The Privilege of Buying Lunch

Yesterday I forgot my lunch.

I left it on the kitchen table as a rushed out the door to get to work. A year ago, I would have rushed back home to grab it, or I would have gone without lunch as payment for my carelessness. A year ago, the idea that I could simply buy something for lunch wouldn’t have crossed my mind as a viable option. That’s because a year ago, the $5-$8 I would spend on a single meal would have been too much money to part with.

A year ago I was poor.

I worked a full time job, but I was poor. The money I made covered rent that I split with my sister, and my other monthly living expenses. I could afford the occasional night out with a budget, but unexpected expenses, like buying an unplanned lunch, could mean taking money away from my weekly groceries. It could mean not paying for my medication if things were particularly tight. I could survive on my income, but it required a lot of management– and that was at $5 an hour above minimum wage. I didn’t do so well when I was at $8.10 an hour. I couldn’t survive at all on minimum.

I don’t work any harder now.

Too many people argue that the harder you work the more money you will make. They will argue that people in poverty should “just work harder” or “gain more skills”, or “pull themselves up by their boot straps” but those arguments miss the point. I don’t work any harder now than I did a year ago. I certainly don’t work harder than I did when I was 21. If anything, my job now is much easier, much cushier, and is certainly a lot cleaner than it was when I was cleaning toilets and hauling garbage to make rent. You could argue I did more for society as a custodian than I do now as an SEO auditor. I don’t work any harder now. Why do I get paid so much more now? Why didn’t I deserve to eat lunch back then?

How did we get to this point?

I grew up a poor kid, so inequality has always been on my mind. I’ve seen children go without food. I lived on charity and government assistance, and I’ve seen what happens when those “hand outs” aren’t enough. I’ve watched mothers and fathers work multiple jobs to keep a roof over their family’s heads. I watched teenagers take on jobs to keep food in their sibling’s bellies. I watched kids lie about their shoes fitting so their parent’s wouldn’t worry about buying new ones. I’ve seen this all first hand from the perspective of the downtrodden, but yesterday I saw it from the other side.

Yesterday, I had the money to buy my lunch. I was more sure than ever that no one deserved to go without.

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