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Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America

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We in America have certain ideas of what it means to be poor. Linda Tirado, in her signature brutally honest yet personable voice, takes all of these preconceived notions and smashes them to bits. She articulates not only what it is to be working poor in America (yes, you can be poor and live in a house and have a job, even two), but what poverty is truly like—on all levels. 

Frankly and boldly, Tirado discusses openly how she went from lower-middle class, to sometimes middle class, to poor and everything in between, and in doing so reveals why “poor people don’t always behave the way middle-class America thinks they should.” 

195 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2014

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About the author

Linda Tirado

1 book109 followers
Linda Tirado is a completely average American with two kids and, up until recently, two jobs. Her essay, “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or poverty thoughts” was picked up by The Huffington Post, The Nation, and countless others, read more than six million times.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 948 reviews
Profile Image for La Petite Américaine.
207 reviews1,431 followers
November 11, 2015
It amazes me how much I have in common with Linda Tirdao.

I, like Tirado, had a caring family and a relatively privileged upbringing. I, like Tirado, spent my 20s taking low-paying jobs and making shitty financial choices while living an ideal existence in Europe. And as with Tirado, shit got real when I had a child.

But there, alas, our paths diverge. I returned to the USA and turned my writing into a side business while I went to graduate school. When shit hit the fan during my second year of grad school and I really was in poverty (not the chosen kind this time), I learned a valuable lesson: no one owes you a damn thing, so be grateful for the friends and communities that help you, and work your ass off to get out of it.

Linda Tirado, instead, kept working minimum wage jobs, found out she couldn't live off of that salary with kids in tow, and got all grumpy. She also figured out that working, parenting, and attending college is really hard.

Then she wrote (an untrue) stereotype-laden essay claiming to be in poverty, promoted it on Gawker, set up a GoFundMe and collected $80,000 from well-meaning but gullible readers who believed her story. Tirado then did some backpedaling, meandered, and somewhere in a rambling update on GoFundMe ($80,000 later, mind you) mentioned that she's not actually poor, had grandparents who had bought her a house, etc. etc. Perhaps she admitted to not being poor because more careful readers had already begun poking holes in her poverty story.

In any case, the original publishers of her essay stammered out something like a retraction, Tirado walked away with a book deal, took a trip to Vegas without her kids, got some new tattoos, wrote her book, and has somehow been dubbed "The woman who accidentally explained poverty to a nation." (Maya Angelou must be turning over in her grave).

And what does all of this have to do with the book? Let me put it this way. I've been Linda Tirado: spoiled, entitled, and aghast at just how much it sucks having to work for your money. But Linda? Your whole poverty kick? Don't bullshit a bullshitter.

Reading this book just created an obnoxious argument between my brain and the words on the page. Every. Single. Thing. Is. Wrong. Well, wrong, or completely embellished.

The book doesn't have the meth-induced rambling quality of Tirado's internet essays, and for that, I'm grateful to whoever edited the damn thing. But can the boys at Putnam bother to hire a fact-checker, or give the job of spotting bullshit to a non-millennial? Please? Here are a few of my favorites:

--Tirado is outraged that contract work deprives people of a regular salary and benefits. Um. What is she even talking about? Contractors earn more than salaried employees precisely because they pay for their own benefits. And guess what? Contract work gets a lot of people in the door and into full-time, permanent positions with companies that otherwise wouldn't even have interviewed them.

--Continuing on the contractor rant, Tirado's assumption that FTEs are better off than contractors because of "job security" is nauseatingly naive. A full-time employee can walk into work on any given morning and be laid off for no reason at all. At least contractors have definitive start and end dates. But I guess for Tirado to know any of this, she'd have to have worked a real job...which probably isn't necessary when your grandparents buy you a house.

--Equally irritating is Tirado's assumption that salaried employees with benefits are better off than minimum wage workers with crappy benefits. In fact, Tirado discusses at length the "humiliation" of working your ass off while remaining poor. Linda. Dear. Don't ever assume anything about anyone else's financial state. Ever. There are people who work their asses off, have benefits, make $80,000 a year, and are in financial dire straits. Don't believe me? Think about single parents. Think about people living in high cost of living areas. Think about student loan debt. Car payments. The cost of childcare. Think about medical bills, or better yet, people with kids who have huge medical bills. If Tirado had any understanding of work, money, and paying for shit herself, she might be surprised at how quickly any of the aforementioned scenarios eat up a fat salary...and just how many in the top 25% of earners are one paycheck away from the street -- that is, no better off than the working poor she whines about. No, Linda, I'm afraid the rest of the world doesn't have it better than you, after all. :(

--And you've gotta love Tirado's attitude towards work. She bemoans the fact that she's been told contradictory things by her bosses (i.e.,"Use more coffee but save more coffee.") And she also doesn't like that companies make her recite lines to customers, which she claims is paying her to "pretend I'm not me and that I care about you." Sigh. Being given contradictory instructions by the boss? Being asked to act in a professional manner towards customers? Yeah. I guess I call that work. I guess I call that part of the job. Work sucks, for sure. Know what sucks more? Not having a job.

And when she's not making asinine assumptions that the world just has it so much better than she does, Tirado twists the truth in ways that made me wish I had a wood-burning fireplace for this book to call home. Examples?

--She supposedly knew a stripper who got fired for not having good enough breast implants. Really? That's funny, because until 2012 when dancers started suing, strippers were always independent contractors -- not club employees. The strippers paid the club to be able to dance there. Strippers' dues were a huge source of a club's income, and they didn't get fired, for fuck's sake. Dancers were barred from working only if they owed back rent to the club. As for the story of being fired for a bad boob job? Sigh. Strip clubs are dark -- the only illumination comes from dim red lights, purposely chosen because they mask every physical flaw. In that environment, no one is going to see the silicone leaking. And in an industry where fucking customers for money and blowing lines in the bathroom are no biggies, trust me, you're not getting fired for your tits. Someone is lying here, and given her track record with the truth, I'll wager it's Linda.

--She says college didn't make financial sense for her because it was so expensive. What does make financial sense, then? Not investing the time and money into working your way toward a degree and a better life, and thus remaining poor? Heh. When I was in grad school I knew at least 3 other single mothers pursuing their undergrad degrees...but nevermind, college doesn't make sense.

--Tirado says, "I don't smile. Someone found a picture of me smiling from back in 2006, before my front teeth went and a wisdom tooth cracked off." Fuuuuck me. This time last year, wasn't it a "car accident" that knocked out all of her teeth? When a person can't even keep her own lies straight, she's not worth my time.

Yeah. This kind of arguing back and forth with a book, written by an author whose credibility is already less than zero? I couldn't take it.

I mean, why not write something useful? How about suggesting that we start teaching economics and money management to middle-schoolers, and reiterating to the next generation that minimum wage cannot be their life plan? How about suggesting things that communities can do to help people get the skills to get off the minimum wage?

Of course, Tirado gives us none of this. I can't say I'm surprised.

The book gets one star for being the physical proof that my fellow Gen Y-ers really are a generation of self-obsessed, lazy, entitled a$#%les who don't want to work -- and for proving that in the publishing world, you don't need talent...just a sentimental sob story and a few gullible readers.

Profile Image for Jennifer.
41 reviews
December 27, 2014
This book just ticked me off. The thesis statement seems to be "Why bother trying" As someone who has a background not dissimilar from the author's, I'm mad that she feels she is explaining my life to "rich people" By her own admission, she has a diagnosed anger management problem for which she has refused treatment. She wants a doctor who she can call when she feels like it, won't demand to see her in person and will write prescriptions on demand. She claims "rich people" have that option. Spoiler alert: no doctor worth their salt just hands out prescriptions without a treatment plan. She complains that she went without prenatal care, but then admits that she decided not to go because they told her she didn't need a sonogram until her third trimester. Seriously? You want prenatal care, so you refuse to get prenatal care? I call bullshit. Terrible things happen to people. We wait tables, tend bar, scrub toilets while our apartments flood and people call CPS because our children are wearing the wrong brand of diapers. But you keep fighting, because "why bother trying" is a completely invalid lifestyle choice. Get your act together, stop blaming the rest of the world for your problems. Life isn't that hard.
Profile Image for Natali.
433 reviews301 followers
February 26, 2015
I was prepared to be humbled by the harsh reality of this woman's life but instead I felt judged by her and her shitty attitude towards anyone who isn't living paycheck to paycheck. As if anyone not barely scraping by is a selfish, self-absorbed asshole who has no idea what stress is.

Tirado can write, I’ll give her that. She's an excellent and very funny writer. But she wrote the book to counter stereotypes about poverty and in combatting judgement, she judges harshly everyone who is not like her. If you care about feeding your children healthy, organic food, having durable strollers, recycling, exercise classes, early child education, well, in her view, you are living in a fairy world and have no clue about reality. Also, you must treat service workers like slaves and look down your nose at people who need short-term loans. Because that's what rich people are like apparently. Arrogant bastards with health insurance.

The New York Times called this book refreshingly candid, or something like that. The readers on GoodReads call her hilarious. And while I appreciate wit as a coping mechanism, her piss-poor attitude has got to make coping all that much harder.

If the self help authors are right and attitude is everything, thoughts become things, and we are our reaction to things, well then this lady will run on the fumes of her shitty attitude until she decides that no one is really out to get her and part of what is so hard about her life is her outlook on it.
Profile Image for Cyd.
165 reviews35 followers
October 11, 2014
Before I review this book a brief account of my bona fides are in order. I am a child of privilege and I have really always lived in privilege. There have been times when "money was tight" but that was because of mismanagement of resources, not because the resources weren't there.

I worked as a volunteer with battered women in the mid-80s, professionally at a food bank in the mid 90s and then more recently again as a volunteer for residential program for homeless men and for a feeding program for seniors. (I have also worked professionally with school systems--educators and students--many of them in inner cities or poor rural regions.)

While Linda Tirado is probably better educated and more articulate than a lot of the people I've worked with, she is telling their story or a version of their story. This is the truth about what it means to be poor in the US and why it is so profoundly difficult to get un-poor even with a bunch of advantages like some education.

This is a gorgeous, honest work. If everyone who automatically thinks anyone who is poor is a lazy loser could set that aside for a moment and read this book with an open heart, it could change the world.
Profile Image for Martin Rose.
Author 9 books19 followers
December 11, 2014
I wasn't going to review this book, looking over other reviews and gleaning a bit from social media, it feels vaguely counterproductive. But I'm still writing, so let's give it a shot and I'll explain why the reticence:

Basically, Linda Tirado finds herself propelled onto bookshelves everywhere when a random post she wrote about living an impoverished life goes viral, and wrote a book that's essentially that same post, but with several hundred pages stuffed into it, a preface by Barbara Ehrenreich. As I recall thinking as I neared the end of the book, that this was essentially a letter to rich people or people who are at least better off than Tirado, bam! begins the chapter that is essentially an open snarky letter "Dear Rich People."

