMEONE has to pay, and they're not going to lose money. The digital equivalent of this is paypal, where if they fuck up, someone is losing money, and it's not them.

The driveway towing thing mentioned is top tier, but there's many just-as-bad stories i've heard of egregious outrageous shit.

klangklangston: Also all your stuff is gone must be magic!"

Continuing on my truck story from above, this was arguably the worst part. The indescribably assholic impound lot guy(and it was just one guy, as i said, it was a small town) had tossed the entire truck. it wasn't like stuff in the back fell over when it got towed, boxes were dumped out and everything was just a total shitmess and poured around. My friend hasn't even gotten a chance to really do and inventory and make sure nothing is gone 100% for sure.


Another black hole to get in to though, that speaking of people who want to burn things down, my friends who have had cars damaged by tow companies. Like through obvious, total negligence. Bumpers ripped off and massive dents and drivetrain damage and stuff that's like thousands of dollars in repairs or a totaled car. Now if you're on private property, there's that "lol sorry no liability it's all your own fault!" agreement on the signs. But what if you're just on the street?

Getting any money, even if you actually take them to court, out of a tow company is like suing the fucking police. They will. Not. Pay. And they'll harass you and make the entire process a living hell. My friends dad who makes mid six figures and lives for fighting stupid shit has gone to the mat on this 5-6 times. I think he actually squeezed some blood from a stone a couple times, but apparently tow companies are essentially like patent trolls in that they somehow suddenly have tons of lawyers to throw at you.
posted by emptythought at 5:31 AM on December 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


the (to me laughable) assertion that city employees would be somehow inclined to tow cars to legal spots rather than drag them to the impound.

There's a much better reason why they don't, and it's that there's money to be made. Cities make contracts with private towing companies to use them as the preferred vendor. It's easy to see (usually) how much these contracts are worth by looking at the city budget history. Towing companies compete for the opportunity to work for the city and agree to lower-than-market towing fees, sometimes, in the expectation of both volume business and the possibility of charging impound fees. If the city just had everything towed to a free city lot, the deal would be less appealing for towing companies and it might be harder to negotiate the fees to the city. There's a sort of default collusion effect here, even though this contracting process is supposed to be complete sunshins, and that's before we even get to kickbacks in various forms. For those of you who have the time to fight city hall, this might be an interesting thing to pick up the phone about to your city clerk or your councilor. For instance, it seems like it might be progress to compare towing companies' impound fees and speak up against contracting with exploitive companies' towing contracts wherever possible.
posted by Miko at 5:39 AM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here's another good one: friend moved from City A to suburb B. Did not properly transfer address, so car was still registered in City A. Did not pay car property tax to city A. Eventually parked on the street in City A, and they picked his car up using a license plate scanner and towed it, and wouldn't release it until all back tax was paid, and towing fees. (And they wouldn't even release the car to him, but would only tow it to a residential address until he sorted out the paperwork with the city.)
posted by smackfu at 6:47 AM on December 9, 2014


First of all, what kind of busybody neighbors would do this? Second of all, how in the world is it legal for them to steal your property from your own private residence and charge you to get it back?!

Funny story! While I was in the military and deployed, I parked my (admittedly beater) car in front of my mother's house in a relatively nice neighborhood. Her neighbor started calling in complaints, because it was an ugly car consistently parked kind of in front of his house too. Eventually, they towed it, despite my mother putting a note on the car that I was deployed. By the time I got back from deployment, I had to pay 3 grand to get it back, which is probably more than the car was worth. This stuff really does happen.

I'm not going to say I've never had a "good towing" story - one time I was parked on a parade route I didn't realize was there, so I found my car gone. I called the towing lots, nothing. I later found it parked three streets over in front of the cop bar - they had just towed it somewhere else close by, assuming I'd find it, I guess. But the thing is, when those happen, it's few and far between. Usually it doesn't, and the one nice guy isn't going to make up for all the others.
posted by corb at 7:10 AM on December 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Second of all, how in the world is it legal for them to steal your property from your own private residence and charge you to get it back?!

