Here’s a graph that should surprise absolutely no one who pays even the smallest amount of attention to how clueless their fellow Americans are:
Puerto Rico is an American commonwealth. Puerto Ricans have US passports. They can travel anywhere in the fifty states. They don’t get to vote in national elections (which is part of the reason a lot of folks, self included, think they just need to be upgraded to statehood), but they’re still American.
They’re also severely in debt, to the point where hospitals are so strapped for funding that power companies have been known to cut off electricity to hospitals behind on their bills. I mean, they give some notice to make sure they’re not cutting the lights in the middle of surgery, ya know, to be decent human beings about it, but can you imagine living in an area so in debt that the hospital can’t even keep the lights on? That’s Puerto Rico, and a lot of their debt is due to insane legislation passed by Washington that magically only applies to Puerto Rico and is good for businesses based in the lower 48 (yay!) and terrible for the local Puerto Rican population (boo!).
Watch this video. For real, watch the whole thing. It’s the best overview of the economic crisis in Puerto Rico you’re going to get without picking up a journal on current economics.
In case you don’t have 20 minutes to listen to John Oliver’s awkward jokes…
As usual, the average (non-Puerto Rican) American’s view of this issue is served by misinformation and lack of information.
The misinformation is the easy part.
The Center For Individual Freedom is a dark money group that has paid over $2 million dollars on ads like that one to convince ordinary (dumb) Americans to call their representatives and tell them to vote against a bailout of Puerto Rico that doesn’t exist. Nobody in Congress is suggesting we pump a bunch of money into Puerto Rico get them out of debt, but that’s what the ads imply, because if there’s one thing Mary and Joe from Anywhere, USA hate is the idea that their tax money is about to be given to a bunch of brown foreigners (who are actually American, but whatever).
Congress is currently working on legislation across party lines to give Puerto Rico more power to negotiate with their creditors. They payments on the horizon they can’t meet and much of their debt is due to crappy legislation that only applies to Puerto Rico because they aren’t a state. Congress is working on a way to help Puerto Rico come up with a plan to pay their bills, not give money to Puerto Rico. So if we’re not giving them money, why does this Center for Individual Freedom care?
The lack of information is a bit trickier, but I think it’s best understood if you work back from the present.
There are a lot of people, mostly hedge fund garbage, who own Puerto Rican municipal bonds and they want Puerto Rico to pay those bonds back without any butting in from Congress about delaying or restructuring payments. How and why did they get all these municipal bonds? Well, in 2006 when Puerto Rico’s economy tanked, Congress made it very lucrative for other folks to buy municipal bonds from Puerto Rico. In simplest terms Puerto Rico has to pay a bill, but they don’t have the money, so they write an IOU (municipal bond), and someone else buys the bond. At some future date (like….now) Puerto Rico promised to pay back that IOU/bond with interest. So you bought a municipal bond in 2006 worth $100, and now Puerto Rico owes you $110 or whatever. Congress decided that $10 profit you made is triple tax exempt, so you don’t have to pay local, state, or federal taxes on it. Clearly, a lot of businesses and rich folks see the benefit in having all this money come in and not having to pay taxes on it, so they bought a lot of bonds and Puerto Rico was all too happy to sell them, because they needed to keep the lights on in the hospital. Unfortunately, the lights are now being cut off because Puerto Rico wrote into their Constitution that certain bonds were obligated to be paid before government services, so Thad McAllister gets his check before the hospital gets theirs.
The entire global economy was in a recession, so why wasn’t everybody in the same dire straits as Puerto Rico and forced to print municipal bonds? Half of Puerto Rico’s manufacturing sector left the island because Congress decided that all the tax breaks they gave out in the 70s needed to be repealed in order to offset the tax breaks they now wanted to give on the mainland. Puerto Rico was booming for decades because businesses would relocate there instead of overseas due to tax breaks passed by Congress. Once the breaks went away, so did the business. Congress essentially lured businesses down to the island and then took away the bait decades later. By then, the economy was dependent upon those businesses.
