Barbara Ehrenreich on the ‘unfair costs’ faced by the poor:
… as Businessweek helpfully pointed out in 2007, the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them.
Boooo! Eeeeeevil corporations, targeting the people who, errr, can’t pay for their goods!
It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor.
Oh. OK. Just how are the public sector ‘preying on the poor’, then?
Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license.
Well, Barbara, it might seem trivial to you, but there’s a reason the state licenses us to pilot a tonne of machinery around the roads, and a reason why they might, on occasion, decide to suspend that privilege…
And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell.
The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009 for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration.
‘Woman jailed for not paying her debts! Hold the front page!’
It’s called ‘consequences’, Barbara…
And the number of possible criminal offenses leading to jail and/or fines has been multiplying recklessly. All across the country – from California and Texas to Pennsylvania – counties and municipalities have been toughening laws against truancy and ratcheting up enforcement, sometimes going so far as to handcuff children found on the streets during school hours. In New York City, it’s now a crime to put your feet up on a subway seat, even if the rest of the car is empty, and a South Carolina woman spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay a $480 fine for the crime of having a “messy yard”.
Perhaps, Barbara, you’d care to enlighten me as to the (good, solid, I’m sure!) reasons why ‘being poor’ means you can’t be expected to display the social graces and obedience to the law that everyone else has to show?
I was always taught ‘manners cost nothing’, so they shouldn’t be off-limits to the poor, should they?
Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimates that “deadbeat dads” (and moms) owe (pdf) $105bn in back child-support payments, about half of which is owed to state governments as reimbursement for prior welfare payments made to the children. Yes, parents have a moral obligation to their children, but the great majority of child-support debtors are indigent.
Then perhaps they should keep it in their pants? And not breed recklessly, leaving the ordinary taxpayer to foot the bill?
The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty”. Poor people are far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.
In other words, while I’d make sure I had money to pay a parking fee, these ‘poor’ you are talking about simply say ‘To hell with it! Can’t get blood out of a stone…’ and refuse?
You really aren’t engaging my sympathy much…
I could propose all kinds of policies to curb the ongoing predation on the poor. Limits on usury should be reinstated. Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net.
Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.
You know, the more I read of this article, the less I’m able to visualise ‘the poor’ she keeps referring to.
In fact, the more I seem to think their problem isn’t lack of money at all, but lack of something else.