STARRED REVIEW
October 02, 2014

A first-hand look at poverty

By Linda Tirado
Review by
If you've ever seen a story about food stamps or poverty and wondered how people end up there, you need to read Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America. Author Linda Tirado wrote a post about why the poor make such “terrible decisions,” it went viral, and she offers an expanded take on the subject here.
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If you've ever seen a story about food stamps or poverty and wondered how people end up there, you need to read Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America. Author Linda Tirado wrote a post about why the poor make such “terrible decisions,” it went viral, and she offers an expanded take on the subject here.

As more people fall through the “spongy divide” between just making it and too broke to function—and at last count that was roughly a third of the U.S. population—Tirado writes in the hope that we'll understand one another better. Specifically, she hopes those who use the services and reap the benefits of subsistence labor (and if you eat food, shop or pretty much ever leave the house, this is you) will acknowledge that it's necessary work, but grossly underpaid and routinely devalued.

Tirado's writing is gritty, profane and to the point. She nails the sense of exhaustion you feel while toggling between two or three jobs with little to no rest in sight, the staggering insult of being accused of meth use because lack of access to dentistry means your teeth fall apart over time, and the perpetual sense of hives-like itchiness that comes with wearing second-hand clothes. And she offers a succinct explanation for the situational depression that service workers often experience while trying to balance back-breaking labor with the soul-crushing imperative to be all things to all customers: “(W)e're trying to zombie out to survive.”

This is dark material, to be sure, but Tirado is fierce and funny in equal measure. Lest you think she's describing a phenomenon that doesn't touch you or anyone you know, the examples I chose for this review are ones I've also experienced firsthand. There are more of us living Hand to Mouth than you realize, and thankfully, we finally have a voice.

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Hand to Mouth

Hand to Mouth

By Linda Tirado
Putnam
ISBN 9780399171987

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