6 Nov 2016

Pain and rage in struggling America

From Sunday Morning, 7:20 am on 6 November 2016

Writer Linda Tirado’s blog about living in poverty in Utah went viral in 2013. Then she wrote about the millions of people in the US who work hard, yet still struggle in her 2014 book Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.

Tirado now lives in Meigs County, Ohio - a place with a per-capita income of $US 18,000. In a recent Guardian article  she wrote about why most people in her county, despite this poverty, will vote for the Republican Donald Trump.

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Tirado says Ohio is a key state (known as a bellwether state) in the US election cycle – and Trump is making good ground there.

“In Meigs County they don’t trust anybody because as far as we’re concerned, in my section of the country, you’ve got a guy who flies around on a gold-plated jet and you’ve got a woman who’s giving a speech to Goldman Sachs for something like 36 months-worth of the average monthly wage.

“And those two kinds of politician don’t really look that different to one another.”

The problems of unemployment, low and stagnant incomes and pension erosion are country-wide, says Tirado.

“A study that shows 70 percent of Americans would struggle to come up with $1,000 on the spot. That’s a frightening number that tells you how precarious our existence is becoming. That is the reason we’re seeing things like Trump and like Brexit, people are scared they don’t know what’s going on and they’re not sure anyone has any idea what’s going on.”

Across the US, 20 percent of people live below the poverty line, she says.

“When a Kiwi thinks of the poverty line, I don’t think they’re actually thinking of the American data - $US11,770 per year, per individual.

Linda Tirado

Linda Tirado Photo: RNZ/Dru Faulkner

“If you’re making $US12,000 a year you’re not considered to be living in poverty, even though there are very few sections of the country that $US1,000 a month is going to be a comfortable living.”

“You talk to some guy that’s making $US20,000 a year and he’s actually doing pretty well, he’s doing better than most of his neighbours. Does he feel represented by people in Washington who decide not to add a few more dollars to food stamps because we have to bail the banks out for a couple of trillion dollars?”

Support for Trump is a kind of middle finger to the Washington’s elite, Tirado says.

Linda Tirado on Sunday Morning (May 2016)