Some on the internet have taken to calling her original post and this book "poverty porn." While I don't think one should dismiss what Tirado is demonstrating -- and what she demonstrates is far more telling than what she actually writes -- there is a grain of truth to calling it poverty porn. While she presents some numbers at the beginning portion of the book to give an idea of what people are juggling in every day lives, this is largely a subjective book, and the numbers are really kind of meaningless. Anyone who's ever worked shit jobs doesn't need numbers to prove it -- but maybe rich people do, I don't know. This is about the biggest academic thrust her work has, and it's a weak one at that. In the end, this is really more a memoir about poverty, than anything else; and it should be noted that I listened to this on audio. It's likely that perhaps the book felt more laid back in regular print, but the narration came across as snarky, derisive, and all together as though the author was getting a lot of joy out of "giving it to the man!" through her subjective observations of the unfairness of it all. I don't care that she uses foul language to make her point, but I do care whether she argues well, and that just doesn't come across for me. This is why it's characterized as "poverty porn" -- it's feeding an emotional hot button, but the calories are empty.

Now, subjects she brings up have merit. The way workers are treated in the work place and the laws designed to protect their interests, which turn out to be empty promises employers constantly violate, these things are real. I hope readers as turned off by her stance as I was understand it's not worth throwing the baby out with the bath water.

She provided me with the biggest laugh of the week when, in her chapter about politics, she bemoans why poor people should even care about quantitative easing when they're busy with their own impoverishment. Funny story -- I studied economics. In a library. For free. And I can tell you about subjects like quantitative easing, and the velocity of money, deflation, and inflation.

Tirado can bitch about a work place whose standards are degrading, but she can't decode why; Tirado can dismiss politics, but she can't perceive the relationship between lost political trust and the disappearing dollar, and the corruption the loss of money inevitably leads to. Tirado can finish a poorly worded argument with the word "really?" but she can't grasp the bigger economic game of musical chairs going on all around her.

The reason I debated even doing a review is because Tirado's poverty porn inevitably led to outrage porn. Plenty of comments and reviews of people taking Tirado to task because apparently, rumor is, she was born in good circumstances, went to a boarding school, ate cakes baked in pure gold, swam in Olympic swimming pools filled with 100 dollar bills, I don't know and I don't really care, because the only thing this demonstrates isn't whether Tirado is a fraud or not -- it just demonstrates how desperate everyone is to commodify their poverty, and hop on Tirado's coat tails like a flea market setting up tents behind Wal-Mart. The day everyone scans in their tax returns so we can evaluate just how poor is poor enough to complain about being poor, then maybe I'll pause to give your outrage the attention you think it deserves, but the moral of this story is anyone born in America today is still living richer than many countries around the globe. There are people out there poorer than you are. It's disgusting to watch impoverished people at all levels yell at each other about how their poverty is better than everyone else's (the same way it would be disgusting if rich people argued about who's wealth was better than everyone else's wealth), when they're all standing on the shoulders of the global community to keep their heads above water, and they don't even know it. Those shirts made in Sri Lanka came from some where. Those factory items made in China. Those coffee beans from Chile. Those customer service calls from India, from Argentina. All brought to you by the largesse of unimaginable pain and intolerable circumstances.

The point is, I'm not using that fact to invalidate the pain of those suffering economic hardship, and I'm certainly not using it to invalidate someone else's subjective experience because it's easier to attack Tirado than it is to demand that people in positions of power in corporation and government behave themselves, and demand they be held to the rule of law. Taking Tirado down a notch benefits no one, no where. Holding corrupt people who stole your money to a higher standard might actually be a step in the right direction.

Tirado's circumstances and whether they're satisfactorily poor enough to suit the public, is ironically in some ways the point she's trying to make -- because poor people are being tasked to justify their choices, whereas the more affluent are often given a golden pass on similar behaviors and choices, like as she points out, having children. If she has twenty kids, she's a statistic looking to collect welfare. If a rich person has twenty kids, they're just making a family.

Ultimately, not really the best book out there, Ehrenreich's books are definitely better, but if you're in the mood to read this book after a fourteen hour shift at work, and chain smoke in defiance of those rich healthy people and hand your money over to Phillip Morris Inc, knock yourself out. As if life wasn't short enough already, by the time you finish this book, you'll wish it were shorter.

Profile Image for Michelle.
2,291 reviews57 followers
October 27, 2014
This is a tough book to review. I almost feel like any opinion I express will make someone mad. Since I have mixed opinions I might be able to tick off nearly everyone. :-)
First of all, this was a courageous book. It takes a lot of nerve to write a book like this. It is also an angry book, and a very defensive one. This author is poor, very ticked off about it, engages in a lot of self-destructive behavior, spends a lot of time justifying that, and telling "rich" people what they ought to do. (Her definition of rich: Anyone who can go to the bathroom at work without permission.) It's abrasive and full of profanity. There is no understanding at all of economic laws or the problems of business. The book demands a lot from its readers.
I am a middle-class person, although hardly a rich one. I can however go to the bathroom when I want. I took a lot of economics classes. My husband used to own his own business. I understand how economics works and I know that, for example, requiring all businesses to pay a higher minimum wage will result in fewer jobs, more distortions in the labor market, more trending to very large businesses, and only a little help to many working families.
That said, this book is important because of the immediateness and vigor of the story of this author and what it has to tell us about the people around us. It is impossible to ignore this book, once read. It is important for us as a society to hear this demand for dignity and respect for poor low-wage workers. We NEED to know what it feels like to be downwardly mobile. To have no real hope of ever getting ahead. To work in a job where you need permission to go to the bathroom and your purse is searched when you leave. To have a disaster, large or small, derail your entire life and, with no cushion or support, have it destroy your living standard. To know how hard it can be to access the services that are out there, and how humiliating it must be to be looked down upon by social workers, welfare office workers and "charitable" organization workers. To know what it's like to have to make a choice between health care and a car to get to work. To be exhausted by physically demanding jobs but still have to walk home, take care of your family, and then go to another job. To feel so hopeless that smoking, drinking and drugs make perfect sense. To choose fast food, because keeping food and trying to cook in your apartment will only make the roaches worse. This is a lot to think about, and, as a society, we are pretty much failing here. I see people around me every day at my job, and I hope I've gained some perspective. I'll never believe that government is the solution---it seems to me it's the architect of a lot of these problems. But we all bear responsibility for the plight of the low-wage workers around us. It's time to come to terms with that and figure out what needs to be done.
73 reviews
January 12, 2015
I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway and the cover stated, "Uncorrected Proof For Limited Distribution". I rated this book one star, but it did not deserve even that. The class envy and irrational fury was palpable from page 1. Though the author stated a couple of times that she was speaking for herself, on nearly every page she was definitely attempting to give the impression that her bad temper (her description) and nasty attitude were nearly universal among poor people. I was born into a poor family in the southern coalfields of West Virginia. The only folks I knew for many, many years were poor. My husband was from an even poorer family in north-central West Virginia (poor enough that most days there wasn't enough to eat). In fact, after spending many years in the middle class, we now find ourselves back down at the federal poverty level. I never (make that capital letters) met any (full caps on that, too) poor person with this author's attitude. The folks I knew were good, church-going folks who didn't depend on alcohol or drugs or verbally lashing out to help them "cope". And they sure-as-shootin' didn't have the filthy language that this author displays. The book is only 191 pages long, yet the author managed to use some form of the "f-bomb" 63 times. Yes, for the first time in my life I felt compelled to keep a running "score" for the use of that word. This book is not worth the paper it was printed on. It would have been easier going to YouTube and looking up news footage of the Occupy Wall Street idiots -- which, by the way, was simply a repeat of Russia in the first 17 years of the 20th century.
Profile Image for Biblio Files (takingadayoff).
572 reviews289 followers
September 11, 2014
Imagine the angry comedian Lewis Black (or if you remember him, Sam Kinison) telling you, at length, what's the matter with this country that he's stuck in low wage work and has little hope of ever improving his situation. That's Linda Tirado -- angry, funny, erudite, working poor.

Ever heard someone ask why poor people eat so much junk food or why they don't take better care of themselves or why they make such bad life decisions. Tirado has answers and she doesn't hold back. She stays angry because the alternative is to give up to depression. Anger is a better choice, as long as she has the energy, but it isn't always easy.

This is the human side of working poverty, and most of us aren't many steps from it. One medical emergency or job layoff could tank your comfortable middle class existence. There are so many reasons, such as the transition from privately held businesses to the prevalence of investor-driven public companies, the economic crash, outsourcing jobs, and so on.

This is an eye-opener of a book that would be difficult to read if there wasn't a dash of humor thrown in, but still quite serious.

(Thanks to Riverhead Books & NetGalley for a digital review copy.)
Profile Image for Alex Givant.
276 reviews34 followers
January 15, 2020
It's hard to be poor and this book is vivid example of stuff poor people need to deal with that other don't. She clearly shows that been poor is constant pressure to be homeless if you miss work for a week (or even couple days).
Profile Image for Laura.
294 reviews5 followers
February 4, 2016
Well, I was going to give the book two stars, but I just returned from my public library's book club where the author was supposed to Skype in, but guess what? She was a no show. Didn't call, text, phone....nothing. Just a no show. Surprised? Nope. Here is what I was going to ask the author:

1. Could she elaborate on how exactly she found herself in poverty after a decent upbringing. All we get in the book is one paragraph that she got there "in a pretty average way." That at age 16 she left for college and "behaved as well as you'd expect a teenager" and, I assume, dropped out. Note to author: tens of thousands of teens leave for college every fall and most don't land up like you. Soooo? What's up? Throughout the book a reader sees the anger issues the author has, which she does acknowledge. So I also wanted to ask her if she had an undiagnosed mental illness when she left for college. I suspect she has a personality disorder, specifically Borderline. Here's what she says in the book about her mental state (she continuously discusses her temper, her rages, her impulsivity): I've never found a mental health professional who was willing or able to deal with only the parts I needed to fix." Also, "when I've sought treatment for these things the professionals seem to only want to talk about my anger." Here's the thing, when you have a mental illness you don't get to dictate your treatment plan. You go with what the professionals suggest. She was even able to get help (I totally understand her struggles when she discusses healthcare when you're poor), but didn't like their suggestions so she walked away. Yep. Which is typical of patients with mental instabilities.

2. She repeatedly defends her smoking. It relaxes her, it gets her the through the day. And if the goddamn rich people can smoke then she sure as hell should be able to. When I was a respiratory therapist I gave the same talk to every patient, I didn't know who had insurance and who didn't. I didn't know who lived in a mansion and who lived in a shack. She said she's "flirted" with addiction but never gone there. Wake up, lady. Smoking is an addiction and until you admit that you'll never attempt to give it up. Oh, that's right, nothing is her fault. Oh, and why give it up?! I mean how much money will that really save. Seriously, she says this. News alert: your two kids are inhaling second-hand smoke. News alert: your kids are more prone to smoke because you smoke. Pitiful.

