1.) work in food service (6 months)
2.) work mid- and low-end retail (6 months) and/or mid- or low-end grocery store
3.) clerk in a public service/welfare office (6 months)
If you run for congress, you are required by law to do all of those things in double time and as your only job. Because people have wildly--and I do mean wildly--hilarious ideas of how they'd do at minimum wage in theory, and even funnier memories of how they used to do it when they did.
Like, right now, I look back and remember fondly working for six hundred dollars a month that I'd use for rent, electricity, food, and clubbing, and think about how right now, my credit card bill is more than that monthly (I pay off monthly, free Best Buy points!) but case in fact; I couldn't live on that now and I don't pretend I was so special then that I could do it, and I bet most people who wax lyrically on those low-income days don't remember what all it took to pull that shit off. Even adjusting for inflation--Jesus, I have an excel formula for that--I couldn't do it, because of some very interesting key factors separate from my regular prescriptions I have to now fill monthly.
1.) My parents paid my health insurance. I was never, ever, ever in danger from the common cold.
2.) My mom came to visit me and I lacked even rudimentary pride; she bought me food.
3.) I went home to do laundry. I think I used the once in the complex twice? It was frightening.
4.) I ate at work like a lot.
5.) I shared a two bedroom not wonderful apartment with two other people and electric and phone were super low because of that.
6.) My parents gave me money regularly as long as I was working. Not a lot--I mean working class level not a lot, not middle class not a lot, this is low double digit figures here--but it was my entertainment budget.
7.) I made no egregious mistakes, which is related to point 8 below....
8.) Luck. Jesus, so much luck. Unbelievable luck.
Luck is a really underestimated part of life, and at $600 a month, I got unbelievably lucky. I didn't need a lot of things to go wrong; I didn't even need three things to go wrong; I needed one, repeat, one to kill my budget dead. I didn't, and so I went on fairly happily.
Right now, I'm around the average mean for Austin, and I had one thing--one stupid thing--go wrong that threw my budget off for almost a year fixing, and right this minute, the summer's electric bills went quite literally insane due to reasons, and Jesus, if I had zero support, that would kill my budget for two years minimum. I'd be paying off insanely high-interest payday loans, which no, been there done that and no.
Luck is, actually, random. Being virtuous sometimes is a drawback to getting it, gotta tell you; being thrifty, also doesn't get it very often; doing everything right does not raise your chances with luck, if anything, it's lower.
To wit: I'm IT professional who tests programs for a living, and I got that job with only five years of tenure because in 1999, I found the internet and liked fanfic and needed to make a webpage. The gods of hilarious unexpected consequences just called today when I went to an interview with the deputy director of health services--for a job that would jump me an income bracket. I made the interview screening for that, and I can tell you right now in an sane world, that doesn't happen to people who didn't finish college and seriously debated once whether to use 'dick' or 'cock' in a porn scene on their textual aesthetics. Cock, by the way, dick throws me out, no idea why, but the point stands.
1999. The internet. My first computer, my annoying ex-boyfriend, fanfic, and shitty geocities: thus is born someone testing ACA compatibility and changes in state programs for benefits and to the universe's laughter, is good at it. I wouldn't have known I liked IT or programming if in 1999, I hadn't read my first Tom/B'Elanna fic and thought "Hey, I want to write one." That's not just luck, granted; that's the unintended consequences of luck being chaotic neutral.
Growing up low- to mid-working class does not, in fact, give me a better work ethic, appreciate what I have more, or give me esoteric virtues now. At best, it makes me somewhat more conscious of my budgeting, but it didn't make me thrifty; a childhood on a very close budget meant we had all the necessities (mostly, with variation) but very, very few luxuries, and dude, I overkill the fuck out of things because like in childhood, when bad luck could kill our family budget for not months but years, now was what we were sure of, later could be a repossession, a layoff, and no, saving the few pennies now would do fuck-all when big shit hit. I had to make a hobby to create a working savings account with stocks trading. I got lucky doing it, don't wrong here, but making it hard to get to my money helped, and so did dropping stock prices because selling below what I bought, yes, that bothered me.
I don't like bootstraps arguments for that reason, because they predispose the concept of luck is either non-existent or a natural consequence of doing the right things at the right time and therefore luck comes from bootstraps. It doesn't, and virtue doesn't get you anywhere. Hard work, granted, helps a lot, but there's also a separate factor. When people say "I didn't just get lucky, I worked hard" it's almost true, but not quite; they think of luck as jackpots and magic, and it's not; it's also you don't have that one shitty bad thing happen, or three of them happen, because luck can be good or chaotic neutral or bad or all three at once, but carrying on like luck is magic goodness misses the point.
Luck: you didn't make a single mistake, unwitting, stupid, unavoidable, whatever, that couldn't be fixed with what you had at that moment. That's unbelievable luck; that my friend, is fucking magic. I know it's magic, I know this personally, viscerally, painfully, because most of mine would have fucked me if I didn't have magic of my own; a family that loved me, that would do it's damndest to get me out of it, including sacrifice they couldn't afford at the time. I know this is magic, I know it, because when I was a caseworker, I saw me in a hundreds of people, maybe a thousand walked through my office, and the only difference, the only real difference here, was that most of them didn't have the safety net of a family just scraping mid-working class that could--just barely, Jesus, thinking about it now I don't know how they did it--catch me.
Luck is not having a shitty boss who can screw you over so much if they don't like you because reasons that have nothing to do or everything to do with you, either one; luck is not having a sudden need for hospitalization or even moaning in bed for days and get fired/docked the amount of rent; not ever getting sick is also luck, sunshine, your immune system is not better because you work hard, its biology which doesn't really care all that much; the lack of negative luck is, in fact, magic luck, amazing luck, and how people miss this blows my mind.
You do, in fact, make your own luck; that much is true. But all you do is create the constraints in which they operate, not the type you'll get: good, neutral, bad. How much you get of each of those is--surprise!--luck. If you can't look back on your life and see exactly what I mean when I say that--if you can't see every time something could have fucked you and nothing at the time could have fixed it if it happened--you're making one of the more depressing arguments I've heard for predestination ever and I'm including the horror of Calvinism in there. If you're honest, if you see it, you also now know this; someone, somewhere, had the same thing happen to them, and they actually didn't have what was needed to fix it.
This has been brought to you by way too much news and too many people with a distinct lack of self-awareness and someone on a site who was protesting how much in taxes they paid on a tiny 100,000 income. All I could think was how exciting it would be to log in to pay taxes on a six digit income, because a six digit income, Jesus Christ. I still get vaguely excited when I realize I have a retirement account--an actual retirement account--that I can afford to regularly contribute to. It's exciting; it's a reminder that I make enough to have the luxury to plan a little for the future.
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