The irony of policies designed to tackle poverty is that their effects are visited least on those who actually make the rules. Politicians are not likely to feel the results of anti-poverty policies, nor are those who are primarily responsible for drafting legislation. As a result, it is easy for policy makers and opinion makers to take the moral high ground on positions pertaining to the role of money in life.
Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving when shops offer big sales to ignite the holiday shopping season — is a case in point. It is easy to call Black Friday a commercial interruption, always occurring between a Thanksgiving Thursday and the weekend, that keeps workers from their family. What would otherwise be an extended weekend at home with loved ones becomes an obsession with new TVs, clothes, and other wares at bargain prices.
But such opinions fail to consider the economic reality of workers who live near the poverty line. Working on holidays, which provides overtime pay, may represent an economic opportunity. The chance to make time-and-a-half should not be dismissed by individuals who are more well off. Indeed taking the moral high ground without considering the needs of poor individuals is classist, says Dr. Nicole Mason.
C. Nicole Mason: One of the things that really, really upsets me – a lot of things upset me but this upsets me – is that the people who are talking about poverty and what should be done are the people who are not or are least likely to be affected. So we’re talking about policymakers. We’re talking about, you know, my colleagues – middle class people who are not worrying about, you know, their lack of healthcare, health insurance. They’re not wage earners. I mean hourly wage earners. So I’m, you know, so I feel like I’m also living in a bubble, right. So I live a very comfortable life, you know, in a great neighborhood, great schools. All the things that I talk about in terms of what works.
And so what that means is that I also hear what people are saying, right. So the conversation is oh, you know, it’s so bad. Why are people, you know, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, whatever store – close down for, you know, don’t open on those days, right. You know you’re horrible, you’re screwed, you’re this, that and the other. And then I’m like that is such a classist thing to say. It’s classist. Because if you depend on an hourly wage and if you – and I did, you know, when I was growing up and so did my parents. So I know that people sometimes like to work on the holidays because you get paid time and a half, right. So if you close the store and I’m not able to work and I depend on those hours and the extra money to be able to provide for my family then were does that put me? So there’s like this whole, you know, moral ground that I think people sort of take without really thinking about well what’s the impact of the people and the workers. Now if you were to say well, close the stores and pay the workers then that’s a different story. But the idea that we’ll close the store because you’re being a scrooge. Everybody should be home with their families doesn’t really take into consideration the complexity of people’s lives.
For me what’s different is being inside of those kinds of conversations where people are talking about what should be done or poor people and all the policies. And then having lived it and knowing what it’s like on a day to day and knowing the disconnect between what we’re saying works and what we’re proposing and the actual, you know, what’s actually happening in people’s lives.