3. She can't hold down a job, even a minimum wage one because, basically, people are assholes and when they are she will tell them off. Doesn't matter if she needs to pay rent or worry for her future, she doesn't give a shit. Guess what? I was a waitress all through college. Not because I liked it (I hated it), but because it was the way I could make the most money to support myself. When my manager harassed me did I tell him to fuck off like she did at many of her jobs? No, because I had rent to pay. She says poor people are moody and mad and angry and unhappy because they're chronically sleep deprived and that's her excuse for her behavior. I get it. For the first three years of my daughter's life I worked odd hours so we didn't have to put her in daycare (we couldn't afford to). Was I a bitch to my patients? Did I curse at the patients who smoked and yelled at me and swung at me when I caught them smoking in their room while hooked up to oxygen? Nope, I took it and moved on because THAT IS WHAT YOU DO. It's called a job and it's not all hunky dory. You do what you've got to fucking do.

4. Her last chapter is titled "Dear Rich People". Basically, if you aren't worried about becoming homeless then you qualify as rich, according to her. Everything she condemns rich people for, I don't do. Oh wait, I did buy a nice stroller when my kids were little. Never have had a nanny. My kids didn't have private tutors at age 3. I haven't had plastic surgery. I don't bring my dogs to restaurants. But you know what? What if I did? Why should I have to justify my actions? Because the whole point of her book is that poor people shouldn't have to justify their actions: why they smoke, why they like to have sex, why the quit jobs, etc. The other thesis of her book is that poor people shouldn't be stereotyped. Um, listen chick, you totally stereotype "rich people" (speaking of, I'm pretty sure you qualify as rich now so what's up? Having plastic surgery?). She calls us rich people assholes. Wow. Wait, aren't you telling us you shouldn't judge when that's exactly what you do?

Ok, before anyone jumps on me. I was raised middle class. My parents were raised poor. During college and the years after I didn't have much. I once went two weeks with just one contact in an eye because the other ripped, my glasses were broken and I didn't have money to get a new contact. And my vision is really bad. I drove around with one eye shut. I overdrew my account a few times. My husband and I had a shitload of school loans. We had our daughter while living in a one bedroom apartment with never more than $100 in the account. We were fortunate that we could rely on our parents if we had to and one time I did ask my dad for $50 to help cover rent. Being mature is knowing when to ask for help. We do very well now. It was a combination of hard work, good family, some fortune. Almost every job I've had has involved the poor community. I don't judge. Judging means thinking your better than another person.

What this book really is about is a woman struggling with a personality disorder which is the most difficult thing to get a patient to recognize. Here are the top three symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder: Problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, unstable relationships. The author exhibits this behavior repeatedly. When she finally was able to get help, she refused it. She preferred the "I'm poor you fucking rich people suck it'll never get better so why even try assholes I'll do whatever I goddamn want to without any thought to consequences and that's a totally valid excuse". It's sad because it's quite obvious that she is intelligent (as are most people with personality disorders) but totally wastes her talent. I'm a bleeding heart liberal and I know those freaking conservatives are going to read this book and go, "yup, see those lazy people don't want to help themselves so why should we help them" which is so sad because I've worked with so many people who are struggling and just need a little help and guidance and this angry rant by the author will do absolutely nothing to help improve policies for the poor. What a waste of time this book was. Oh, and read up on all the controversy that surrounds her.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,397 followers
November 6, 2015
I don't want to discourage anyone from reading this book. The fact is, if you live in the U.S. and you've never given any thought to how minimum-wage workers survive in our culture, you need to read something to educate yourself, and this book is better than nothing. It's a fast read and it definitely makes some good points (see my status updates for examples).

Unfortunately, though, Hand to Mouth's many problems prevent me from recommending it wholeheartedly. Foremost among these: the writing. It's not terrible, but does it ever meander! Each chapter is purportedly about a specific topic, but there came at least one point in every chapter where I had to look back at the chapter title to remind myself of what we were supposed to be talking about. It was maddening. There's a lot of repetition in general, which is OK to up to a point--I can understand there were certain ideas Tirado really wanted to hammer home--but this book definitely went past that point several times and became a bit wearying.

This book also contains a lot of generalizations about non-poor people. For example, Tirado seems to believe that having health insurance means your every medical experience is a total cakewalk. I think any of us who've ever had to fight with our insurance companies to get them to cover our treatment, and deal with the mountains of red tape and seemingly on-purpose lack of communication, might beg to differ. Tirado also seems to think that if you have a stable desk job that pays a living wage, your office is a virtual paradise where your managers always treat you well and respect you and you're never overworked or underappreciated.

Don't get me wrong: I am not offended by these generalizations. I am well aware that having private health insurance and a decent, stable job are privileges that preclude whining about being generalized about in a book. But reading generalizations that I knew weren't true made the book feel flimsy to me. If she's making inaccurate generalizations about the middle class, how do I know any of her generalizations about poor people are true? I was particularly skeptical of her claim that ALL poor people are on mood-altering or mind-altering drugs, except for the religious poor people (who, of course, are using religion as their drug). I couldn't help but think there are probably some poor people who would object to this characterization.

I also struggled with the tone of this book, which is frequently irreverent and sarcastic. On the one hand, Tirado of course has the right to write in whatever way she wants and shouldn't have to fit into any preconceived idea of how she "should" be expressing herself in order to be acceptable to readers across income levels. On the other hand, if she's really trying to convince readers across all income levels to see things her way, is it really advisable to, say, imply that the biggest problem that people who make $200,000 a year have is whether or not they're allowed to bring their tiny dogs into restaurants? If you want to bring people over to your side, maybe it's better not to accuse them all of being Paris Hilton. On the other hand, if I were Tirado I'd probably be kind of pissed off and given to exaggeration myself, so I'm not really sure what's the best way to go here.

Like I said, I would not want to discourage anyone from reading this, but if you're expecting a memoir with a lot of details, or a straight-up nonfiction book with a lot of research, you won't get either of those here. This is more of a polemic. Not that there's anything wrong with that--I like a good polemic myself--but I think it's helpful to know that's what you're getting when you pick this up.
Profile Image for Kyle Nicholas.
138 reviews19 followers
November 14, 2014
I'd feel more sorry for this author if it weren't for the fact that she seems to make way too many totally avoidable mistakes and then blames "rich people" or society for them. Seriously, you're going to apologize for having kids you can't afford because you didn't want to bother taking a daily birth control pill? This after admitting two chapters back that you were a daily pill-popper? Oh, and you don't want to hear my lecture about the fact that you smoke and that's contributing to the fact that you can't eat right? Quitting smoking alone could go a long way towards helping you save for a decent car, you know. That and this sense of entitlement, bragging that you can treat yourself to $70 jeans but can't be bothered to put together a nice suit (which could be done via thrift stores, saving a few bucks here and there, and watching for sales... come on, you have internet but can't be buggered to glance online for upcoming sales events at retail stores? Seriously?) I'm poor, too (so don't DARE call me a judgmental rich person!) but this year I actually can put together a decent Christmas for my loved ones because I DON'T smoke, have kids and make a lot of stupid decisions I can conveniently blame on others. Maybe if you take a little time to actually THINK further than five minutes into the future, then maybe you would have a future.
Profile Image for amf.
84 reviews1 follower
June 17, 2015
** I am adding this update 6.16.15 regarding poor in America. If you have a urge to learn more about the struggles of the poor, I recommend this book https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... It offers an amazing, readable overview of America's welfare system while following several current day case studies in various parts of the country. **

There is too much of a backstory that seems to be left out for a full understanding of Linda Tirado's POV. I still don't understand how someone who has no time or money was able to hang out at Gawker and keep a blog and twitter account called KillerMartinis. It just does not sound like the working poor - Internet is a luxury item. I am glad that the Go Fund me account helped her to raise over 60,000 dollars after the essay, esp. if it helps her help her family. There is no denying that Ms. Tirado has experienced the hell of our system, but she also explains in the intro that she had a choice. Ms. Tirado was able to attend college, but chose to leave it and her former life behind - unfortunately, that is when things went wrong. Eventually, she did reunite with her family, who ended up helping her and her young family establish a better life.

What bothers me about this book is the anger and the tone when this person had a choice. There are millions of generational poor who will never even get a chance at college - who have no family members who can pull them out of hell. Ms. Tirado is certainly welcome to complain all she wants because she is right - the system is not fair - yet, the anger and stereotypes she expresses, esp. in the last chapter, are as bad as the judgements she felt she received for being poor. This book seems very much an indulgence of one persons's complaints. If it offered solutions it would have a bit more merit. The publisher should have perhaps given equal time to those who struggle every day in the inner city who worry about their children staying alive and finishing high school. Downward mobility is certainly a problem in this country, but it is nothing compared to the issues that remain for those that have no mobility.

Disclaimer - I am not unfeeling to Ms. Tirado's struggles - I too have worked two jobs to make ends meet (the full-time one was minimum wage) as an adult. I guess my saving grace was not letting my credit go bad so I could charge my groceries and doctor visits when the paycheck wouldn't cover it. I lived paycheck to paycheck for a very long time. Money is still tight, but never could I complain for compared to many in this country, and so many more who live on less than a dollar a day in other countries, I am blessed.
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,026 reviews1,183 followers
August 2, 2020
I hadn't realised, until I went to a seminar called 'How to Thrive During Your PhD' a few months back, that the self-help industry was completely hooked into academia...or vice versa. The psychologist presenting it had the gall to show a pie chart which suggested that a lot of how you feel is your own damned fault. 

Sorry, I can't be bothered trying to put pictures on GR. Rest of it is here on my blog.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,761 reviews1,218 followers
October 13, 2015
This was a very engaging and entertaining book. The content is terrifying and depressing and enraging. The humor really helps. I had a hard time putting it down and an easy time reading it. If I hadn’t been concurrently reading a novel, I’d have finished it in one or two days. It’s thought provoking and I hope it might be a contributing catalyst for some social and political, and personal, change.

I’m grateful that even though she is writing about poverty in general, she is clear that she is speaking for her situation and acknowledges than 1/3 the United States population is not a homogeneous group, that there are significant differences in circumstances among the poor.

I wish that 40% through the book I hadn’t looked up the author, and seen the buzz about her, and her blog, and this book. I was able to just keep reading. What the author says seems authentic to me, and it’s clear that her circumstances changed several times, most notably when at one point she got family help to upgrade her living circumstances and again when she got the deal for this book. She’s writing about her experiences over time and I have no reason to question her.

I’ve always thought I didn’t have the courage to live in dire poverty, and this book validated that for me. Even before her book deal, the author had a good education and was smart and wrote well, and she had a husband and children and family of origin and friends who sometimes gave financial help.

I wish somebody older and less healthy and without any family, and on an even much lower income would write a book and relate their experiences, perhaps a group of people with varying experiences. It might be even more depressing but even more helpful.

