With the election process in 2020 ongoing, I wanted to share a post that fellow blogger Karly shared on the cost of being disabled. While people with muscular dystrophy (what Karly was diagnosed with at a young age) might experience different costs from someone with a different type of disability, one thing that is universal is that American health care often makes it miserably expensive to have a disability. Since Karly’s hope is “to highlight the importance of voting with disabled people and health care in mind,” I figured that sharing her post at a critical point in the election process is ideal.
A little over two months ago, four homeless people were brutally beaten to death in New York City—Lower Manhattan, to be exact. More recently, one of the local television stations in New York City, which is where I live, profiled these four victims of the brutal attacks.
One thing that became apparent to me, as I was listening to the profiles of these homeless individuals, is that we need to address some of the stereotypes about homeless people.
The National Coalition for the Homeless, which is one of the most prominent homelessness advocacy organizations in the United States, had a piece that succinctly mentioned three of the most prominent stereotypes about homeless individuals: that they are viewed as lazy, crazy, and/or drug addicts.
Yet, Chuen Kwok, an 83-year-old man who was the oldest of the four victims beaten to death, was considered the “uncle” of the neighborhood, and only became homeless after falling on hard times during his sixties.
Yet, Nazario Vazquez Villegas, who was also beaten to death in his sleep, worked a number of odd jobs over the years, and doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical profile of a homeless person, either.
Yet, Florencio Moran, the 39-year-old who was the youngest of the four who were killed, was someone who, at the time of my writing this, didn’t have much information to his name. Therefore, there’s nothing to show that he fit the homeless stereotypes, either.
Yet, Anthony Mason, 49, was a blogger, just like me and just like some of my readers. He founded nonprofit organizations in Mississippi to help the homeless and was a preacher too. Mason’s story is actually quite extraordinary.
The only person involved in all of this who fits those homeless stereotypes (even when you include David Hernandez, the one person who was beat up but survived) was the attacker: Randy Santos, a homeless man with a reported history of violence and mental illness. That fact should be, by itself, a cause for reflection on the stereotypes our society often has about homeless people.
This story out of my hometown isn’t an anomaly, either. The people I know who’ve done work with homeless populations can often point to people they have encountered (sometimes, many people) who don’t, by any means, fit within the “lazy, crazy, drug addict” stereotype about being homeless. Personally, I can even say that I’ve encountered homeless individuals over the years who are every bit as talented as Anthony Mason, or every bit as well-regarded as Chuen Kwok, and that’s even though my work with homeless individuals has been much more limited than those who have dedicated their volunteer and/or professional lives to work with the homeless.
So, next time you see someone who you think is homeless on the street, the sidewalk, the bus, the train, don’t assume that the person is some lazy, crazy bum. That homeless individual you see may have more in common with you than you realize.
I dedicate this post to the memories of Chuen Kwok, Nazario Vazquez Villegas, Florencio Moran, and Anthony Mason.
 I’ve heard hardly any information on Hernandez, so I don’t have any information to confirm that he fits the homeless stereotypes.
One day recently, I was reading through Facebook posts from my friends on my personal Facebook account. Usually, when I’m doing this, “blog post” is not one of the first things I have in mind.
But then, I saw a post where a friend of mine shared an image of a tweet from someone I didn’t even know…
It does sound absurd, that someone could be so poor they can’t afford to get a job. But, as ridiculous as this tweet may sound, it’s true—the expenses involved in getting and keeping a job can be prohibitively expensive.
Here are a few expenses that are required to get or keep a job, that can also be just too expensive for some people:
Money to keep your car running
Corbin’s tweet talks about “gas money,” and she’s right that gas money is one of the costs that makes someone so poor that they can’t get to a job interview or to a job. But, there’s also the cost of making sure the car remains in good shape, of getting repairs when something breaks, and of inevitably getting a new car when your old car struggles to run as it should. After all, there are many jobs that require you to have a car, so if you can’t afford to have a functional car, you can’t afford to have a job.
Or, if you don’t drive to and from work, money for mass transit
I’m blessed to live in a place where you can take mass transit to and from work. However, mass transit fares can add up over the course of a year. For example, if one were to get a monthly mass transit pass in New York City, that’s over $1,500 a year in mass transit expenses alone (at $127 a month). For someone who’s earning a lot of money, $1,500 may not sound like a ton. But for someone on the edge financially, that $1,500 may be the difference between being able to afford to get to a job—or not.
If you have a child and you are looking to work a job for 40 hours a week, your child needs to somehow be taken care of until you get home from work. Hence, the need for child care. But it costs many thousands of dollars a year, in many cases, to make sure your child is getting proper child care. In New York City, it costs, on average, over $16,000 a year for an infant to be in child care! Even with a $15 an hour minimum wage—something that many progressives advocate for—that’s half a year’s worth of your salary spent on child care alone.
Corbin’s tweet also talks about people not being able to afford the money to adhere to the dress code for a job interview, let alone the multiple appropriate outfits necessary for a job. On a personal note, there was one time months ago when I ran into someone begging for money on the subway…so that he could get nice clothes for his job interview. I hope he got his money, and his clothes. In the meantime, this story exemplifies how it costs money—lots of it—to have the dress code you need for a job interview and a job. If you don’t have the money to buy professional clothing, then it puts you in a difficult situation professionally.