There are towns where it is against code to store inoperable vehicles in your driveway, although usually a tow would only come after fines.
posted by smackfu at 7:46 AM on December 9, 2014


"First of all, what kind of busybody neighbors would do this? Second of all, how in the world is it legal for them to steal your property from your own private residence and charge you to get it back?!"

The kind of neighbor that lives a quarter mile from a college campus and hates students because of it. They claimed the car was blocking their driveway, and the tow company just took 'em at their word that it was some rando instead of a renter's car parked in the renter's driveway which was not even on the same side as the driveway of the complaining neighbor's house. And the way it's "legal" is that you have to pay them for towing and storage before you get your car back (so, because fuck you). You have to pay them in cash, because they don't take cash or cards, which means another fucking bus ride back to the bank to get the money out… From their perspective, they've provided a valuable service and deserve compensation! Even better, to get the car out, you have to sign a form that waives their liability! Or, of course, you could attempt to sue them, but then they're going to have to keep charging you storage fees trololololololol.

(Where I grew up, I also found out that it was legal for the tow companies to snatch your car if you had three unpaid tickets even if you were parked legally when they saw your car. Oh, and that bumpers sometimes just come off. And also sometimes tires just blow while they're towing, but you can buy new tires there for unreasonable prices! Or that after some asshole hits you and totals your car, that they can charge you a $75 "inspection" fee to get your shit out of the car before they cube it or whatever the fuck.)

If I could get away with it, even now some ten, twelve years out, I would burn them to the ground. It's always been the logistical challenges that have held me back rather than the moral issues. (One of my neighbors got busted trying to steal tires from them after they fucked him over on something, so they do have quite an effective security system. I'd imagine that quite a few people want to burn them down.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:03 PM on December 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


Bank loans are ass backwards. The richest people with perfect credit get the lowest interest rates. Banks will happily ratchet up your credit limit to $10,000 at 19% interest if you're poor. But if you want to responsibly borrow the same amount all at once (for something like home repair) at a reasonable rate with affordable payments - say prime plus one percent - good luck.

One of my siblings is a corporate lawyer, gainfully employed, and doing very well for herself (doesn't have a car though because the TTC does ok for her situation). She applied for a credit card from a local grocery chain that gives you points on it if you use it there. They denied her application. She makes 6 figures a year (I'm pretty sure, but not certain) and she doesn't qualify for a credit card because, of course, it's ass backwards as well (this is by no means a hardship story, but rather an interesting insight into who they really want to have credit cards). She'll be able to pay on time but what I find hard to believe is they still deny her even though they'd still make money off each and every transaction the card is used for.
posted by juiceCake at 12:40 PM on December 9, 2014


Bank loans are ass backwards. The richest people with perfect credit get the lowest interest rates.

They get the lowest interest rates because they are the safest bet to pay back the loan. Just as treasury bills you can invest in give you a lower interest rate than a junk bond for a shady company based out of a garage in Newark. Because the t-bill is safe and the junk bond is not. So it's not backwards, it's just based on risk to the lender. Safer loans mean lower interest rates.
posted by Justinian at 2:11 PM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


She makes 6 figures a year (I'm pretty sure, but not certain) and she doesn't qualify for a credit card because, of course, it's ass backwards as well

That's pretty odd. Does she not have a credit history? Most well off people can pretty easily get $10k+ cards with good rewards.
posted by smackfu at 2:29 PM on December 9, 2014


One of my neighbors got busted trying to steal tires from them after they fucked him over on something, so they do have quite an effective security system. I'd imagine that quite a few people want to burn them down.

The last time I went to a tow lot they were all armed like it was the walking dead universe or something. Every single employee, even the guy mopping the floor in the lobby was open carrying. And there was a gun rack in the office behind the counter.

When I went back in to the lot, all the guys back there were armed as well. I've seen less open carry inside a police precinct.

