Do we reserve outrage for the rich?

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“During protests, I never burn anything less than an Audi. A Geo Prism? Not worth my match!”

From Mayor Lovely A. Warren’s campaign speeches to readers’ essays in the Democrat and Chronicle, the “tale of two cities” storyline continues to remind us of the widening socioeconomic gaps; there are some who earn $273 to $3,000 per day while many others earn only $30 or less per day. Yet, when we read about these discrepancies in the news, we typically find reporting and reactions of two very different styles.

When a publication or organization releases a report regarding poverty — individuals earning $30 or less per day — we read about school districts, minority groups, perhaps a specific neighborhood, or an entire state. It’s less common, however, to find reports on poverty accompanied by profiles of real people. And readers’ comments are typically filled with blame; people tend to point fingers rather than accept any type of responsibility or accountability for these outcomes. Fingers even get pointed at the members of our community who earn $30 or less per day as if they want to be in that position.

In contrast, when the same groups publish data about people who earn more than $273 per day, we get to read about actual people; their names, occupations, previous salaries, bonuses, cars and education all appear black-and-white in print. And readers respond in complete outrage.

Perhaps it’s the difference between what we define as a desirable wage versus an unenviable wage. Either way, like many things in our society, we demonstrate a tendency to reserve our outrage only for neighbors who earn more than $273 in a day. That same level of outrage is nowhere to be found on behalf of the thousands of people who earn less than $30 over the same 24 hours. Worst of all, I know more people who can readily defend the former while it’s very difficult to meet someone who can even begin to explain or understand the latter. Who knew outrage was such a luxury?

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Igor says:

    No one can live on $30 a day; not unless you are getting free housing and free healthcare and food stamps; if you take these 3 out of “expenses you have to pay for” column, you probably can make it

    1. Agreed. It’s the challenge at the core of “a livable wage.”

      I disagree, however, with the word “free.” The transfer payment programs you’ve discussed are paid for by taxpayers and are made available for qualified individuals who require assistance. Transfer payments, especially in a welfare-to-work state like New York, have proven to deliver immense long-term value that considerably outweighs initial short-term costs on behalf of taxpayers.

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