I heard a report recently on local public radio talking about the various tent cities that have been popping up around Baltimore, as more and more people slip through the economic cracks. They profiled a man and woman, probably late 30’s / early 40’s, recently out of doors. They’re living in the woods off of 8th Avenue in Glen Burnie, probably a few blocks away from where Reefercake and Monkey Woman saw G Love kickboxing behind his tour bus roughly 10 years ago. But I digress…
A couple of things struck me about the interview. For one, these people were still employed (at least the woman was). She commutes to a job as a nurse’s assistant or some such thing in Columbia, MD, which is no small commute. So they still have a car. When asked how they came to be homeless, the dude said something to the effect that living in motels was too expensive. They’re basically trying to save up enough money to get back on their feet, and maybe into an apartment.
Anyway, the reporter made a point of asking if they still considered themselves to be “middle class”. The question pissed me off. After a brief instant of perplexion – probably thinking the same thing I was: “asshole!” – she replied that she did, though their current circumstance was one of poverty.
God bless her for being gracious, but what was the point of that question? Reasonable people can have different definitions of what constitutes middle class, but homelessness does not make the cut under any scenario. Even people in the “lower” class still have a roof over their heads. So what was the reporter asking? Was he just taunting these people? (“They so poor, they think they middle class!”)
Perhaps the reporter thinks “middle class” is just a state of mind. If so, that’s good news for all these fools about to lose their homes in the next wave of home foreclosures:
The Wall Street Journal reports that estimates of people underwater on their homes (owing more than it is worth) are anywhere from 15-27 million homes. In other words, the low end (15 mil) represents 1/5 of all owner-occupied homes. Combine these numbers with continued job losses, and the prognosis for the next two years looks bleak. That the Senate voted to kill the cramdown provision in the face of this crisis is unconscionable. To quote Sen. Dick Durbin last week:
And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.
At least somebody still owns something. To get back to our homeless couple, I think what the reporter was really asking with the “middle class” question was, “do you still consider yourself to be respectable?” The listener is meant to find their affirmative response to be surprising and ironic. The very premise of the question is offensive, really, and only illustrates Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that our culture affords no dignity to its poor.
But hey, who needs dignity when you’ve got Tent City?