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Income Distribution

America’s Rich: Poor Have It Easy

Blogging Our Great Divide
January 09, 2015

by Bob Lord

Here are poll results that are not the least bit surprising:

The Washington Post Wonkblog reports that according to a Pew Research Center poll, the majority of America’s most financially secure citizens believe the “poor have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.” Of course, if you ask only those financially secure citizens who are conservative, it goes from a bare majority to over 75 percent. Who knew?

If you are regularly in contact with financially secure people, this likely does not surprise you. It’s also stunning. How is it that people with cushy jobs and fat incomes arrogate themselves to make value judgments about the character of those who are not doing as well as they are?

I wish each of those poll respondents (and every other pompous ass hat in America) could be made to read Matt Taibbi’s response to David Brooks, when Brooks penned an insipid op-ed explaining how only the rich in America work hard. I think this is the third time I’ve quoted Taibbi (unfortunately the link to Taibbi’s piece no longer functions):

I would give just about anything to sit David Brooks down in front of some single mother somewhere who’s pulling two shitty minimum-wage jobs just to be able to afford a pair of $19 Mossimo sneakers at Target for her kid, and have him tell her, with a straight face, that her main problem is that she doesn’t work as hard as Jamie Dimon.

Only a person who has never actually held a real job could say something like this. There is, of course, a huge difference between working 80 hours a week in a profession that you love and which promises you vast financial rewards, and working 80 hours a week digging ditches for a septic-tank company, or listening to impatient assholes scream at you at some airport ticket counter all day long, or even teaching disinterested, uncontrollable kids in some crappy school district with metal detectors on every door.

Most of the work in this world completely sucks balls and the only reward most people get for their work is just barely enough money to survive, if that. The 95% of people out there who spend all day long shoveling the dogshit of life for subsistence wages are basically keeping things running just well enough so that David Brooks, me and the rest of that lucky 5% of mostly college-educated yuppies can live embarrassingly rewarding and interesting lives in which society throws gobs of money at us for pushing ideas around on paper (frequently, not even good ideas) and taking mutual-admiration-society business lunches in London and Paris and Las Vegas with our overpaid peers.

Brooks is right that most of the people in that 5% bracket log heavy hours, but where he’s wrong is in failing to recognize that most of us have enough shame to know that what we do for a living isn’t really working. I pull absolutely insane hours in my current profession, to the point of having almost no social life at all, but I know better than to call what I do for a living work. I was on a demolition crew when I was much younger, the kind of job where you have to wear a dust mask all day long, carry buckets full of concrete, and then spend all night picking fiberglass shards out of your forearms from ripping insulation out of the wall.

If I had to do even five hours of that work today I’d bawl my fucking eyes out for a month straight. I’m not complaining about my current good luck at all, but I would wet myself with shame if I ever heard it said that I work even half as hard as the average diner waitress.

The explanation of the Pew poll results, I believe, lies in the passage from Taibbi I placed in bold. Those poll respondents who looked down their noses at the poor likely have the same worldview as Brooks. They really think that sitting at their desks all day is hard work.

What a bunch of creeps.

Bob Lord, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, practices law in Phoenix.

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