American Poverty

“In America, the poor drive cars,” Alan told me some ten years ago, when we first met on the Internet. Kind of a dream thing, which might include a golden Mercedes, like the one we’ve bought for only five thousand dollars and have been driving for over a year, without any hassle so far. Based on the minimum wage I will describe below, this car costs only two months of American labor; translated into Brazilian reality, two months of the average wage would amount to 1,500 reals.

Now, is this still true?

According to US presidential candidates on “both sides of the aisle,” the answer is “not at all.”

“Americans are getting poorer,” they say. “And for the first time in recent history we will not leave our children a better country than the one we live in.” This is the unanimous complaint, with very few deviations, despite the candidates’ fierce differences in political ideology.

The thing is, “poverty” here in the US is a salary of $ 25,000 — a hundred thousand reals in our precious Brazilian currency. The Democrats in the campaign are “fighting” for a “minimum wage” of $ 15 an hour, which comes to about $ 600 a week, $ 2,400 per month — almost 10,000 reals in our precious currency! That is, if you consider an eight-hour day in a five-day week, which, let’s face it, nobody can afford anymore. I, for example, a highly specialized editor and a qualified designer, work around 12 hours a day, seven days a week. And I won’t even tell you how much my hourly rate is, but I can tell you this: if it wasn’t for the love of the craft, I would be opting to clean houses here in the US, although in this regard I couldn’t offer the same “expertise” as my cleaning lady from Venezuela, who is relatively incompetent by the way. At 25 bucks an hour.

Okay. You cannot always take into account the absurd dollar to real exchange rate, and if it is true that there is “no fun left for those who convert,” imagine a person who works in two so diverse countries simultaneously. It’s insane.

I’m full of hope with my new plans for an international KBR, a hope that has increased greatly since I found a local associate who shares with me the same love for world literature, the same lack of hesitation when it comes to exhausting work hours (whatever the currency), and the same chutzpah to pursue every chance she sees. Much like myself, but with the appropriate accent, got it?

The only downside is that KBR’s original “business model” had to be significantly altered, and I confess that I’m having a hard time trying to fit into the new “shape” presented by this capitalist market. Within my “Gestalt,” borrowing money is a non-bailable crime, but in a truly capitalist economy… Well, I must confess that I don’t know how to deal with a subsidized interest rate that oscillates between 0 and 3%… A year! That’s right!

Meanwhile, in our beloved Brazil, recent developments keep confirming that old adage that equates lawful entrepreneurs with stupid entrepreneurs, those who will never, ever make any money, regardless of talent or ability, as long as they insist on this crap of being honest. Tough stuff. One by one, the big “tycoons” are falling behind bars, revealing their favorite little “governmental” schemes in their plea bargains — PT style, if you please.

Back to the US (I resisted typing “USSA,” as in “United Socialist States of America”): One of the most successful presidential candidates is a “leftist” who’s promising the world to people, lots of free fish and fewer and fewer fishing lessons, if you know what I mean. This is the perfect recipe for the winning of votes and the bankruptcy of the National Treasury. Whoever doubts its effectiveness can ask our dearest Dilma. On the other hand, I’ve begun to wonder how this “bag of goodness” would work here in the US with the poverty level up to 25,000. Dollars, of course.

Bear with me for a moment: I believe more and more in that saying that claims “if you’re not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart, but if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.” Arnaldo Jabor will have to forgive me (it never hurts to remember that Jabor, the famous Brazilian writer, columnist, and movie director, still holds a grudge against the United States from being traumatized as a teenager during his stay in Florida in the 1950s, where he claimed he was bullied by the children of “the conservative bigwigs”).

I’m getting old, my friends. And I trust more and more my brain and careful consideration, and less and less the “miracle of multiplication.” I don’t wish to sound mean, but I still believe that the best way to ensure one’s survival is through dedication and hard work, and everybody has to do their share the best they can, despite all insistent evidence to the contrary.

All right. I’ll never learn.

If all else fails, or when old age advances, then it’s acceptable to consider some help from the government. But not for me. God forbid I would ever rely on some social safety net. It would be too humiliating, please spare me the pain. Hopefully, in the few years that I have left, I’ll learn my way around in the world of a strong capitalist economy (I hope voters will keep it that way, rooted in the foundation of capital abundance), paving a path to produce my own nest egg. With my eggs in different baskets, of course.

Let me remind you that despite Obama’s idealism, which in the past I endorsed open-heartedly, without reservation, the truth is that I haven’t seen the world improve one iota during the nearly eight years of his presidency, quite the opposite.

I’m not sure right-wing radicalism is the best way either, not at all. I see Donald Trump’s rhetoric as excessive, filled with dangerously misconceived ideas. But this does not stop me from concluding that pretending not to see what our increasingly terrible enemies are doing, and refusing to acknowledge the fact that a government policy of “racial equality” has resulted in the most serious climate of division and violence in recent years, didn’t work very well. Let’s face it.

Think it’s bad with Obama? It will be worse with Hillary.

And that’s what I had to say.


About the Author
Noga Sklar was born in Tiberias, Israel, in 1952. She grew up in Belo Horizonte and lived for 30 years in Rio de Janeiro, a city she left behind to take refuge in a paradise among the mountains of Petropolis. Noga met her American husband Alan Sklar in 2004, through the American Jewish dating site JDate. This meeting gave new impetus to her life and literary career, inspiring her first novel, “No degrees of separation” (to be published in English in 2016. She now lives in Greenville, SC, US, where she moved with her husband in October 2014.
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