I do hope that this book is widely read and that as a result people living in poverty will be better treated by individuals, workplaces, organizations, and the government.

I started my buddy read novel when I was less than ½ way through this but I was also able to read and finish this book, reading concurrently, and get it back to the library well ahead of its due date. If I’d been reading just this book I’m sure I’d have read it in one or two days at the most.
Profile Image for Tom Currier.
29 reviews2 followers
November 9, 2014
I thought this was a terrific book, certainly among the better non-fiction books I've read lately. I probably enjoyed this particularly because it portrayed much of my life and the lives of many people I know so I was able to relate particularly well.

I also think that this book should be required reading. Not because it's a literary masterpiece, or even that it's well written. Because this book tells a story in very plain words (often interspersed with colorful language but appropriate to the story). It's also short enough to finish in a day or less.

If you really want to know or were searching for a way to communicate the real living problems of the middle and lower-middle class and why many are not doing better this is the vehicle.

I have long-known that there are many widely held beliefs and ideas that are simply that....beliefs about poor and/or struggling Americans that are simply not true; this book goes a ways to dispel some of these myths.

I could go on and on, but I guess you get the gist, I really liked this book. My next read that I'm looking forward to is is Nickeled and Dimed.

Thank you Bill Maher for having Linda Tirado as a guest on Real Time!
Profile Image for Shawn.
251 reviews42 followers
September 1, 2014
Very candid, honest, and raw testimony of what it is like living "hand-to-mouth" in the 'Land of Plenty' and home of the "American Dream". While her voice and experience may be heard and mildly validated in more ways than, say, a minority "complaining" about their lot in life, I doubt seriously that this will make a dent in the thinking or conscience of those to whom it is directed.
Well written, artfully, and heart-fully told, but file this firmly under the "Preaching to the Choir" section of your bookshelf.
Profile Image for Kristina.
1,214 reviews477 followers
April 28, 2017
Linda Tirado’s book Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America should make intelligent readers crazy angry, especially if those readers have ever experienced financial hardship. Tirado is the wrong person—and this book is the wrong book—to help anyone understand what it is like to be working poor. Shame on the gullible left-leaning media for hailing Tirado as some kind of savior and truth-teller for the poor. She’s not. But let’s also give the finger to the right-wing media for using Tirado’s less-than-honest, twisted “poverty memoir” as a further reason to excuse our bullshit lack of universal health care and to not recognize that yes, the playing field is definitely tilted in favor of the wealthy. So, a big fuck you all around, and the biggest fuck you to Tirado. She wasted a good opportunity to start a compelling conversation about what it’s like to be working poor in America.

Tirado’s book began with an online essay, “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, Poverty Thoughts.” When reading both, the trusting reader should be excused for assuming the poverty the author rants so bitterly and sarcastically about is either a) still occurring or b) just recently ended. Tirado is vague about her current circumstances, includes no dates for verification, and organized her book topically, not chronologically. Even though she had experienced the things she bitches about in her book, she dishonestly framed the narrative and exaggerated, twisted or failed to mention certain events because they would have not supported the picture she painted of herself as a (currently) financially struggling woman. You can read more about all that here http://reason.com/archives/2013/12/15.... In the end, though, none of her dishonesty affected my opinion of her or her book. My opinion of her, based on her book alone, couldn’t get any worse.

My experiences are similar to those of Tirado. I grew up with a mother, a father and younger brother and never enough money. The humility of food stamps? Check. The indignity of having your church send care baskets? Check. A crazy father who routinely visited food banks to get as much government cheese and fucking quiches as he could, even if we neither wanted nor needed them? Check. We didn’t have a dryer; in the summer, we hung clothes out to dry and in the winter draped them over a wooden rack to dry near our wood-burning stove. We lived out in the sticks, so we gathered firewood and grew our own vegetables. We didn’t drink pop or eat out (too expensive), had one black and white tv, and school clothes shopping was a once a year event. Despite having absolutely no money for college, I was determined to go. I worked wherever I could (once we moved from the obscurity of the sticks into the nearby city), saved some cash and promptly got accepted into a private liberal arts college. So, most of my twenties was schooling (because I dropped out when I couldn’t pay the bill but hey, I went back later and finished), working no less than two jobs at a time (not including any work study jobs I also held), and even managing to participate in campus life and enjoy myself. I didn’t have health insurance until I was almost thirty years old. My whole life, until maybe the last five years, was about living paycheck to paycheck. So I can relate to Tirado’s bitching about shitty service industry jobs and how delicately balanced her income is; there’s no extra padding to absorb unexpected doctor’s bills or traffic fines. I’ve lived that. I’ve received shut-off notices for my electricity or phone because I couldn’t pay every bill every month. I had a motto I explained to my creditors: “You won’t always get paid on time, but you’ll always get paid.” But I never, ever had her bitter, rich-people-did-this-to-me attitude. I never considered myself as poor. It was a temporary situation that I would eventually overcome—and I did, by paying off debts and getting better paying jobs. I didn’t blame anyone because I didn’t feel (and still don’t) that there was any blame to spread. Tirado, despite her repeated statements that her own bad decisions caused many of her problems, doesn’t really believe that. The main thesis of this book is “poverty is caused by those asshole dickhead Rich People.” That’s complete bullshit, both in her specific circumstances and generally. Personal responsibility always, to some degree, plays a part in a continued and habitual life of poverty.

Throughout the book, Tirado displays the huge chip on her shoulder proudly. No matter what it is, Rich People have everything better than poor people do. Her sneering stupidity is constantly on display. In her introduction, Tirado offers her definitions of poverty, poor, broke, working class, middle class and rich (xxiii). Her definitions are meaningless because in practice, she defines everyone like her as poor (not working class or working poor) and anyone else is labeled as “Rich People.” She says she speaks only for herself and not for anyone else, but that’s not true. She applies the term “poor” to a huge lump of people and gives them the same attitudes and complaints and problems she has. If it’s true for her, then it’s true for everyone she considers poor. She makes the most amazing assumptions about what Rich People think, feel, how they spend their money, their lifestyles, their jobs, basically everything. She’s outrageous. At one point she’s bitching about her broken-down car and I’m surprised she didn’t follow it up with: “Poor people can’t afford those fancy Rich People cars; you know, cars with roofs and turning signals. Oh, no, Rich People are too good to use hand gestures for signaling—their lily-white hands are too delicate.” Seriously, that’s how stupid many of her statements are.

I took four pages (double-sided) of notes while reading this book. Many of my scribbles contain profanity because Tirado is insane. She contradicts herself and her problems are so exaggerated you have a difficult time believing them. The way she tells it, she is a personal target of everyone everywhere because she is poor. Tirado bitches a lot about not having health insurance and how it’s impossible for her to get health care because of this. She thinks of health insurance as some kind of prize that Rich People found at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box, not a benefit that comes with some jobs—a benefit that most people (unless you’re a member of Congress, ha) kick in money to have. While she complains about everything, her two main bitches are about dentists hating her and mental health therapists who won’t fork over happy pills when she demands them. Again, those situations are blamed on Rich People. Dentists lecture her about her teeth (they assume she’s either a meth head or really likes sugary candy) and of course won’t fix her teeth because she can’t pay in full. I don’t believe any of that. If her teeth are as bad as she claims, she would have made the effort to find a dentist willing to accept payments or a free clinic or a dental school that would work on her teeth for a reduced cost. When I didn’t have a lot of money to get my hair styled, I went to Toni & Guy and let the students practice on me. We all had fun, and I got a cut and color for $25. Can’t beat that. If you need or want a service bad enough, you’ll figure something out.

I would say that Tirado has unreasonable expectations regarding mental health, but she is unreasonable about everything. She is more energetic about creating piles of anger and resentment regarding her poverty than she is in dealing with it. She recognizes she has anger and depression issues, but refuses to do any of the therapy necessary to overcome these problems. She wants a quick, easy solution in the form of a pill—because, you know, that’s how Rich People handle their emotional/mental issues. Their private pharmacist hands them a bottle of magic pills and they’re great! Tirado, you’re an idiot.

Tirado makes a lot of outrageous assumptions about Rich People (chapter ten is “An Open Letter to Rich People” and it’s fucking insane. Don’t read it unless you want to have an anger stroke) but this statement sums up for me why she can’t be taken seriously: “So when financially comfortable people with health insurance and paid sick leave and all kinds of other benefits that pad their wallets and make their lives easier and healthier think that the poor are poor because somehow we lack the get-up-and-go to change our circumstances…” (11). Being “financially comfortable” doesn’t necessarily mean having health insurance and paid sick leave. Maybe you are self-employed. You may make a decent salary, but you are responsible for paying all of your health insurance costs. Paid vacation and sick time don’t apply. Conversely, having health insurance and benefits doesn’t necessarily mean you are “financially comfortable.” I had those things but I damn well wasn’t comfortable. She assumes so much here: benefits don’t always mean wealth. A high salary doesn’t always mean wealth (what is your cost of living? What’s your debt-to-income ratio? Do you have a lot of children? Are you paying off school loans? What’s the cost of your health insurance?). “Pad their wallets”—grrrr….and how do you know what these financially comfortable people think? Maybe—this is crazy, but hear me out, Tirado—just maybe these people who are so comfortable now started their employment careers by saying “And would you like fries with that?” Tirado reminds me of a female acquaintance. She isn’t poor, but she’s never done more than she had to to make ends meet. She likes working part-time because it leaves her afternoons free for napping and weekends free for drinking at the bars. One day a friend and I were discussing our vacation time and the female acquaintance snottily said, “Oh, it must be so nice to have paid sick leave and days off and health insurance.” We both looked at her in disbelief. Um, look bitch, paid benefits don’t grow on trees. We both have full-time jobs and we earn these benefits. We give up afternoon naps and beer-drinkin’ time for jobs. That’s Tirado’s logic—benefits and health insurance are gifts only available to Rich People.

Another huge assumption of Tirado’s that really pissed me off is that only poor people in service industry jobs experience unpleasant working conditions. Look, both retail and restaurant jobs suck. I worked at Target and Kohl’s and K-Mart. I’ve also worked at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Ponderosa. The stories I could tell of demanding customers and asshole managers and dickish coworkers could possibly even rival yours, Tirado. But the most toxic, humiliating, and demoralizing conditions I’ve ever experienced came with my highest paying white collar positions. Educated and professional people—particularly academic so-called professionals—are the fucking worst people in the world. I left my university position because the stress of dealing with petty, small-minded, stupid, incompetent, hypocritical, vindictive fuckwits was making me physically ill. Sure, I got to pee whenever I wanted to, but I was supposed to write on my “this helps facilitate communication” whiteboard whenever I left my office. As much as I disliked retail work, I’d take that over academics anytime. At least the job doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. No condescending smug bug-eyed bitch—with very little concept of your job and barely any experience—is standing over you telling you to take “webinar” classes so you can “better understand” your duties. My point is: every job comes with its own particular bullshit and there’s always a bunch of assholes happy to throw it on you. No one is safe, even people who actually enjoy their jobs and call them careers.

