Hand to Mouth Accidentally Confirms Stereotypes About Poverty


I put off writing this for as long as I could.

I told myself I still had the same headache I had yesterday.

And hey, there’s an Auction Hunter marathon on, and…

Then the irony hit me:

This had been my idea, to write a response to Hand to Mouthauthor Linda Tirado’s viral internet “Why I’m poor” post-turned-book.

And that one of the reasons I’m not poor anymore is because I work even when I don’t feel like it, and it feels like a summer day even though it’s the end of September, and…

So here goes:

You might remember Linda Tirado’s 10/23/2013 Kinja post, “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts.”

It attracted thousands of comments. Forbes and The Nation and HuffPo picked it up.

I heard about it as it made its way around the internet.

But I didn’t read it then. Because I didn’t have to.

I grew up around poor people who did stupid things.

I’ve told the condensed story of my life before on PJ Media, but, at the risk of sounding like one of the “Four Yorkshiremen,” allow me to present my credentials again:

I was born in 1964 to two unmarried high school dropouts in the Canadian equivalent of Pittsburgh.

No one in my multi-married family has the same last name. My two half-sisters both had children out of wedlock at age 16.

My grandmother was a cleaning woman, my grandfather a security guard, my father a cab driver who never paid child support and my mother (who didn’t drink) went to bartending school, then did that before graduating to front-of-the-house hostess.

She married an abusive drunk/child molester and kicked him out for cheating on her. Except for the years she was with him, we lived below the poverty line.

That’s more about my upbringing than Linda Tirado will tell you about hers.

That matters. Her caginess immediately makes me suspicious of the rest of her story.

In fairness, Tirado did some smart things.

She finished high school. In fact, she says she started college at age 16. She didn’t finish, but frankly, I can’t hold that against her, because college is a waste of time and money.

And she’s married.

But then there’s this:

When I was pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel for some time.

Tirado excuses this dopey move:

The closest Planned Parenthood [family planning clinic] to me is three hours. That’s a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can’t afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don’t want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We’re aware that we are not “having kids”, we’re “breeding”. We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.

My mother put me on the pill when I was a teenager, because she didn’t want me to end up like her and my half-sisters.

I stayed on it until I was 40-something. It cost me — if memory serves — ten bucks a month — paging Sandra Fluke! — and was available at every drugstore in every neighborhood where I ever lived. No “clinic” required.

Tirado is one of those “poor people” who will reply that she doesn’t have ten dollars a month.

Then — obviously — you couldn’t afford a kid, either.

She also smokes.

Amusingly, I started smoking and taking the pill around the same time, and finally quit smoking about 10 years ago.

I smoked when I was on disability. I smoked when I had a full-time job.

If I ever get cancer, I’ve promised myself I get to start smoking again.

All the poor people I’ve ever known (except my mom) have smoked.

The thing is, I knew it was stupid — cool, but stupid — the whole time I was doing it. I’ve done stupid things on top of the smart things.

Unlike Tirado, I didn’t write a lengthy explanation as to why I deserved to smoke/rack up credit card debt/etc., and also, rich people are just as bad, zzzzzzzz.

Tirado might counter that I live in Canada, where we have “free health care,” and that surely takes a lot of the edge off any poverty I experienced.

That’s true. America, your health care system is really, really weird.

But remember:

In exchange for “free,” what we get are multi-year waiting lists for procedures that my cat can get within hours; an acute doctor shortage; no options (we can’t pay our way to the front of the line like an American could, thus shortening said line and arguably making everyone’s life better, because that wouldn’t be “fair”); and we still pay for prescriptions, dental, most eye exams and other stuff.

(Unless you’re a “refugee” — even a “refugee from the United States — and then you get lots of “free” extras. But of course!)

So, Linda, I’ll see your “the nearest Planned Parenthood is three hours away” — don’t you just need to go there once a year to get your prescription and a pap smear? — and raise you a “the soonest you can see that specialist/have your lifesaving operation is five months from now.”

Tirado fails to address a lot of the glaring WTFs in her own story:

Why did she have not one but two children?

Why doesn’t she have a bank account?

(She blames… the Patriot Act, which is at least the most original alibi I’ve heard for this persistently stupid “poor person” problem.)

Why did she marry a guy who works at the same sh***y job she does?

Why didn’t she finish school in the first place instead of taking courses now?

(She says repeatedly that she “knows” she’s never going to get out of poverty, so what’s with the classes, then?)

Thoughout, Tirado tries to justify one of the great complaints people like me have about today’s poor people:

Their apparent refusal to look and plan ahead, and engage in delayed gratification. Her “reasoning” is familiar:

I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to.

Well, with THAT attitude, young lady…

Look, I’m ending this before I blow a fuse:

As a kid, I looked around at my family and my neighbors and did (almost) the exact opposite of what they were doing.

(Yeah, I kept the “smoking and drinking” part.)

I got as far away from toxic people as early as possible.

Meanwhile, I am the least attractive or personable human being I know, yet even I have managed to put together a pretty nifty (non-toxic) network of employers, contacts, friends and supporters.

I chose career over children for many reasons, one of which is:

You have to pick one. Sorry, ladies.

I thought and worked myself out of the “college/resume/office or service job” trap, one in which a lot of millennials in particular get snared. Like I said last week: add entrepreneurship and the trades to your conception of what’s possible.

The irony is that Linda Tirado is clearly not a moron, or she’d have a better excuse for living the way she does.

But she made some really stupid decisions, and actions have consequences. I’m still paying “residuals” on some of mine.

Whining about “the system” feels good, but accomplishes nothing, and let’s you divert blame away from where it so often belongs:


Here’s the ultimate irony:

Here at PJ Media, around the same time Tirado’s post went viral, Walter Hudson wrote a piece called “5 Ideas You Need to Rise From Poverty to the Middle Class” that was one of the best things I’ve ever read on the subject.

And Linda Tirado has a book deal, but Walter Hudson doesn’t.