Now we have an American almost-state where 45% of the population is in poverty, 150 schools have been shut down in the past few years, and sales tax has been raised 4.5% all the way to 11.5% because the mainland treated Puerto Rico like an island paradise where business regulations don’t matter. They can’t file for chapter nine bankruptcy because of some mysterious legislation passed in the 80s that now makes it impossible for Puerto Rico to do what every other state would be able to do in this position. And, they can’t pay their bills and IOUs being held by the worst kind of opportunistic business creeps because Congress made it uber beneficial to buy up all those bonds. So if you can’t pay your bills and you can’t file for bankruptcy, what are you supposed to do? Just let the entire infrastructure of government fall apart and watch your people suffer so Thad McAllister can get his money? And none of this would have happened if Congress hadn’t specifically allowed things to happen in Puerto Rico that would never happen in any other state because it’s against the law on the mainland. That’s why we need to give Puerto Rico all the help we can. We helped make the mess, but we don’t want to help clean it up, and our legislation won’t even let Puerto Rico clean it up themselves.
Joe Manchin doesn’t want to give money to people who need money.
Conservatives are so intent on giving money to people who already have it.
When you’re rich, you see money as a reward as opposed to a necessity to live. Joe Manchin is worth over seven million dollars so he has no frame of reference for what a $300 credit is to someone with a child. To him, $300 is pocket change you get as a thank you, not the difference between cooking healthy meals or going to McDonald’s.
Extending the enhanced credit is included in Democrats’ massive social spending bill. But Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — whose support is needed to pass the legislation — has said he wants to once again require parents to work in order to qualify for the credit, a shift that could exclude millions of the nation’s poorest families.
The impact this would have on children isn’t up for debate. The monthly payments that started in July have kept 3.5 million children out of poverty. Child poverty is expected to be cut in half by the end of the year and low income families with children have seen a 25% decrease in food instability. (x)
But a credit for parents isn’t just about being able to buy food for your children. Almost half of the recipients used some of the money to buy groceries, but others paid bills, which also allows you to provide food for your family.
Poor people know that any money coming from anywhere that goes to anything helps you put better food on the table. If you work two jobs to make ends meet, you don’t always have time to cook. You go to McDonald’s on the way home because that’s the only way you can feed your family. Cutting one job down to two, or even cutting some hours from your second job, gives you more time to feed your family with better food.
Poor people who live or have lived in food deserts also know what that extra money can mean to your family. I’ve lived in a food desert in Bed-Stuy and in Harlem. I’m young, able-bodied, and childless. If I have to walk half a mile to the nearest grocery store with fresh vegetables, I’m able to do that. There are so many low income families who do not have that option. Extra money means a used car so you can get to a grocery store or even just a Lyft once a week so you can stock your refrigerator.
Money gives you options and choices. It gives you ways to be a better parent and provider. So what’s the problem? How could you possibly have an argument against helping parents be better parents?
Once again, rich people are concerned that poor people will get something they didn’t work for. Let’s be clear about Joe Manchin: he did not work for $7 million. He’s been an elected official for the past 40 years. That is his job and you do not amass $7 million on the salary of a public servant. He founded a coal brokerage firm and gave it to his son, but the company still pays him dividends as he stops clean energy bills from passing. That’s where Joe Manchin gets his money, from coal trading that he doesn’t even do. He has $7 million dollars from not working.
So it is absolutely enraging that a rich person who does not work wants to keep $300 from reaching parents who desperately need it because some of them may take it as an incentive to not work, or to work less. To that I say: so what if they don’t work? If $300 a month is enough money to keep you out of the job market, then the job you were doing was grossly underpaying you in the first place. It was probably demeaning work for pennies, and if you can save a bit of your self worth thanks to the federal government, that is a good thing. That is a happier American citizen. That is a better parent raising the next generation.
But that’s just giving Manchin’s position a level of truth it doesn’t deserve anyway. Of the people who have received child credits, only 5% of them decided to work less. Joe Manchin, like so many other Conservatives, will screw the majority just to make sure a minority isn’t “getting one over” on him. Instead, his rationale is to give a credit to people who already have jobs. Joe Manchin, like every other Conservative, wants to give money to people who already have money because, in America, having money means you are morally better than someone who does not have money. It all goes back to the foundation of American Christian Prosperity Gospel Capitalism: rich people are rich because they are good people who deserve it and poor people are poor because of their own moral failures. You can extrapolate that principle out to a host of social policies Conservatives refuse to support.
