I took the 9AM bus to the downtown farmer’s market this Saturday morning. It’s a short trip, but circuitous, traveling mostly through working class neighborhoods. By the time we reached downtown the bus was about three-quarters full. There were maybe five white folks, all of us with empty ‘green’ bags, heading to the farmer’s market to buy fresh vegetables, artisan cheeses, fresh-baked pastries and breads, local jams and jellies, ethnic delicacies, locally grown eggs, wines from small regional wineries.
All the other bus passengers were African-American or Hispanic. Most, if not all, of them were going to work. Several of them were wearing restaurant garb — smocks from fast-food restaurants or polo shirts with the names of restaurants embroidered on them. A couple of guys were wearing steel-toed boots and carrying their own tool belts.
[T]here are 47 percent who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Those folks going to work, they’re the people Gov. Romney counts in his 47%. I suspect most of them pay little or no federal income tax — not because they don’t work, but because they don’t earn enough money. Some of them probably get food stamps, several of them almost certainly receive the Earned Income tax credit, some of them may get some sort of government subsidy for heating in the winter, a fair number of them probably had done military service (or had a relative in military service). They still probably pay state income tax, of course, and sales taxes, and a host of other taxes.
These people are most definitely not victims, and don’t see themselves that way. Not one of them, I’m sure, has ever attended a US$50,000 a plate fund-raiser dinner to complain about how unfair life has been to them. And I think I can say with a high degree of confidence that not one of them has ever filed a 379 page income tax return.
Despite what Gov. Romney says, these folks do take responsibility for their lives. In fact, the working poor have to take more responsibility for their lives. They can’t hire somebody else to raise their kids, or cook their meals, or mow their lawns, or do their laundry. Poor city dwellers are less likely to own a vehicle, so when going to work or appointments they have to take into account bus or subway schedules (and consider the possible disruptions in service); that usually means leaving earlier and traveling longer in order to be sure they’re not late. Poor folks have to shop more carefully — for food, for clothing, for just about every goddamn thing. Being poor means making daily money decisions: do you buy fresh vegetables and the makings for a proper meal that you’ll likely be too tired to cook, or do you pay a bit more and buy a couple frozen pizzas that are filling and quick and easy? Do you buy the kids cheap shoes which will only get them through the summer or more expensive shoes that might last a year?
Poor folks are up to their necks in personal responsibility. They have less time and money to spend at weekend farmer’s markets.
The bus was nearly empty on the way back. Mostly just us white folks returning from the farmer’s market. Two women were cheerfully sorting through bags full of hand-spun yarns. Me, I picked up a nice garlic focaccia and an absolutely delicious loaf of raspberry streusel bread. I tasted an exceedingly fine locally-made Chipotle-Jack cheese (aged six months) and intended to buy it last thing before leaving, but it was clear at the other end of the market — three or four blocks away — and I might have had to hurry to catch the bus. These are the sacrifices we make.