Throughout this book, Tirado deliberately sets up obstacles in her path so she can’t achieve her goals and then blame Rich People for her failure. In chapter four she says Rich People get good jobs because only they can afford the expensive clothes and beauty products necessary to have those positions. Her specific complaint is that she is unable to afford $300 suits. What job is she applying for that requires a $300 suit? Go to any discount department store and for around $50-$75 you can get a decent shirt, trousers or skirt—enough to look professional for an interview. Or you do a (bad) thing—buy an expensive outfit, very carefully wear it to your interview, then return it the next day. Been there, done that. As for make-up…have you ever heard of Sephora? They will give you free (free!) samples of all sorts of shit…just ask. Or go to CVS and pick up some reasonably priced products to smear on your face. I mean, what the fuck kind of beauty products do you think you need? I love when she says she finally bought a pair of $70 jeans and was amazed at how comfy they are because her Poor People jeans were so terrible. She’s obviously never heard of a thrift shop or a consignment shop, which is weird. I’ve never paid more than $50 for jeans and I’ve been perfectly happy. Silly me. I should be wearing True Religion.

When she’s not talking smack about Rich People, Tirado is insulting her fellow Poor People. Poor People, she asserts, don’t go to college. That’s bullshit. Poor People like to be called rednecks and swear because that’s their native tongue. Deep thinking about civics and democracy are only for Rich People. Poor People don’t have the time or inclination (unless you’re Poor Person Tirado, who, despite her love of Poor People Solidarity, sets herself above the unwashed masses). She insults the intelligence of everyone by taking personal responsibility completely out of the poverty equation. If her lawn looks like shit, it’s because she has no money for landscaping. If there are tires or dead cars in her driveway, well, she doesn’t have the money to have them hauled away/fixed. If her house is messy, it’s because she’s poor. “Being poor: that’s how you get ants. Having household pests isn’t a result of a sloppy, irresponsible nature. It’s a result of being broke” (162). Bitch, I get ants in my kitchen every spring. I’m not poor and my kitchen is clean(ish). Ants invade houses in the spring. That’s what they fucking do. I love her advice for saving money—buy in bulk. Which amuses me on several levels, one of which is earlier in the book she bitches about how Poor People can’t buy in bulk because even though in the long run it’s cheaper, the upfront cost is too much. Plus, where will she store all these bulk purchases? However, by chapter nine, she’s got enough money (and space) to praise bulk purchases and says she’ll even buy crappy, stale snacks because even if she thinks they taste like “the worst thing humans have invented,” she feeds them to the kids, nature’s little walking garbage disposal units. Kids will never notice (163).

Reading this book of cover-to-cover ass droppings takes patience, perseverance and self-control. While I do believe Tirado, for a period of her life, did experience economic hardship, she exaggerates and twists those memories in order to give the book greater emotional impact and financial success for her and her publisher. Tirado is absolutely right about the sorry state of American health insurance (we need universal health care), how banks screw you (use credit unions), how no one cares about women’s health care until a woman’s pregnant and then it’s just to demand that you give birth no matter what, and the return of (unofficial) debtors’ prisons. She’s right about a lot. But all of that rightness is negated by her bullshit insistence that RICH PEOPLE ARE OUT TO GET POOR PEOPLE. She gives Rich People too much credit for giving a shit. She vilifies Rich People as the cause of all Poor People problems; this removes all need for personal responsibility. That’s an excuse for her own bad decisions and poverty and an insult to anyone who’s worked very hard to keep a clean house, neat yard and pull herself out of poverty. Tirado is the absolute wrong person to be praised for explaining poverty to America. She’s an opportunist, but worse than that she’s bitter, sneering, and full of shit. If America needs poverty explained to it by the likes of Tirado, then America is fucking stupid.
Profile Image for Melanie.
777 reviews36 followers
March 15, 2015
Waited 5 months for this book to come in on order at the library. Was well aware of the questionable authenticity of Tirado's original essay.

After reading a mere 20 pages, I have to wonder how many of Tirado's problems are less due to the actual plight of the poor and more because she has a piss-poor attitude. Years ago I worked at a tax office, and some of my hourly co-workers would bail as soon as the immediate bread-n-butter jobs (returns) were finished, even if there were hundreds of papers to be filed, clients to be called, trash cans to be emptied, floors to be vacuumed, and deposits to be taken to the bank. Sure, they were able to avoid all that "degrading scut work" but they were also the least interested in the job and the first to be written off the schedule when overall hours were reduced. I got the impression with those people, as with Tirado, that they don't understand when you actually own a small business you're most often the one doing the scut work, and if your employees aren't willing to do it they're not really worthwhile as employees.

Author seems to illustrate the problems of being half-assed and lackluster at one's job, mainly in that it conscripts one to poverty. So does failing to show up (either on time or at all), and so does throwing fits and screaming at the boss in front of customers. She certainly seems to suffer from a poverty of spirit.

Also the medical chapter is full of glaring inconsistencies. First she says "about a decade ago" her front teeth were destroyed in a car accident (book published in 2014, so 2005 or earlier?), then two pages later, mentions how someone had taken a picture of her in 2006, "before her front teeth went and a wisdom tooth cracked off."
Then complaining about how a charity hospital didn't cover elective ultrasounds for her (maybe a benefit of not having insurance is not understanding that insurance does not cover elective ultrasounds) and afterwards foregoing (free) medical care for the duration of her pregnancy. Complaining how primary care doctors aren't at her beck-and-call for any issues might have (see how much worse this gets under the ACA), and complaining that mental health professionals don't just hand out pills in lieu of a treatment plan to anyone who asks for them. Geez, entitled much? Do you not understand how medical care works?

Wondering how many times this gal lost apartments/abandoned apartments/moved. She claims to have lost at least three because of pay irregularities, to have abandoned three, and then to have moved for work or school related reasons at least a couple of times. If most moves result in a full forfeiture of security/utility deposits, I don't see why you'd ever do it more than absolutely necessary. Currently has a bought-in-cash house, which, while not fancy, is a far sight better than most poor people have.

Tosses out a lot of falsehoods about Voter ID requirements and urban polling locations not being open as required on Election Day. Wants a nanny state but doesn't trust cops. Wants a big safety net and the resultant bureaucracy but doesn't want to deal with the hassles of said bureaucracy.

Tirado and I must be very close to the same age, but she absolutely personifies the Millennial Whine. Very little is her fault (she does concede that she smokes and screws around) and the world owes her a living despite her anger and laziness issues. Birth control pills are too hard to take even though she's an admitted (ibuprofen) pill popper. Chapter 10 is a great example of her insane self-righteousness; once again she proves she has no idea about medicine by misunderstanding what a concierge physician is (after griping about not having one in Chapter 3), as well as her supposed moral superiority to office workers and anyone earning more than she does.
Profile Image for Bonnie_blu.
867 reviews19 followers
December 12, 2014
This book is a repetitive, foul-mouthed rant by a woman who blames everyone else for her circumstances. She constantly states that she is an intelligent, well-read person, but then goes on to say such things as she didn't know signing a release of liability form would allow the company that caused her car crash to get out of paying for her dental damage. And another time, she states that she and her husband had counted on his veterans benefits to raise their living standard, but when it comes time to receive the benefits, they weren't as much as they expected. Surely an intelligent, well-read person who was desperate to improve her financial condition would have thoroughly checked out both situations. The book is a litany of "it's not my fault."

I was born into poverty, the kind where there was no guarantee that there would be food to eat and where the sewer rats were constant companions. I did not bring it on myself as the author did by leaving her comfortable home at 16. She has made one bad choice after another, but none of it was her fault. It was the fault of the "rich" people, that is, anyone who has a few "toys" and is not constantly worried about homelessness. While I can agree that the 1% work diligently to increase their wealth at the cost of everyone else, the vast majority of Americans are not rich and do worry about losing what they have. If the last six years have taught us anything, unless you're truly rich, you can lose everything.

The author is also very defensive about her smoking. She says that she smokes because it it a stimulant and keeps her going (what about coffee or cola?) and makes her feel better (duh, that's what addictive drugs do), so everyone should get off her back about smoking. My answer to that is that she needs to quit deluding herself. There are other, less harmful ways to keep going and to feel better. Ways that don't cost $200 or more a month and that don't expose her children to carcinogens.

Even though I feel that she is a lousy spokesperson for the working poor, she does raise some valid issues. There are social and economic pitfalls in the U.S. economy that make it difficult for people to rise above poverty. We as a nation need to make some drastic changes. For example, we need national daycare for the working poor so that they don't have to spend a ridiculous portion of their pay on child care. In addition, we need available, low cost health care (physical, dental, and mental). Obamacare is a step in the right direction, but if we truly want to give the working poor a chance at a better life, more is needed. Also, access to educational resources is needed to train the working poor in skills that industry demands, such as, anything to do with computers, manufacturing, machining, etc.

I hope the author uses the money she receives from this book to better her situation, and I hope she gets the mental health treatment she obviously needs to manage her anger and to realize that her life is not everyone else's fault.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,328 followers
Shelved as 'i-want-money'
May 27, 2015
Review by Vollmann ::

"Under the Wheel of Capitalism: The 1 percenters who demonize the poor have always followed Hitler’s strategy of the big lie"

If she had stopped at the very honest and explicable “I just don’t see what’s in it for me anymore beyond my little paycheck,” I would have liked the book more.
As it is, I still admire it, and her.


The answer is still the same one the Wobblies provided back in 1905 :: Education, Organization, Emancipation.

Profile Image for Cynthia Corral.
396 reviews50 followers
October 24, 2014
I'm not really sure what to think of this. I listened to the audiobook. I have been poor, I have been as poor as the author. I understand every single thing she says. I am just not clear on what the author wanted to accomplish with this book. At first I was following along, and I thought she was trying to explain to "those who have" what it is like to be "one who has not". But she keeps sidetracking into kind of a comedic bit. And then she kind of just goes with that stand-up comedy bit and runs with it. Runs in all different directions. So that while some parts of this book are amazing, and some parts voiced things that I could never find the words for, and she has some great information in the book... I don't think this book will convince anyone who hasn't experienced being poor, what being poor is like.

Maybe no one can. I don't think you really can understand what it is like to worry about money every single minute of the day, EVERY single minute of the day, EVERY SINGLE MINUTE OF THE DAY. The author really does tell the reader all the problems of being poor, and how roadblocks are set up in every single direction against getting out of being poor, she even covers a lot of what I have already forgotten (and don't care to ever know personally again). But I don't know what the purpose of THIS book is. And then she really goes into unrelated subjects and even jokes a lot about the rich, which shows about as much understanding as she claims they have about the poor. So that's not going to win anyone over. That last bit was pretty pointless, it kind of took away any credibility she had and just made it sound like this was a poor person jealous of the rich. The rich already think the poor are jealous. What they don't understand is how the poor got that way and why they can't get out of it.