And if you can get rich by doing absolutely no work at all, kindly forget that you did nothing. Just pretend you worked super hard and the Money Jesus smiled upon all of your endeavors.
If you get there and Waffle House is closed, that’s really bad.
The Waffle House Index can apply to more than just hurricanes and tornadoes.
Anytime I go down South, my first task when I get off the plane is to proceed directly to the nearest Waffle House. It’s not haute cuisine, it’s not that nutritious, and I can make waffles and eggs in the comfort of my own home anytime. Still, as a child of the Deep South who grew up road tripping with my parents all over the area (we were a bowling family travelling to tournaments), Waffle House was a staple of my childhood, and a lot of the flavors we grow up with are the flavors we still connect to as adults. Nobody does a soft, sweet waffle like they do. Nobody does a fluffy omelet like they do. When I was visiting my dad last month and helping to take care of him after his accident, I spent a lot of time at the Waffle House. The food always tastes the same, you can find one anywhere, and they’re always open.
Except this trip, they weren’t always open.
There’s a Waffle House about 10 miles east of my cousin’s house, where I was staying while I was down there. We went together once for breakfast. The next week I was going to stop by on my way back to her place from the hospital, but they were closed. When I pulled into the parking lot and opened my door to get out, a guy in the car at the end of the row opened his door and said, “We closed! We ain’t got no cook right now!”
I’ve never seen a closed Waffle House. I made a sandwich for dinner instead.
A few days later, I was on my way to visit another cousin further north, and Google Maps said there was a Waffle House on the way right off the interstate. When I got there, the restaurant was dark and all the chairs were on the tables. There was nobody inside and nobody in the parking lot. They looked very closed, so I went to Bojangle’s next door and got a breakfast biscuit..
The Friday before my flight back, I decided to go to Waffle House again. There’s one 7 miles west of my cousin’s house near the rehab facility, so I was going to stop by on the way to visit my dad. When I got there it was open, but half of the restaurant was roped off with all of the chairs up on the tables. The girl who took my order said they didn’t have enough people right now to open the whole restaurant.
That was three Waffle House locations in the span of a month that were having trouble staying open. When I got back to NYC, I made jokes about the country being royally screwed because if Waffle House is closed, we’re in real trouble, but I was only half-kidding. Waffle House is an actual barometer for the health of an area, but it’s usually mentioned in reference to a natural disaster or a hurricane.
If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad…
— Craig Fugate, Former Head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
FEMA never formally adopted the Waffle House Index as an official measure of a disaster’s impact on an area, but along with other chain stores with a high level of disaster preparedness (like Wal-Mart and Home Depot), you can gauge the severity of the damage based on how these types of businesses are faring during and immediately after a crisis. For Waffle House, there’s a stoplight scale.
(cont. Fox News)
Because the South is an area prone to weather disasters (hurricanes, floods, tornadoes), Waffle House employees undergo disaster preparedness training. There’s also a hierarchy of employees based on who needs to be in the restaurant to keep it open and who cannot work based on location or family commitments, and emergency staff is on call during disasters. In addition, the Waffle House supply chain depends on local warehouses stocked with at least a week of non-perishables in the event of major transportation disruptions. (x) You may not get scrambled eggs, but you can get hash browns right after a hurricane. Because all of those variables are taken into account when a location announces itself as red, yellow, or green, it’s an on-the-ground barometer for the local population’s recovery.
“The Waffle House test doesn’t just tell us how quickly a business might rebound — it also tells us how the larger community is faring,” Dan Stoneking wrote on the FEMA Blog in 2011. “The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can reopen, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again — signaling a stronger recovery for that community.”
So what does it say about the state of the country that Waffle House is no longer reliably open? They’re the first to rebound after a severe tornado or a Cat 4 hurricane. They stay open during floods and freak ice storms in the South, but I had three highly uncharacteristic encounters in less than a month. For the entirety of my childhood driving back and forth across the Deep South with my parents, we never pulled into the parking lot of a Waffle House and found that it was closed. We’ve been to locations right by the interstate next to podunk nowhere towns and locations deep into the metro areas of big cities like Atlanta and Birmingham. We’ve been at 5am, so my dad could “Get us out on the road before too much traffic,” and at midnight, walking next door for a late dinner after checking in at a roadside motel. They were never closed.