So, next time there’s a temptation to judge a poor person for not working hard enough to get back on their feet, I really wish that we were less judgmental, and remembered that the obstacles to “getting back on their feet” (in other words, getting a job) are, in some cases, too enormous to overcome at times. Instead, it would be best to find solutions that would allow for a poor person to not spend as much on car maintenance, for someone in economic need to get reduced-fare or free mass transit, for reduced-price or free child care to exist for those who need it, and for more reduced-price or free professional clothing to exist for those who need it. There are many economic barriers that lie between many people and jobs, and instead of calling someone lazy for encountering those barriers, it would be best to figure out how to remove the barriers.
 New York City has a program through which low-income residents can get reduced-fare mass transit passes, so such policies can and do exist in some places: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/resources/2018/Fair-Fares-FAQ-English.pdf
 Some individual programs, such as Dress for Success (for women) or the Men’s Wearhouse Suit Drive (for men) can help. However, individual programs like these are not enough. Click here for more information on Dress for Success and click here for more information on the Men’s Wearhouse Suit Drive.
“Support our troops.” People in the United States frequently hear and see this phrase in a variety of settings: on cars, from politicians, and from friends posting on social media, to name a few. We hear it especially on days like Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
And I agree. We should support our troops. While my personal opinion is that we should avoid war except in the most extreme of circumstances (example: if our own nation is attacked, like with Pearl Harbor), people who risk their own lives on behalf of the entire country should be supported. Since people in the military serve our country, our country should in return serve our military veterans. It’s the least we can do in the United States.
And yet, economically, we don’t support our troops.
There are numerous damning statistics on this fact. As of 2014, 25% of military families sought some sort of assistance with food. There are nearly 38,000 homeless veterans; it’s a slight decrease from where it was, but there are still way too many homeless veterans. There were nearly 1.5 million veterans in the United States living below the poverty line as of 2012.
And we haven’t even gotten to wages, which are abysmal. For example, a starting salary for someone starting in the U.S. Army as an enlisted soldier, according to the Houston Chronicle, is $1,414 a month (a little over $18,000 a year). While that number goes up after several years of experience, an enlisted soldier with several years of experience can still earn under $30,000 a year. Some of these salaries are below the minimum wage of some states, and they are certainly not living wages.
These are just a few statistics that show how this nation literally does not put its money where its mouth is. This nation talks a big game about supporting troops, yet fails to do so by paying living wages to troops and making sure that veterans aren’t homeless or in poverty. Shame on the United States for not giving back to people who have given so much to this country. Many of our troops have risked their lives to protect this country, and yet the government is risking the livelihoods of troops and their families through providing many of them with inadequate pay. This country does not truly support its troops.
However, we, as individuals, could raise our voices on this issue. We, as individuals, could contact our representatives in the House and Senate and ask them to make sure that all members of the military earn a living wage. Oh, and it would help if this problem gained national attention.
Every so often, a family member (usually my mom or me) is out with a friend, and the family member argues with the friend about how much of a tip to give when we’re at a restaurant. My mom and I argue for a high tip, while our friends sometimes argue for a significantly lower tip or no tip at all, regardless of the quality of service.
After seeing what minimum wages are for tipped employees in every state, I feel both vindicated and saddened. I feel vindicated that my stance on this topic is such that the higher tips mean higher wages for workers, but also saddened that these workers earn poor wages without tips.
Actually, the term “poor wages” would be a disgraceful understatement of how some tipped workers are paid before tips. Given that numerous states allow employers to pay their tipped workers little (as little as $2.13 an hour, as long as tips cover the difference between their base wage and the federal minimum wage), it’s the tips of consumers that could have a major impact on the economic well-being of people. So for consumers in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina, you all had better give generous tips if you feel that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is too low of a wage for people to earn.
While I just directed my last sentence at the consumers of six states, consumers from the other U.S. states and territories aren’t off the hook. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
I say this because many tipped workers earn below a living wage. The MIT Living Wage Calculator says that the living wage in the United States is $15.12 per hour for a family of four. Waiters and waitresses (a form of tipped work) could earn a wage around or above the 75th percentile without having a living wage (national living wage is $15.12 per hour while the 75th percentile pay for a waiter/waitress is $13.30 per hour). If we want our tipped workers to earn living wages, we need to give them generous tips.
When I bring up these points, some people say that it’s not fair for us, the consumers, to compensate for the fact that tipped workers are given poor wages. While I agree that it’s not fair, the injustice of giving tipped workers a little extra compensation pales in comparison to the injustice that would happen if we all gave low tips, or no tips at all. Even if certain employers don’t pay the kinds of wages they should, it doesn’t excuse us from paying the kinds of tips we should. The ultimate injustice with tipped workers is that the people who serve us would earn so little money that they couldn’t serve themselves and their families.
It’s our choice. Do we want humane and living wages for our tipped workers? If so, it’s time for us, the consumers, to step up our games. And yes, that means I’m going to continue paying my 20%+ tips.
 I should note that this is the national average. The living wage varies widely between states (and even municipalities within states) depending on factors such as cost-of-living. For example, the living wage in New York City for one adult and one child is $30.86 per hour while the living wage for two adults and two children in Boise, Idaho is $15.68 per hour. Source: http://livingwage.mit.edu/articles/19-new-data-calculating-the-living-wage-for-u-s-states-counties-and-metro-areas
 Source: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes353031.htm