I would recommend it if you've ever been poor and want to laugh a little about it (only a little, because being poor really isn't funny, being funny about it is just a coping mechanism). Or if you are not poor but have a very open mind and would like to understand what the actual problems are. But to anyone who reads this book who has never been poor, you need to understand... any argument against what she says here, there is a solid valid answer to it. The roadblocks she outlines are real, and there is very little getting around them. This world is set up so that if you are poor, you are very likely to remain poor.

Unless you are lucky. That is how I got out of it. Pure luck. Oh, pure luck and then an inheritance, but I'd go back to being poor again if I could have those people back in my life. But mostly it was pure luck that got me into a good job with a good company. I never could have gotten that job myself, without the luck.
Profile Image for Dennis Fischman.
1,399 reviews31 followers
August 6, 2016
Out of curiosity, I looked at other Goodreads reviews of this book before writing my own. The negative reviews were evenly divided between the people Tirado would call rich who were offended by being called out about their ignorance of and disdain for poor people...and the people Tirado would call poor who said, in effect, "Your attitude is your problem, Linda. Don't pretend to speak for me."

Well, to paraphrase Mae West, I've been rich (by Tirado's definition: I have health insurance and nobody at work ever told me when I could take a bathroom break for the past few decades), and I've been poor, and rich is better. But rich people aren't.

If you think for one moment that working poor people are getting what they deserve and you deserve something better, read this book. It will explain things people who grew up working class have known for years, like why life is more expensive when you're poor and how the same behavior that a college student can get away with can put a low-wage worker in jail.

No, don't assume Linda Tirado's experience is the same as all working people's. But it's one a lot of people will recognize. And if you don't, then you've lived a sheltered life. Be grateful, and learn more.
Profile Image for Nette.
635 reviews61 followers
October 24, 2014
Another Goodreads reviewer wrote that it's easier to admire the book than to like the author. She's SO belligerant and lecture-y that the tone becomes grating after a while, overshadowing the excellent points she makes about not judging poor people for their "questionable" habits, or about inhumane work policies in the service industries, or about the difficulties finding health care.

However: I don't care is she writes 18 more chapters defending it, I'll still think it's stupid to have children if you don't have a really good nest egg or an excellent family/friend support system. She keeps asking, "Well, rich people can have kids, why can't we?" Because it's not fair to the kids, is why. Going without prenatal care and living in dangerous neighborhoods, as she did, is just not good for children.
Profile Image for Nancy Steinle gummel.
507 reviews90 followers
December 16, 2014
Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado. is a first reads win and I am giving my honest review. To me, this is a sad book. It all depends in perspective. I was homeless once. I was too sick to notice being put up in Motel6. At least I had insurance. The plight of Ms. Tirado was very dire at time. She handled the situation satirically.
Profile Image for Adam.
105 reviews13 followers
December 28, 2014
Over the last two years, there has been a steady but not entirely unprecedented rise in public attacks on Americans who are poor, unemployed, and underprivileged. This is in part due to the 2012 presidential election, in which supporters of Mitt Romney were forced to defend his opinions on the "47% of Americans" who receive government assistance--those on Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance, and so on, all of whom Romney's supporters derided as "takers"--but was in retrospect little more than another example of conservative politicians deriding those who they saw as lazy, selfish, and transitively inferior. In fact, ever since Lyndon Johnson proposed and signed legislation intended to foster a Great Society, there has been an undercurrent of resentment where the poor and impoverished are concerned, especially when it comes to government programs. This resentment is often underscored by offensive stereotypes, scapegoating, and a belief that those who aren't on these programs are ethically and morally superior to those who are.* Unfortunately, those who advance these beliefs have the power and influence to diminish such important programs, and they advocate for such changes with abandon.

In writing Hand to Mouth, which builds off a Gawker post published last year, Linda Tirado is attempting to give voice to those who are so frequently maligned, including herself and her family. Much of her book is an explanation of just what those who are poor or live in poverty have to endure on a daily basis as they struggle to work part-time and at-will jobs, both of which are loosely overseen by the federal government, while also dealing with addiction, sending children to school, negligent landlords and abusive bosses, and paying bills on time. In doing she, she explains how the system is structured to work against those who work so hard to make so little: the inefficiency of raising the minimum wage, the difficulties of moving from one job to another, the winless choices inherent in insurance policies, and so on. In outlining this for unfamiliar readers, she also demonstrates why neither political party is in any way equipped to correct these issues--meaning, unfortunately, that they will continue into the distant future.

She also uses her own life as a way to explain some of the stereotypes associated with those who are poor or impoverished. For instance, after a horrible car accident, Tirado was left with missing and damaged teeth, which made her instantly less employable. In order to fix her dental problems, she would've needed strong insurance--which she did not have--and the ability to pay for an upgrade in dentures years later, which she also did not have. Over time, as her original pair of dentures broke apart, eating became painful, which affected not only her health but also her ability to communicate with friends, family, and even customers. At the same time, in order to stay awake and on her feet through two or three part-time shifts, she took to smoking--a cheap way to get an instant hit of dopamine--which did little to help her overall health and probably scarred her already stained teeth even more. But, as she points out, when a paycheck is on the line, suddenly the Surgeon General's warning on the side of a cigarette pack becomes less of a deterrent.

The reason a book like Tirado's is so important is because, throughout much of the country--at least among the 250 million or so Americans who are not poor or living in poverty--there is a lack of understanding about just what being impoverished means. We talk of the United States as the Land of Opportunity, and yet we've created a system in which that opportunity is becoming less and less available to more and more people. And while some national figures attempt to build grassroots progressive movements to address the growing disparity between rich and poor--movements that, they hope, will also carry them into higher office--there is very little that can be truly done at this place in time, and it's for one simple reason: a lack of empathy.

When we speak about the plight of those who are struggling, unemployed, or living below the poverty line, we talk in such a way as to convey our sympathy for their struggles--how we understand what they're going through and how unfortunate it is that there isn't more we can do. This is an easy way for those who aren't poor to avoid the discomforts that come with realizing they are part of the problem. This is the unspoken issue with "being sympathetic"--it is a way for those who aren't suffering to make themselves feel better without actually helping those who are suffering. Instead of proffering meaningless sympathies and advocating for self-serving political movements, we need to become a more empathetic society--a society that strives to legitimize the feelings and experiences of others over our own by recognizing their struggles and actually working towards a goal of some kind. Even Tirado admits that it wouldn't take much on our part to correct some of these injustices, but we can't do that until we admit that those who are poor, living in poverty, unemployed, or underprivileged live in a completely different society than we do, not because they've chosen to or are too lazy to find their way out, but because we've allowed our system to become an inhumane machine that chews up those who work so hard to keep it functioning.

*This attitude is typified by recent legislation meant to force those on welfare to undergo random drug screenings, even though men and women on welfare are statistically less likely to take illegal drugs than those who are not on welfare.

This review was originally published at There Will Be Books Galore.
Profile Image for Beth.
383 reviews8 followers
January 18, 2015
OMG!!! I don't know if I've ever considered a book a Must-Read, but I think this one is...and by anyone who CAN read, regardless of income or social status. I've never lived at a subsistence level...not even close, but I thought I had at least an idea of how life must be for the poor in this country. Well, this was an education. I do believe that income inequality is evil, and I believe what Alan Greenspan suggested is true....that it is the greatest danger facing our country right now. Linda Tirado tells her story with honesty, humor, and graphic details of the reality of living poor, working full time and then some, and for minimum wage (unless you're a waiter...then it's much less) . She's gritty, funny and completely without guile or excuses...she's a terrific writer. It was compelling and brutal, and made me embarrassed and angry that we've let this happen. How we've all (middle class and up) let the people who serve us and wait on us and do the jobs we would not want to do become invisible and taken for granted...how many of us assume they're just not trying or could improve their lives if they really wanted to, or somehow they deserve their status because of their moral failings...Well, read this book.
Profile Image for Scott.
Author 14 books21 followers
December 1, 2014
There are people in the United States who can aptly described as whiners. Such people attack the poor for receiving government assistance toward which the average taxpayer puts about $41 a year while ignoring the government assistance given to major corporations, for which the average taxpayer pays over $4,000 a year. Linda Tirado is not a whiner.

Nor am I a whiner. I get cyberbullied regularly for refusing to take a burger flipper job when I have a master's degree, scoliosis, L4-L5-S1 herniated discs, neurogenic bladder, sciatica in both legs, and plantar fasciitis in both feet. It is very painful for me to stand, and the longer I stand the worse it gets. I use a cane any time I expect to stand more than an hour. If I stand 3-4 hours, I have uncontrollable back spasms and have to grab whatever is nearest me to keep form falling down. I also have to go to the bathroom at least once an hour, and that's with medication to keep it under control. Social Security says I can do a desk job, and Binder and Binder won't help me unless I bring in (false) documentation that I can't.

[W]e work in insane conditions. Dangerous even. Most kitchens in the middle of summer are intolerable, with temperatures well into the triple digits. I've seen people sent to the hospital with heatstroke. A lot of us will run into the freezer for a few minutes until we cool down. I'm not a doctor and can't say for sure, but I'm fairly certain that going from an overheated to a minus-5 environment can't be healthy.

My arms and hands are covered in scars from the fryers. Oil at nearly 400 degrees doesn't tickle when it hits your skin, and you can't avoid the splatter entirely. I've burned my hands because the oven gloves had worn through and the owners were too cheap to spring for another pair. I've sliced my fingers nearly to the bone when knives have slipped. I've dropped equipment on my feet because it was so busy I didn't have time to wash the grease from my hands. I've hurt myself in more ways than I can count because that was how I got my seven or eight bucks an hour.

Stuff like that is unavoidable; it's the nature of the work. We know and understand that when we take the jobs. Any dangerous job is like that; we're not stupid. The point is more that the risk is devalued--that our injuries, rather than being seen as the sign of our willingness to literally bleed for our employers, are seen as a liability. (15-16)

People who think such a strenuous job should not receive a living wage are mildly perverse. Unlike many of my colleagues in the People's Power Assembly, I won't be upset when McDonald's rolls out its automated burger flippers, so that it can't be lorded over me as a job possibility anymore. (See my review of Paul Lafargue's The Right to Be Lazy for the part about Antiparos and the Greek millers.) People who think someone in my condition and with my education should do such a job are depraved filth. Such people deserve to be forced to do this kind of work with nails in their shoes and being randomly smacked at the base of their spine with a golf club while over the French fryer. Barring that, they should be beaten and mugged on a daily basis. This is not bloodlust on my part. This is the Golden Rule taken to its logical extreme since there is no way to give others my exact medical condition, nor would it be ethical. As a non-violent person, my preference for such people is that they be locked in padded cells for the rest of their lives. The point of this book is that even if you do such a job at minimum wage, you're always too poor, and regularly punished for your employer's lack of accountability.