The economy isn’t doing well and neither are everyday folks. We’ve just lived through a pandemic where we watched the richest Americans increase their wealth to evermore unfathomable heights while the rest of us watched our savings wiped out by employment instability. Billionaires are going to upper sky for ten minutes at a time while we can’t pay our rent. This is coming on the heels of being forced to sit still for the better part of a year, which was a first for many segments of the population. People who work multiple low-wage jobs to make ends meet have never had the opportunity to sit still. They got to breathe, take up a hobby, focus on themselves, and actually see the disparity in the country. They don’t want to go back to the grind of being exhausted and mentally drained while seeing news reports of the rich burning money for fun.
The Waffle House can’t recover from the disaster of COVID not because of an interrupted supply chain or damage to its locations. The Waffle House can’t recover from COVID because we the people are broken. The Waffle House Index is struggling to keep its locations at Green because the United States itself is still on Red and can’t recover without a full-scale redistribution of wealth and a complete upheaval in how we think about labor, wealth, and worth in society.
If you get there and Waffle House is closed, that’s really bad. It’s really bad here.
Fare evasion is none of your business.
Poor people are just doing their best to get by.
I woke up to this tweet making the rounds.
A few hours later it’s already gone, and so is the rest of his account, because some people don’t like being confronted with counter-positions to their terrible opinions.
That’s beside the point though. I just wanted to take a moment to try explaining to this corner of the internet what it’s like to be poor and using transit in a metro area like DC or NYC or SF because a lot of people are just genuinely unaware of what it’s like. I lived it for years (I’m still poor for the record, but not Sleeping on a Mattress on the Floor in a Glorified Closet in a Building Where They Make Crack and Meth in the Basement kind of poor like I was) and a lot of people who get up in arms about fare evasion aren’t thinking about the people who evade fares.
Let’s get this out of the way: people with money jump the turnstiles too, in much fewer numbers, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve seen groups of white kids on the Upper West Side in (ugly) designer clothes hop over the turnstile to catch the train because they never take the train and they don’t have a Metrocard and can’t be bothered to do it “just this one time” with their friends on an outing somewhere. I’ve seen professionals wearing relatively expensive office gear run to catch the train and hop over the turnstile because if they stopped to refill their card they would miss their train.
I never see tweets about them. I only see tweets from white people in gentrified neighborhoods playing Captain SaveAMetro being “concerned” with a public entity losing $2 because someone didn’t pay their fare. Do I know for sure that’s what Andrew was referring to? No, but I do know that a few years ago, Columbia Heights was named one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in the country(x) and the Black population went from 58% in 2000 to 43% in 2010. (x)
Anyway, most people who jump the turnstiles aren’t doing it because they’re lazy and they’re not doing it for fun. They’re doing it because they have no other choice. Being poor is making calculated decisions with every penny you have. If you live in a metro area where public transit readily available think about the last trip you took to Target or a similar destination.
If you have your own car, you drove. That’s a luxury that the vast majority of poor people in densely populated areas do not have. We can’t afford a car and we definitely can’t afford to park it.
If you have enough disposable income, maybe you took an Uber. That $15 -$40 round trip (or more!) is two packs of toilet paper or a groceries for a week of dinner. Yeah it’s faster and more convenient, but if that’s not money you can afford to spend, you have to take public transit.
If you have a Metrocard you took the train both ways. That’s the cheapest option and that’s what most of us are left with…unless you don’t have enough to pay for both ways. Being poor means being creative and there were many times I figured out ways to avoid paying twice. In NYC, you can transfer from the subway to the bus for free and vice versa if you use your Metrocard within a couple of hours of swiping. This in place for people who don’t live in transit-heavy areas. If you live in Red Hook and work in Manhattan, you might need to take the bus to the train so you don’t have to walk a mile to the station and you shouldn’t have to pay twice for that. It inadvertently benefitted poor people, because cities don’t do anything for the express purpose of making life easier for poor people. I would take the train to Target, do my shopping as quickly as possible, and then swipe my card again to take a bus home within the 2-hour transfer window. It would sometimes take me an extra hour to get home, but that’s money I could use to buy lunch the next day.