Imo they actually have some fantasy of "totally wasting some dude", but that's just me. It's like they literally expect the a-team van to bust through the fence and Mr.T and robocop to come out guns blazing.

Although in their defense, we've all thought about it.
posted by emptythought at 3:45 PM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


They're also really popular targets for burglary, as auto parts are generally pretty easy to resell. Likewise, many people would prefer to break in and repossess their cars rather than being extorted by the towers. Combine that with generally being in shitty neighborhoods (because they're basically light industrial) and the defensiveness makes a little more sense — no one's really surprised that the mob is well armed.

And yeah, also probably a legitimate realization that many people would murder them if they could.
posted by klangklangston at 4:05 PM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Although I do have a traditional "towers fucked me" story, I also have a non-traditional "towers fucked me" tale. I was working at a hotel at the time, during a street festival. Festival attendees were parking in our lot, forcing hotel guests to find parking elsewhere. I called the towing company, told them that there were numerous cars parked in our lot that did not have parking passes and did not belong to hotel guests, and was told that city law only allowed cars to be towed from private property if they had been abandoned for at least a week. Apparently the "Unauthorized vehicles will be towed at owner's expense" signs were just for show. Eventually I began directing guests to the paid garage across the street and giving them petty cash for the fees.

This was almost 10 years ago. It still baffles me.
posted by and miles to go before I sleep at 4:13 PM on December 9, 2014


I'm surprised by the response to Nickel and Dimed. When I encountered it as a middle class corporate drone in another country it was hugely eye opening. Her audience was clearly not people living on minimum wage looking for a story about how a middle class woman coped, but for all those other middle/upper class people who had little idea of what was required to live on minimum wage. People who you can find over in the comments to the Slate article even today asking why you would buy toilet paper at $1 roll when you can buy 12 for $5.99.

"Nickel and Dimed which was a pretty shallow and unrealistic breakdown of the challenges of poverty and, more to the point, the intractability of poverty and why systems are set up to prevent people making it off the hamster wheel. "

I think this is ridiculously harsh a critique, but even if it were 100% accurate it has been opening people's eyes to at least some the issues of poverty since 2001, this new book, which I agree is very good although I am only 1/3rd of the way through, was released in 2014.
Until a month or so ago it wasn't possible to choose it over Nickel and Dimed.
posted by bystander at 7:13 PM on December 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


I was reflecting on this and I think the difference of opinion falls along the lines of whether this was an interesting project that opened one's eyes to an economic and political reality they were previously unfamiliar with, or whether it was a project in which someone was attempting to describe what your life was like to others for ends they had defined, and doing so in a way that felt rather alienating. it was a "for not with" approach that bypassed the humanity of those she wrote about in favor of reaching the audience you describe. But some of us happened to read it. Some of us can read and you never know what might fall into our filthy mitts.

One reason the "perfect/enemy of the good' comment rankled so much is that I think you could only say that if you had already defined "the good" as a political project aiming to break the news of inequality to a world that had never known it. I might have to ask you and others to take my word for it that if you had already been intimately familiar with life among those who have known an extended or chronic low-income existence, you don't think of yourself as a project, or the data that makes up your life as fodder for a campaign by others. So it is strange to be asked not to critique it. Can you appreciate that difference in perspective? I think it's reasonable to say she explored the lives of the working poor in a way that kept her safe from actually experiencing it, and that made it materially different than what people who were experiencing were saying to themselves and each other then, and what Tirado is saying now. Even Ehrenreich seems to think so.

I'm also not sure whether it achieved any of that of political "good," since inequality has only worsened dramatically since the book came out. I wonder what happened to all of those opened eyes?
posted by Miko at 8:12 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Miko, those eyes shut again precisely because of the rising inequality. Even well off people have seen their incomes stagnate while those who were only somewhat above them on the ladder have seen their incomes rise dramatically.

