I just finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, a scathing indictment of welfare reform and its effect on the lives of the working poor in the U.S. In the book’s conclusion, Ehrenreich writes, “when someone works for less pay than she can live on… she has made a great sacrifice for you…. The ‘working poor’ …are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone (p. 221).”
On the one hand, the book is utterly depressing. On the other, it is a jolt to my middle class comfort. I am angry as hell because this situation exists in the “wealthiest and most powerful” nation on earth. I am angry, too, because I am now more aware of it. I feel a need to find a productive use for my anger.
When I expressed my feelings to a community college colleague whose judgment and experience I respect, she reminded me that the work we do in community colleges makes a difference in the lives of people living on the edge; community colleges provide a path from the abyss of lifelong poverty.
At times it feels like there are not enough hours in the day for faculty, staff, and administrators to accomplish all that needs to done. But when I think about the programs and services offered through California community colleges that benefit students enormously, I am reminded why I love what we do, why I am grateful to be a part of what we do, and why I am grateful to share this effort with all of my colleagues.