Linda Tirado wrote an essay called ‘Why I Make Terrible Decisions’ that went viral. It was widely praised but she got some criticism for it and explains here that it was just one version of what it is to be poor. Hand to Mouth is her full account of what it’s like to survive on low wages in America.
She breaks down the reality of living on minimum wage and paying the bills that are overdue first. There’s so many adults living like this, with little prospect of having much disposable income. At one point Linda worked three jobs and found that scheduling issues made it difficult to make money at one job or another. Working as a waitress could be particularly punishing, with shockingly low pay, little prospects of tips and being made to carry out deep cleans when the place is quiet. Linda says she earned 19 cents an minute at her earning peak.
I was quite shocked with some of the revelations in this, with stories of bosses behaving inappropriately toward her and a landlord even suggesting she could be ‘turning tricks’ in order to pay bills. She’s been fired because her boss made a mistake on paperwork, for having flu, for not sleeping with someone, and also because she did sleep with someone.
She’s had little rights, with one job meaning her having to sign a contract for part-time work with no benefits and told if she took another job she’d be subject to termination, as the company expected her to come in when they thought necessary. People are having to take low-paid jobs through necessity, where they can get fired at any time, their hours can be cut without notice and there’s no requirement for employer to provide severance.
Instead of things changing the people in power encourage you to work even harder and be grateful to have a job, some food and a roof. Linda gradually stops caring about work and just performs as directed, no more than that. They’re not giving her enough hours to survive in order to avoid giving her health care and putting little into her training and so she’s not going to bust her pan in for them.
She’s not pleased at how people expect her to be constantly smiling as if she’s working in happy land. She says that poor people’s brains, souls and hearts hurt from the daily grind of fighting to survive on minimal income. They don’t have the luxury of being able to accept unpaid internships, opportunities largely only available to the wealthy.
She’s very defensive of her smoking, something that keeps her calm, gives an instant buzz and keeps her awake. She says people do lots of things they don’t have to, like having fancy dinners and expensive wine they don’t actually need. She highlights that governments pay out so much more to banks than for food stamps but it’s always the poor that get attacked.
Hand to Mouth is a great individual account of one person’s experience of living on a low income in America today. Tirado’s is a sharp voice that many will directly relate to and most will understand. Her anger is abundantly clear and it can certainly be read as a call for people with wealth and security to recognise all of the people that are struggling, be they working in a fast food joint, cleaning their homes or collecting food stamps, and appreciate the problems they’re facing and the causes.