Making money in America

Can one make it in America starting with nothing? This guy did.:
Alone on a dark gritty street, Adam Shepard searched for a homeless shelter. He had a gym bag, $25, and little else. A former college athlete with a bachelor's degree, Mr. Shepard had left a comfortable life with supportive parents in Raleigh, N.C. Now he was an outsider on the wrong side of the tracks in Charles­ton, S.C.

But Shepard's descent into poverty in the summer of 2006 was no accident. Shortly after graduating from Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., he intentionally left his parents' home to test the vivacity of the American Dream. His goal: to have a furnished apartment, a car, and $2,500 in savings within a year.

To make his quest even more challenging, he decided not to use any of his previous contacts or mention his education.

During his first 70 days in Charleston, Shepard lived in a shelter and received food stamps. He also made new friends, finding work as a day laborer, which led to a steady job with a moving company.

Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family. But by then he had moved into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000.

The effort, he says, was inspired after reading "Nickel and Dimed," in which author Barbara Ehrenreich takes on a series of low-paying jobs. Unlike Ms. Ehrenreich, who chronicled the difficulty of advancing beyond the ranks of the working poor, Shepard found he was able to successfully climb out of his self-imposed poverty.

He tells his story in "Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream." The book, he says, is a testament to what ordinary Americans can achieve.
The link has a short interview with the author. Practically the first question is, "but surely your background – you're privileged; you have an education and a family – made it much easier for you to achieve." Shepard thinks not, but of course he does have many advantages ("privilege" means "advantage" to the left). He's white for one thing. Young and healthy, presumably. And most importantly, he has a work ethic. That's a very real advantage.

I've been given Nickled and Dimed to read, by goodthinking friends. And I've read it; it's good, but you should read it knowing that its author is a hard-left ideologue. She documents ably the fact that low-end jobs are not very pleasant, nor hugely remunerative. She works hard for little, and is amazed that people can work that hard. But her experiment doesn't show what she thinks about opportunity in America. Ehrenreich was, by intention, sampling how she might live given certain jobs. She was not trying to get ahead. And her lifestyle, for all the privation she experienced, was nonetheless not the same as many of her coworkers. For example, she'd get an apartment for herself to live in when she tried a new job. Real minimum wage workers rarely live alone; they live with relatives, or get roommates. When I was in graduate school making $14000/year, I lived in a series of group houses with up to 4 other people. My share of the rent: from $250 to $400 per month. I also lived alone, when I was first in College Park, in a tiny miserable mildewed little basement apartment which rented for $650/month. Living alone, as Ehrenreich did, is not what the working poor do.


First Little Pig said...

I remember that Basement Apartment of yours. You had to duck about like golem so as not hit your head on the pipes running along the ceiling. I also seem to recollect that you did not have a phone, but rather it would ring in the main house upstairs and one would leave a message that would rarely get relayed to you. My favorite was once when I called and someone answered and had no idea who "Leonard" was but after I mentioned that you lived in the basement he said something to the effect of "oh yeah, there's that guy in the basement." He made it all seem even creepier than it was.

Anonymous said...

I remember when Shepard's book was published but the reality is that he has that "all-American" look, and none of the rough edges a kid would "wear" from a rough life. He may not think his privileged background, and the comfort of knowing he had an out in his back pocket (an emergency credit card) made him different, but it does.