At least there are no zombies

Nobody chooses to be poor. Nobody.

You are poor because you were born into it or because something bad happened. It could have been a divorce, a natural disaster, an economic downturn, or just plain bad luck. Whatever the reason, getting out of the black hole of poverty is incredibly difficult.

I wrote that the week before the Viral Apocalypse decimated America. I am part of the quarter of the population who are now facing a prolonged period of unemployment with no savings, but plenty of debt. I am lucky in a lot of ways at this point in my life. I can survive the three to six months it will take to get America back on track. I have not been so lucky in the past. I know what facing the abyss feels like.

The Viral Apocalypse makes it glaringly clear how precarious is the financial stability of fully a quarter of Americans. For decades now, people who should have been salaried workers have been forced out of jobs and into contract work. Gig economy 1099 workers, people who get paid by the job, are not eligible for unemployment. With the shutdown, most of those people are flat out of luck. Think about all those things that have been canceled. How many people did they employ? No weddings means no wedding planners, no florist orders, no live music or DJs, no caterers, no dressmakers, no solvency.

The coronavirus presents a unique view of the poor and barely solvent. This massive unemployment is no one’s fault despite what conspiracy theorists may say. And, because everything is shut down, there is no chance of getting another job. We are blameless and, thus, worthy of aid.

All those people who find themselves suddenly unemployed were one piece of bad luck away from poverty before this happened. If they fell one by one, we would blame them. They must have done something wrong. Often they did everything right, went to college, worked hard, but the economy changed and they were no longer needed.

Here’s the thing about poverty: It is not a “personality defect” as Margaret Thatcher called it. It is not laziness: 78% of those on assistance hold jobs. Many hold two or more jobs to try and make ends meet but without transportation or reliable childcare it all falls apart. Again. It is not a choice. It is not a sign of moral inferiority. It is a tragedy.

It is time we took a long look at what has happened in our country to create this situation. This is Capitalism without compassion. This is insanity.

Is this how we want to live? I look around and see good people who want to help each other. They, we, can see the pain. All those hourly workers not working, all those freelancers not working, all those teachers struggling to find a way to keep teaching our kids. And the emergency and medical folks are working overtime. You can’t self-isolate when you are trying to save lives. We depend on each other. As we should. But it is not enough.

Now, while we are stuck at home, is a good time to look into other possibilities. We have forgotten that the economy is us. The GDP does not measure real life. Our economy has been hijacked by the super-rich and I want it back.

America is falling apart. But, look on the bright side: at least there are no zombies. 


Lisa Wright divides her time between her home in Lakeville and Oblong Books in Millerton where she has worked for more than 35 years. Email her at

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