For those of us who live hand to mouth it is hard to understand the psychological impact on the comfortable seeing the well off rocket into the stratosphere while they are merely treading water. Sadly, logic doesn't enter into it, otherwise they might notice that the people below them are dropping into poverty and those even farther down have daily suffering that is far more impactful than having to go am extra year between cars or forgo a vacation.

Problem is, they are looking up, not down. What they see scares them even though they are in little danger of finding themselves homeless or unable to get to their job with only one financial setback.
posted by wierdo at 11:07 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's always been the logistical challenges that have held me back rather than the moral issues.

Lucky for them that nobody has ever used the words "thermite" and "quadcopter" in the same sentence while talking to you, then.
posted by flabdablet at 2:13 AM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oops.
posted by flabdablet at 2:13 AM on December 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think you're spot on with that observation, weirdo, and it helps that the political process has encouraged among the relatively affluent a competitive point of view, rather than a sense of common cause, with their fellow losers in this economic system.
posted by Miko at 5:24 AM on December 10, 2014


And yeah, also probably a legitimate realization that many people would murder them if they could.

My dad had a friend who moonlighted as a repo man. He pretty much always carried a gun because the job was dangerous, and he worried about someone recognizing him when he was off the job. He also said that he preferred to work in the city because it was generally easier and less dangerous. If you could find the car, it was generally on the street and you could get in and out pretty quickly. He said that repoing in the boonies was a lot more dangerous because you had to go on someone's property and people seemed more willing to take a shot at you, even if they knew why you were there.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here’s the thing: we know the value of money. We work for ours. If we’re at 10 bucks an hour, we earn 83 cents, before taxes, every five minutes. We know exactly what a dollar’s worth; it’s counted in how many more times you have to duck and bend sideways out the drive through window. Or how many floors you can vacuum, or how many boxes you can fill.

@jscalzi's Being Poor - which deserves a reminder link here - has as its very first line: Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

I was never capital-P-poor in the sense that I could have always picked up a phone and had a home. But I was raised by a man who was, and he sure impressed many of the outlooks on me. Which came in handy at several downtimes.

The one that sticks most with me is the time I had to empty all the change out of my car in order to put enough gas in it to keep making it through the week to get the next check. Not a single dollar in that mess, just coins, and when I handed it to the gas station clerk he didn't have a look that said it was a notable occurrence at all. I do not want to be unaware of my privilege but it would be nice to live in a world where there weren't so many things happening to provide reminders of it.
posted by phearlez at 12:11 PM on December 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was actually thinking about this the other day: the government should set up something called hardship insurance. Basically, when an unexpected cost comes up, the insurance would pay for it, and prevent far worse costs (unemployment, losing a house, etc) down the road.

People in the plan would put a (small) portion of their paycheck as a premium, which they would get back at the end of the year.

I have no doubts that this program would save money over letting the poor just crash and burn. I have zero confidence it would ever pass because, again, why would you ever give poor people money, right?
posted by Deathalicious at 11:20 PM on December 10, 2014


A lot of those products already exist, and are available cheaply (or for free), but they usually come packaged with things that poor people may not have access to, like mortgages and credit cards.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:32 AM on December 11, 2014


People in the plan would put a (small) portion of their paycheck as a premium, which they would get back at the end of the year.

Or maybe people not in the plan would put in an even smaller proportion of their paycheck as a premium, which they get back in the form of peace of mind knowing that they'll likely spend another year free of the fear of angry mobs armed with guillotines.

We could call the premiums "income tax" and we could call the hardship insurance "the welfare state". And maybe even employ enough welfare workers to make the fucking thing actually work.
posted by flabdablet at 5:42 PM on December 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


This plan sounds great, but the downside is that it requires frequent appearances of angry mobs and guillotines to remind everyone what the deal is, otherwise they'll just come up with rationalizations for why the poor deserve to be ground up into dog food, and even having the gall to come up with pithy names for such thoughts, basing them on words like "liberty" (apparently referring to their freedom to be complete dickholes.)
posted by Rhomboid at 7:04 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


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