For example, on pp. 19-20, because these low wage employers don't want to finalize your schedule until the last possible moment, it is common to be fired for taking a second job. Thus, those who tell people to work two or more low wage jobs have no real argument.

Unlike Tirado, I am not a college dropout, do not smoke, drink, have casual sex, or get tattooed. Tirado ended the college route when she realized that the good jobs were going to those who could take the unpaid internships that she couldn't afford. I question this based on an article in The Atlantic showing that it's really only the paid internships that do this. I was not allowed to have a paid internship because I was attending on student loans.

[P]eople still wonder why we, working at the bottom, aren't putting our souls into our jobs. In turn, I wonder about people who think that those who are poor shouldn't demand reciprocity from their employers. We should devote ourselves to something that doesn't benefit us more than it absolutely has to? We're meant to care about their best interests, but they don't have to care about ours? If you're going to put as little as possible into my training and wages, you're going to make sure that I can't get enough hours to survive in order to avoid giving me health care, and generally make sure that I'm as uncomfortable as possible at any given time just to make sure I know my place, then how can you expect me to care about your profit margin? Remember, you get what you pay for (29-30).

On page 36, she talks about how her dentist attacked her for being a meth addict based solely on the condition of her teeth, which were severely damaged in a car accident. I am regularly cyberbullied about my teeth, and women I know have used it as an excuse not to date me. doctors and dentists all tell me it was discolored by prescription medication. Richard Kang, a pain management specialist at Staten Island University Hospital, thought it was tetracycline, which my mother insists I never took, and Hyun Choi, a dentist at St. Barnabas Hospital, thought it was something my mother took while I was nursing. All agree that veneers are the only option for me, since over the counter whitneners address only surface stains, which is not what I have, yet I am often treated as less than a human being because I cannot afford them, and my teeth may well be keeping me out of the only sort of work I can physically do. Tirado reflects on similar situations--"People treat me like a fucking idiot, as though I am incapable of noticing this rather large problem, rather than incapable of addressing it before it becomes a large problem" (48). This is life under low wage capitalism. Not having the means to do what you know needs to be done is evidence of being paid an insufficient wage, not being stupid. I'm lucky to not have a job in the sense that I qualify for full Medicaid, whcih is important when you have a physical disability (unlike Tirado, I cannot repeatedly lift 50 pounds without throwing out my back in short order). Tirado was not so lucky. "The system can't support everyone who needs help, and it's led to a pastiche of half-finished treatments an conflicting diagnoses" (50). Once an insurance shift made getting two stitches removed after an injury an enormous problem that could have led to a serious infection if I hadn't burdened an emergency room with the problem.

Tirado presents a wonderful vignette on page 50-51. When short on sleep, already, she got home at 10 PM and was asleep by 11. At 5 AM the boss calls and asks her to come in.

He'd been under the impression that when I said, "I'll be there," I meant that I'd be using my teleportation device instead of the beater car I had at the time. I blew it off, figuring that he was just in a bad mood. But he simply couldn't let it go--every time someone complained about this or that setup not being done properly, he said that if only I'd been there on time we'd have made it.

I lost it. Completely. This is the version of what I said I can best remember through my blistering rage: "If you think I'm so goddamned terrible, why did you call me in? Did you not realize I'd been on a fourteen-hour shift on a few miserable hours of sleep? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU INCOMPETENT FUCKING ASSHOLE?" And I said this all in my outdoor voice. In front of customers. I spent the afternoon looking for work, as I was newly unemployed.

The correct, if unconventional, interpretation of this situation is that Tirado's job loss was entirely the fault of her employer and his unrealistic expectations. The employer knew she lived half an hour from work and apparently didn't expect her to shower or put on clean clothes after working fourteen hours and getting only five hours of sleep. Tirado's response was completely reasonable; her employer's, completely unreasonable. Her boss fired her for his own incompetence. I've been there. It led directly to me becoming homeless.

At this point Tirado gets on the employer demand for a positive attitude. "It doesn't make sense to hire people at wages that guarantee they'll be desperate and then be disappointed when they're not always pretending otherwise" (60). The employers are playing a "blame the victim" game for a problem of their own creation and greed.

I am attacked online on a regular basis for taking SNAP and public assistance, in spite of my disability. As Tirado says, "I have trouble understanding why taking a few grand a year in food stamps is somehow magically different than taking trillions as a bailout. Food stamps cost $76.4 billion for 2013, compared with trillions, possibly hundreds of those, for the banks. And that's just one instance of handouts to the upper parts of society; it's not like the feds handed cash to the banks and the rich are otherwise left to muddle alone in the wilderness (84)." "Rich people get way more from the government than poor people do...but the poor are the only ones getting shamed for it. You want to know how I could justify relaxing sometimes while on benefits? The same way you justify blowing a reckless amount of money on a really nice dinner while taking a business deduction because you talked about work for ten minutes" (85). She then discusses the idiocy of the rich complaining about double taxation on dividends because taxes had already been paid on those dollars. Tirado's argument is irrefutable: "By the same logic, I shouldn't be asked to pay payroll taxes because my bosses already paid taxes on it, too." Capital gain is money made for having money. It cannot be reasonably argued that it is unfair to pay taxes on them. They argue that it's "nothing like unemployment, where an employer pays a tax for every employee, and then if I pull unemployment, I have to pay tax on that as well. But sure, keep thinking that we've got all the cushy non-taxation going on down here in the lower classes" (86). It's fun when you look like a Fox-miseducated idiot in front of those who know better.

Chapter 6 is about how sex among the poor is treated as a horrible sin. Tirado admits to living arrangements with "friends" who required sex as part of the deal. Tirado was supposedly brought up middle class, as I was, but I can't imagine making such a demand and retaining the friendship. I met a girl on OKCupid whose boyfriend was offered a job in another state before she was ready to go all the way with him. Her only options, financially, were moving in with him, a long-distance relationship, or ending the relationship. She chose to move in with him, and he agreed to not move faster than she was willing, knowing she would dump him and move back in with her parents if he tried anything without her consent. The problem is that many poor people can't afford that option. My mother certainly doesn't help. She won't have me back except as a guest because I try to prevent her from throwing my belongings when she gets enraged, she struggles and gets hurt, and then claims that I'm being abusive, as though she has a right to be violent toward others' belongings. My introversion probably fuels my idealism in regard to sex (after all, I got matched to the above girl, and we were online friends until the boyfriend she met in real life demanded that she block me), but I can't help agreeing with Tirado when she discusses slut-shaming people into celibacy. "These are the bodies that hold the brains we're supposed to shut off all day at work, the same bodies that aren't important enough to heal. These are the bodies that come with the genitalia that we should be so protective of? I really don't understand the logic (101). I don't think a Vulcan could, either. Earlier, she mentions that poor people can't afford for their bodies to be temples, when she discusses selling her own plasma, something else I've never done (91).

One important point is her denunciation of the myth than a significant number of welfare recipients have children to get more benefits. the benefits are so small that it gives you barely enough to support the extra kid, so they're hardly rolling in money if one or two of them are stupid enough to do this. If anyone does this, it's not a statistically significant number (120-1). "If you are desperate enough to be breeding for cash benefits, you are for all practical purposes having kids in order to be poor enough for the government to give you a job" (120). It's like "breaking their legs just to get some lunch," which is so absurd that Terry Gilliam made a similar joke in Jabberwocky. As someone who is on cash benefits ($20.70 biweekly--Wow! What luxury!), they are pretty impotent to help someone with a physical challenge. They said that the only work they had that fit with the restrictions their own doctor recorded were low-wage customer service jobs that required people bilingue en espagnol, pas de français, ce qui j'ai étudié comme un bon petit americain doux à classe moyenne. (And the only thing I looked up was to see if there might be a different idiom for "middle class," which there isn't--I didn't read Piketty in French; I pretty much restrict that to literary rather than informational works.)

She discusses the controversial concept of payday loans (which I've never used): "the reason there are so many payday loan places is that there are so many people whose checks simply will not last a whole pay period unless everything goes perfectly," (137) which rarely happens. And whose fault is that? The employer. We need to hold employers accountable for paying people so little that they need payday loans.

Then we attack people for working too much and not being able to afford a nanny--"she was talking to the authorities only because she didn't get paid enough" (124). And whose fault is that? (Say it with me,) THE EMPLOYER, THE EMPLOYER, THE EMPLOYER. Yet we don't see that sort of thing happen. This is a job for the pre-1943 Superman! (In 1943, Jerry Siegel was ordered by DC Comics to have Superman fight only criminals, not corrupt businessmen who weren't technically breaking any laws, as he often had before then.)

Then she talks about how hard it is to get a job with bad credit (138). "The real reason poor people have bad credit is that life is more expensive than we can tolerate." I honestly can't understand how Tirado can make statements like this and also write "I am not, for all my frustration, opposed to capitalism" (xxii). It makes her look blind to the root of the problem, like all the right-wingers who believe in treating the symptoms while ignoring the cause because it's more profitable that way. My credit is probably screwed because I had two months left on my lease when I left my apartment, and my former landlord is insisting that I pay it when I'm over $600 below the threshold of what they are legally not allowed to garnish from my account. This will most likely make getting out of homelessness once I have a decent job all that much harder. It's simply presumptuous and unethical to use a credit check to not give someone a job.

In Chapter 9, she discusses political apathy among the poor, which really irks me, since I vote (even though my candidates never win because I despise both major parties), and have ramped up my political activity since becoming homeless, but she defends it in ways I never could. Still, she has good points, "[W]ealthier people get all exercised about a poor person dropping a cigarette butt on the sidewalk, as if this is proof that poor people just don't care...When powerful people stick a waste treatment plant in the same poor person's backyard, does that mean that rich people just don't care?" She then notes that it's a self-answering question (157).

Although, perhaps from having been raised middle class and having been homeless only 31 months (all consecutive), I think I'm way too poor to consider having children. Tirado has an excellent chapter in which she discusses that poor people have children for the same reason anyone else does--they want a family that feels complete to them. Tirado didn't prepare for her apartment to be destroyed by flooding and end up living in a hotel, which happened while she was pregnant with her first child. As she says, planning for disaster is paranoid (112). She also describes how her poverty prevented her from getting proper gynecological care and birth control without horrible side effects (107). She also didn't want her daughter to be an only child because she didn't like her experience of being one. These are relatively rational (unwise, but not crazy, as she puts it (118)) reasons to have children, and she details how she accommodates for them in ways many middle class people could not imagine, but now make sense to me, even if I wouldn't go that route. Laws can be stupid. I once has a homeless co-worker who couldn't afford housing because her kids were the opposite sex, and Indiana law required them to have separate bedrooms, something normal for me growing up that is hardly universally normal.

