The Poor and the Working Class.

This article in the Harvard Business Review (ironic publication, I know) captures some of the key observations about the political logic of the “precariate,” into which many “working class” fall into and how it is the different from that of the “poor.”  (although it manages to be quite condescending to the “poor” in the process.)

The trouble with the precariate (which would be including the “comfortable” poor as well as the lower middle class) is not that they have trouble meeting the minimal needs of life met from day to day, but that they can do so only barely, that they are a few months of misfortune away from being in a actually miserable state.  They may manage to avoid slipping indefinitely, but to do so is a draining, difficult, and often undignified  and stressful process that exacts a heavy toll on their mental and physical health.  They seek a state where there is some kind of “guarantee,” some kind of “home” that they can return to away from the toils, and that is, ironically, something that is persistently denied them, ironically, by the economic logic–if the workers get too comfortable, they say, they get lazy.  So keep them on the edges, and force them to a state, if they want X–which they need to keep themselves falling off the ledge–they have to abide by the demands placed upon them.

The distinction between the poor and precariate is thus slim but critical:  the precariate are not “poor,” but are desperately afraid of becoming “poor” and are trying hard to avoid it, and are frustrated when they feel their efforts are being wasted.  I don’t know if they “resent” the poor–but they certainly resent the idea of becoming poor and the idea that being “poor” can or even ought to be made easy, as it invalidates all the effort they exert trying to avoid becoming poor.

Means-testing, so beloved by neoliberal Democrats and Republicans alike, it seems, is an anathema to the precariate:  it arbitrarily creates a distinction between the poor, who are somehow deemed to be “deserving,” implicitly if not explicitly stated, and the precariate, who are not, and essentially insults and denigrates the heroic effort by the precariate not to join the ranks of the “poor,” all the more so because it subverts hard work and rewards sloth, whether it is true or not.  Universal “rights,” whether in form of universal basic income or universal healthcare, seem the perfect solution:  everyone is entitled to the basic stuff, by virtue of being “citizens,” although they may obtain supplementary benefits (whether for retirement, health, etc.) if they are willing to pay extra.


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