In discussions of poverty, we sometimes neglect to differentiate between types of poor. I don’t mean the contents of one’s wallet, but rather the poverty narratives that we consider excusable (or, sometimes, even laudable) and those that we don’t.
In the beginning, I was one right kind of poor, the kind that even the most solidly middle class people go through when they first leave home. I was a student. Things are different when you’re a student. Having a ‘hungry day’ is a life experience, something that teaches you a valuable life lesson, something that will become a funny story to tell your kids later. Ramen noodles are an inside joke. Student poverty is cute and funny because it’s expected and because it’s temporary.
With some exceptions, students can expect their poverty to end with the completion of their degree. Their poverty, as with their education, is an investment. Once they graduate, they will be able to work full time and their earning potential will be much higher than that of those who did not go through such a hazing.
That’s what many politicians and voters think of when they think of poverty – a hazing ritual that marks the transition of the individual from childhood into stable financial adulthood. We don’t need minimum wage increases, they argue, because the people asking for them are just entitled teens who don’t want to go through the same hardships as everyone else. They resist social change in the same terms that frat boys resist anti-hazing laws.