By Amie Miller
Recently, I lost a friend in one of my work places, out of nowhere, and it made me really sad. I’ve worked
some pretty crappy jobs, and I still do, but those friendships are why I come back to grin and bear it;
workplace friends are sometimes the whole reason you get excited to go to work. This particular friend
is a lot like me: we are both broke, young, educated, and poor. I am too scared to quit, but there is
always that daydream of just quitting and not looking back. My friend has way more courage than I do.
But her quitting got me thinking: why do poor people quit their job that they really need?
I think there is a part of societal thinking in the past ten years that says, “Any job is a good job.” I call
bullshit. I am no stranger to unions — my dad has been working in unions for most of my life. The
benefits have been awesome for my family because, yep, health insurance! I work for a union now and I
am glad I do, because I was in a position where having a second job was going to get me fired. I did
nothing wrong and had the paperwork and literature to prove it. The union backed me up as well as my
coworkers who also had second jobs; if one of us were to go down, we had a team. I can’t imagine
where I would be without the union. Union jobs are good jobs which is why I have a big problem with
the money rigging of politics. I sure as hell don’t support any Koch, I mean politician, who wants to
squash something like bargaining rights. I don’t like this job; in fact, I hate it most days. There is always
that daydream, but for now, it is keeping me alive.
So why do poor people leave their jobs? Well, there is always pursuit of the better pay. Ten extra cents
an hour may not mean much to others, but let’s just say you work an eight hour day and pay 23% in
taxes after on your paycheck. For me, that is enough to buy lunch. I like being able to afford food, don’t
What about those who take lower paying jobs? Ah, well here is where it gets complicated. It is about the
environment. Maybe you have a really crappy manager. You might have such a crappy schedule that it
makes it hard on your family and/or your own health. Kudos to those who work nights! A lesser-paying
job isn’t ideal, but I am sure it beats having a micromanager on your ass while you stock cans. Cleaning
for some can be cathartic and, trust me, there is job security is custodial.
What about those who quit and don’t have a job (or even look)? Here is where it’s more complicated to
explain. In rare instances, it is better to stay unemployed than to be employed. For those of you not in
the know, Republicans really don’t like any form of public assistance. If you watch Fox News at all, you
have probably seen at least one piece about how poor people are lazy, uneducated, and make bad
decisions. This is coming from nice looking white people in a studio.
Poor people are smart as hell. Formal education after high school is optional, but practical knowledge is
not. We know where to find things and services in the little known places that surprise me every day.
We are creators and innovators. These are the people who showed me that white vinegar is the best
cleaning solution out there. These are the people with an intricate community system of our own
services. Poverty is an it-takes-a-village mentality that binds communities. After all, it’s easier to get
through the tough times when you have a community of solidarity. We know that if we don’t stick
together, we will fall.
We are also smart enough to know where most of our tax dollars go. Even with those really crappy jobs,
taxes come out of our paychecks. We pay into the same system the rest of the 99% does. Sadly, after
taxes, there isn’t much of a paycheck left. Take an instance where a person is working full-time at
$8.35/hour in the state of Ohio where paychecks are taxed close to 30%. After taxes, you’re left with
close to $233. Do the math with your average living expenses in the state of Ohio: you’re still in the red
no matter how careful you plan your spending, let alone any strange emergencies like your car breaking
down. With the little money you make, you are still taxed enough to put money into public assistance
Sometimes you wonder though, at the end of your payday, if it was really worth it. I mentioned before
in my previous article about college and the poverty trolls and how I failed to qualify for public
assistance to help me make through a difficult summer. Here is what I learned about Public Assistance: it
works. Of course you will hear about the guy who buys lobster with his food stamps, but trust me, those
people are rare. The people on food stamps make every penny work for them to help them stay
sustained until the first of the next month. Reckless spending of precious tax dollars doesn’t exist for us,
but it does in the hands of our politicians. Who are we to blame, exactly?
Anyway, poor people think like others. We quit jobs for the same reasons. I just quit one of my jobs
because it wasn’t paying me enough to justify staying there. I had a terrible boss. I just wasn’t happy. I
needed a change of scenery. I wanted something better for myself. See, rich people? We are pretty
much the same.
The way the system is set up and the current economy, being on assistance and looking for new work
can be mutually exclusive. To qualify for assistance, you have to be in a certain income bracket, and also
have to have dependents (it is incredibly hard to qualify as a single person). I know a lot of people in the
system. Shit happens. A lot of them got out. What happens to the people who can’t? I know those
people, too. It isn’t a case-by-case situation. If you make just one measly dollar over the tax bracket, you
lose that assistance. You lose that hundred or more dollars to buy groceries. You lose that public
housing. You are back to where you started. These are the people who are trapped. I feel horrible for
those people, but worse for their kids, because they’re the ones who really lose. At this point, it is better
to quit your job.5