Another example of stupidity in the law is when Tirado describes (113-114) how she was punished for not receiving benefits promised by the VA that never arrived, which defies all reasoning, with benefits workers impotent but understanding.

I can't say that Tirado is a great writer (although she is a good one), so I knocked off one star for that, but she still has gems, such as some of the quotes above. I just wish Barbara Ehrenreich would read my blog (I did contact her about it, starting with the final version of my review of Bait and Switch The Futile Pursuit of the American Dream , which proved too big for Goodreads. Perhaps she just hasn't had time, or perhaps it's because I've chosen the hell of the shelter system to the hell of of low wage, physically draining labor when I have nothing to spare. I conked out of Tuesday night's march against the Darren Wilson decision after an hour and 43 minutes of hobbling on my cane, during which I fell from the front of the demonstration to the very back. Does anyone really think, if a fast food job didn't literally kill me, that I would be retained by the employer? Cyberbullies just don't understand that being denied Social Security disability does not mean that you are not disabled.
Profile Image for Cody Sexton.
Author 28 books75 followers
June 4, 2019
Every so often a book comes along emphasizing issues that have been highlighted in other books long before it. Poverty is a perfect example of this. It’s one of those issues we seem to keep forgetting about. Mostly because in America we have this long running myth that if you deserve it, you will have it. We’re afraid to look at our downtrodden because it undercuts that myth. Which is a fear of the poor that, regretfully, is uniquely American.
A number of years back, books about what it was like to be poor were all the rage, following the success of Barbara Ehrenreich's, Nickel and Dimed. Which was an excellent book, albeit one that, like its imitators, was written from the vantage point of the minivan driving journalist, taking on a minimum wage job and then writing about her experiences after returning safely home to an upper middle class community. But her book missed a great deal. Most importantly what it feels like to live, the entirety of your life, in a culture that detests you.
In America to be poor is to be despised. By your former friends, your family, and most of the time, even yourself. Which makes the craving for personal dignity the force that drives much of the caustic commentary, in this gripping memoir, which started it’s life as a response to an online forum question, and who’s main argument is that the structure of the bottom end of the US labour market is unfair, demeaning and exploitative. The author buttresses these conclusions with her own unhappy experiences, anecdotes about others, and an analysis of how the lowest segment of the market actually works. In low-wage jobs, bosses don’t ask subordinates what they think. Humiliation is the rule. “Poor people” are dehumanized by “rich people” wielding contempt and hypocritical moral judgments across a stark divide.
But what’s most remarkable and upsetting about this book, to me, is that, given the story Tirado tells, of the injustice and indignities, that she, and millions of other Americans living the same story have to endure, aren’t angrier. Going to work forces us to give up power over our own lives, we sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others and to have someone look down their nose at us for that, is the gravest insult I can imagine.
But, realistically, few working class people have the luxury of indignation. Enervated by swing shifts, cash shortfalls and too little sleep, they are badgered by the American creed that anyone who works hard can prosper, and many internalize the belief that those who don’t prosper are themselves to blame. “I wouldn’t even mind the degradations of my work life so much if the privileged and powerful were honest about it,” Tirado writes. “Instead, we’re told to work harder and be grateful we have jobs, food and a roof over our heads. . . . We are. But in exchange for all that work we’re doing, and all our miserable work conditions, we’re not allowed to demand anything in return. No sense of accomplishment, or respect from above or job security. We are expected not to feel entitled to these things.”
The one thing this book does to great effect, or I should say doesn’t do, is provide its readers with a chronological structure. Which is good, otherwise it would have made it far too easy for critics to intervene and cast judgement—that’s where you went wrong, or there—and miss the books larger point, that in a system of winners and losers, “poverty is a potential outcome for all of us.”
Tirado’s refusal to flatter her reader, is also what gives the book it’s undeniable authority. This isn’t a sob story, although it could very well make you weep with frustration; it’s a confrontation with the way that poor people are seen and judged day after day, by good liberals as well as evil conservatives, by the 99% as well as the 0.01%. And just as we dismiss those who deny the evidence of global climate change, so should we mock those who insist that if people only tried harder they wouldn’t be poor. It’s a lie, and Hand to Mouth shows us, in painstaking human detail, how it is a lie and why it is a lie.
I have been poor more often than I have been not poor. And I was told, all throughout my childhood, by guidance counselors, the media, and many adults, that if I no longer wanted to be poor, I had to work hard and go to college. I was told that that was the only way to not be poor. But that was a lie. And what I was promised has yet to materialize. But the most frustrating thing about it is that now those same people, those same authority figures, whom I trusted, and believed, and who sold me, as they sell so many, on the promises of the American Dream. Now blame me for, not only my failures, but for theirs as well.
Casting millennials as petulant adults trapped in adolescence has allowed previous generations to dismiss our concerns. Millennial bashing is, after all, as Mattias Lehman has written, simply a new form of “class warfare.”
Millennials have had to come of age in one of the worst economic climates since the Great Depression. We have grown up watching the selfishness of our parents in action. And we watched how the recklessness of the housing boom and bust wreaked havoc on our society and forced us to reach adulthood in a world in which opportunity is nonexistent. But we do not benefit from the selfishness of our parents. And hopefully we will not emulate it either.
Most of us are now entering into mid-adulthood, and most of us are still lagging far behind from where our parents were when they were our age. We have far less savings, far less equity, far less stability, and far, far more student debt. The “greatest generation” had the Depression and the GI Bill; boomers had the golden age of capitalism; Gen-X had deregulation and trickle-down economics. And millennials? We’ve got venture capital, but we’ve also got the 2008 financial crisis, the decline of the middle class and the rise of the 1%, and the steady decay of unions and stable, full-time employment. A new study has even confirmed that millennials are the poorest generation to date. Millennials really do have it harder than previous generations. But somehow, the narrative of spoiled, petted young people still prevails.
Yet the more work we do, the more efficient we’ve proven ourselves to be, the worse our jobs become: lower pay, worse benefits, less job security. Our efficiency hasn’t bucked wage stagnation; our steadfastness hasn’t made us more valuable. If anything, our commitment to work, no matter how exploitative, has simply encouraged and facilitated our exploitation. We put up with companies treating us poorly because we don’t see another option. We don’t quit. Instead we internalize that we’re not striving hard enough.
I never once imagined myself having to struggle this much in my thirties and perhaps it’s my fault, but perhaps, someone else is making it harder than it needs to be.
I’m never not thinking about money. I’m constantly running our budget through my head, trying to reassure myself that the numbers will work out this month. I dread going to the store or having to buy gas because each purchase moves us closer back down to that zero balance. The question always running through my mind is, what’s going to happen when the month comes that we can’t make it all work? The anxiety over our finances never quite goes away.
We’re trying to get back on our feet. We account for every dollar we make, and we don’t make any purchases without carefully considering our finances. It is just impossible to get ahead when every month seems to bring us a new setback, a visit to urgent care, a growing child who needs new shoes. Every step we take forward is followed by two steps backward and it’s exhausting. There’s no catching up when you’re behind; you just struggle to maintain. We’ve also learned to never try too hard to be middle class, as it only serves to make our situation worse. All of this obviously has a psychological and emotional impact. I’ve even flirted with addiction several times, but I’ve never let myself go there completely because I think it’d be too much of a relief and I’d never be able to come back.
I feel frustrated by all of this, but mostly embarrassed. It feels like I’m always climbing up the same hill, always trying to at least make it to neutral. But I don’t have the stamina of Sisyphus to keep going for much longer. And one day I’ll stop and put a bullet in my head. Anger is really the driving motivation that keeps me going. Honestly, if it wasn’t for anger, that bullet would have found it’s way into my cerebral cortex a long time ago. A running thread through all of the topics covered in the book is actually about the logic of anger as a means of survival: Speaking of mental health services, for example, Tirado concludes, "Professionals seem to only want to talk about my anger. They talk about my fatalism, my caustic outlook. They see these things as problems to be fixed. Personally, I think that anger is the only rational response to my world sometimes." It’s certainly the most productive.
Moreover, the problem isn’t just one of being undervalued either. As Tirado explains, “it’s, also, that it feels as though people go out of their way to make sure you know how useless you are.”
In the poor persons world, medical practitioners are condescending and unreasonably preachy, caseworkers are cruelly imperious, and government systems are Kafkaesque. Which is not even to mention the foaming resentment that spews from the mouths of those lucky enough to live a more middle class existence. “Why do they waste money on cigarettes and booze? Why do they eat junk food? Why do they have kids they can’t afford?” But a better question is, why do we keep hammering poor people with such supercilious judgments, for their habits, their pleasures, their health, their parenting, in a word, their very lives? Because double standards, directed at the poor, are used, first and foremost, to force poor people out of the public sphere and delegitimize their own testimony about their lives and needs.
Most people are uncomfortable with the idea that maybe there’s merit to be found in the lower classes. The stigma and prejudice that’s attached to poverty creates the assumption that poor people can’t be smart, so anyone who is smart can’t be poor. It’s a perfect circle that ensures that no poor person who talks about their experience is seen as credible. Unless, like J.D. Vance in his memoir Hillbilly Elegy, the working class people in question are careful to position themselves as exceptionally meritorious and decry the immorality and poor work ethic of their peers. Poor people who cosign prejudice against poor people are lauded. Everyone else is dismissed. It’s just easier to dismiss poor people than to listen to them.
Our political system is also utterly, and embarrassingly, unresponsive to the needs of poor and low-income people; they cannot be counted on for campaign contributions, after all, they don’t hire lobbyists, and are less likely to vote, not because they are apathetic, but because the U.S. makes voting complicated and time-consuming, and they don’t think it matters anyway. Which it doesn’t. If our system depends on the right person, or persons, being in power, it’s by definition a bad system.
Much of the criticism, however, surrounding this book, and much of which has been aimed directly at Tirado herself, mainly concerns what the proper poor person should look like. If you’re going to ask for help in America, critics invariably insist, you’d better be really, truly, abjectly, miserably poor, and you’d better perform that poverty for the benefit of the more fortunate. But a far more legitimate criticism of Tirado, would be the same one that I often levy against religion. Neither of them have any real incentive to want to see poverty eliminated completely, simply because they both make money from it. Which isn’t so much a criticism as it is a question concerning both parties underlying motivations. Nonetheless, Tirado’s book vehemently accosts it’s readers with the ugly and painful realities of poverty and challenges us not to look away from it. As Noah Berlatsky once said, “If we didn’t hate the poor, the poor wouldn’t exist.”
But, today I’m afraid, the humanitarian conviction that we all have a collective national responsibility to the poorest among us, can no longer offer us a scythe sharp enough to fell the stalks of capitalist ideology. And because of this I maintain that we are now entering a terminal phase of human existence, that, unfortunately for us, doesn’t look very likely that we will survive it. In order to survive it, we would need drastic changes to take place. But, in order for real change to occur people would have to at least be willing to give up their greed, and they’ll never pay that price for freedom.
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