Another NYC hack from back in the day: there’s a free transfer between 59th/Lex and 63rd because the city wanted to make it convenient to go from the F at 63rd to the NQRW/456 at 59th, but the stations are four blocks away. If I could get what I needed from Target at Bed Bath & Beyond instead, I would take the train all the way into Manhattan and get off at 59th, go the Bed Bath & Beyond on 61st and First, shop as quickly as possible, and go back into the system at 63rd/Lex and take the F for free. I didn’t live anywhere near an F train so sometimes the trip home would take an extra half an hour but, again, I saved enough money for lunch.
If you’ve never paid for a McDouble with quarters, you’ve never had to think about saving $2.50 whenever you can.
So why was I buying McDonald’s instead of cooking? A few reasons.
I lived in an apartment with three other strangers, and nobody had pots and pans. I was working for barely more than minimum wage so I wasn’t able to actually save enough money to buy anything. I used my paychecks on bologna and ramen and made that stretch for a week because that equivalent cost in nutritious food would last for one meal, maybe two.
And I didn’t have time to cook. I worked three crappy jobs to make ends meet, so my day regularly started with waking up at 5am so I could be on the train by 530am and at my job before 7. I’d work from 7 to Noon at the first job (all shifts were less than 5.5 hours because any more than that and the job would have to pay you for an extra break or — god forbid — bump you up to fulltime and give you health benefits) and then hoof it to the next job. I’ve had jobs that were technically close enough to walk, so I would walk the twenty blocks to the next job if the weather was nice enough. If it wasn’t, I’d have to pay money (that I hadn’t budgeted for) to get to my next job, but more on that later. Let’s say the weather was nice. My shift started at 12:30 so I had thirty minutes to walk a mile and eat something. What was I going to eat that wasn’t crap? I can’t afford a $12 salad. I don’t have leftovers from the dinner I couldn’t afford to cook. Lunch was hitting up Wendy’s or McDonald’s for something cheap that I could buy with extra laundry quarters and then I’d clock in for my next 5 hour shift. Clock out at 5:30 and hoof it over to my 3rd job before 6. Same food situation. Same walking or train situation. Another five hours and then I’m on the train home around Midnight. I get home at 1am and, even if I had enough money for a fridge full of groceries, when would I have time to cook them?
I just want to paint the picture for people who’ve never been poor that this is what daily life is like when you are barely scraping by. If you feel like you’re living paycheck to paycheck, but your day is an 8 hour shift in an office Monday – Friday, you don’t actually know how exhausting it is to truly live paycheck to paycheck. You probably haven’t actually lived paycheck to paycheck if you’ve never worked in a place where half the employees got these out of the vending machine on their break:
If your job doesn’t have these in the vending machine because they know their workforce is underpaid and stressed for time, you don’t need to be commenting about fare evasion.
So let’s get back to why someone would evade the fare.
If I just left my job in Soho and I need to get to my job in Chelsea, I could walk for 20-30 minutes, but it just started pouring rain. If I pay for the train, I can’t afford my 4 for $4 to power me through this next shift. I can’t call out because I need those hours on my next check in order to afford my rent, and that’s assuming I wouldn’t be fired for calling out anyway. So I jump the turnstile.
If I’m at home on my day off but one of my jobs calls me to come in, I could decline because I don’t have the subway fare, but that would mean missing out on an extra $50 in my check a couple of weeks from now. I could use some of the lunch money I allotted for the next few days, but what will I eat? Maybe I’ll just pay for a trip to work and then plan to walk back (something I did regularly back in the day — walk home for 3 hours after a shift because I couldn’t afford the fare and the weather was nice) but if work was exhausting or the weather was bad, I might hop the turnstile to come home.
If I’m out of a job but I get a job interview, I don’t want to walk there because I’ll be sweaty, but I need to go, because I need a job. I’m hopping the turnstile.
So maybe we should be more concerned about the reasons people hop the gate than whether the metro is getting their $2? And let’s be clear — they’re not out any money when someone evades the fare. If they didn’t have the money anyway, then no money was missed, because their options were riding for free or not riding at all. In both scenarios, the metro makes no money. And the cost of running a train is exactly the same whether it’s full or empty. So when you get upset about fare evasion, what are you really upset about? That poor people are getting something for free that you had to pay for? Take a beat and think about why that bothers you and then mind your business.
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