Monday, July 8, 2013

Between Chase and Kroger

(The example in this post is based on pure assumption. I did not talk to the man nor did I trail him to his destination to get more facts. Despite my lack of validity about the example there are many people who live just as I describe. This man represents the silent and unseen segment of society whatever his case may actually be.) 

The first time I heard the axiom “working poor” was during the groundbreaking Presidential bid by Rev. Jesse Jackson in the late ‘80’s. He talked about how the plight of the working poor was the shame of America that supposedly rewards hard work a livable wage. I always found the term working poor to be an oxymoron. It never occurred to me at the time that folks could be employed and still poor, almost living as if they had no income at all. 

What is the definition of the working poor? The working poor are those folks that have spent at least half the year in the U.S. labor force but they earn a yearly wage that is below the poverty level. They barely live off the money they earn and often they have to resort to other ways of getting food or resources to survive. Some occupations of the working poor are hotel maids, non-professional hospital workers, farmers, and many other positions in the service sector of the labor market. The irony is that many of the working poor are employed at jobs they themselves could not afford to patron. For instance, a hospital worker probably could not afford to have health insurance, let alone see doctors themselves. 

This past Sunday night I decided to grab something to eat from Kroger. While driving through the lot I noticed a man digging in the garbage bin behind Chase bank. I know Chase does not put sensitive records or receipts in the dumpster so I knew he must have been looking for something else.
I pulled over and watched him to see what he was getting out of the dumpster. He was mining for aluminum cans.  He found a few cans and some other items that I could not make out. What I am sure of is that he found a can of something in the dumpster and proceeded to drink the contents. I assumed this guy was homeless. But then as I continued to watch him, I noticed that he had on a white dress shirt and what looked like an employee tag or key card on a string around his neck. I deduced that he was not homeless but he was employed and probably lived in a less than modest residence. I continued to watch him. When he finished placing his findings in a plastic grocery bag he picked up a small suitcase laying on the ground and placed it in a shopping cart along with his bag of “goodies”.  After seeing the small suitcase I thought, “Maybe he is homeless after all”. 

After loading up his basket he wheeled his items through the lot at Kroger. How sadly ironic it is that he was looking for cans to earn money behind the branch of one of the most powerful banks in the world. I am guessing he had no money in Chase and that he could not afford any food from Kroger.
Headed to Kroger while Chase is in my side rear mirror. Symbolism at its best. 
He wheeled his things to Kroger and sat down outside in one of the seats available for the public. I went inside Kroger to get what I wanted and as I was coming out I looked to my left only see a beat up taxi stopping to pick the man up. He put his stuff in the back seat of the car and then got in the front seat of the taxi. I think he knew the driver. The taxi light was not on so I figured it was not in service. They pulled off to wherever his destination was. 

I felt sorry for this man. Clearly he was not able to go inside Kroger and get food and use a debit card to pay for it like I did. There are millions of these folks (an estimated 10.4 million as of 2011) who work but have to make ends meet using what we throw away. We ignore these folks. I know I take my own financial status for granted. I’m by no means well off but I can get by without digging in the garbage for something to sell or something to drink or something to eat.  I often wonder if the politicians in city hall, the state houses, and in Washington really care about these people who provide us with services they themselves can’t afford use. I wonder if people like this man are concerned about what the news anoints as the hot topic of the day like the IRS scandal, the Snowden saga of leaking sensitive surveillance operations, or the uprising in Egypt. Even more so I wonder if they have enough energy to even care about those things as they struggle to survive in a country of riches that ignores them. I am thankful that I have the “luxury” to turn my attention to the news on MSNBC, CNN and big three networks instead of worrying about how I will eat this week or next. 

Its scenes like these that make me wonder how we can ever say with a straight face that we are a Christian nation. In II Thessalonians 3 the Bible it says that if a [person] does not work they don’t eat. Unfortunately, today a person can work and still not eat.