Guilt, you may be thinking warily. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to feel? But guilt doesn’t go anywhere near far enough; the appropriate emotion is shame–shame at our own dependency, in this case, on the underpaid labor of others. When someone works for less pay that she can live on–when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently–then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health and her life. The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, 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 else. As Gail, one of my restaurant coworkers put it, “you give and you give.”
Someday, of course–and I will make no predictions as to exactly when–they are bound to tire of gtting so little in return and to demand to be paid what they’re worth. There’ll be a lot of anger when that day comes, and strikes and disruption. But the sky will not fall, and we will all be better off for it in the end.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed. (New York: Henry Holt, 2001) p. 220-21