This whole "We are the 53%" nonsense is getting out of hand. Confused Americans holding signs over their faces who used to occupy Erick Erickson's tumblr have made their way onto the Facebook pages of conservative people I know and love. They're camping out on newsfeeds everywhere, just waiting to shock anyone who unwittingly signs on to Facebook to change their status. Public enemy #1 (aka Sally) is someone I'm sure you're familiar with. Here's their bio:
"I am a college senior, about to graduate completely debt free. I pay for all of my living expenses by working 30+ hrs a week making barely above minimum wage. I chose a modertely priced, in-state public university & started saving $ for school at age 17. I got decent grades in high school & received 2 scholarships which cover 90% of my tuition. I currently have a 3.8 GPA. I live comfortable in a cheap apt, knowing I can't have everything I want. I don't eat out every day, or even once a month. I have no credit card, new car, iPad, or smart phone--and I'm perfectly OK with that. If I did have debt, I would not blame Wall St. or the government for my own bad decisions. I live below by means to continue saving for the future. I expect nothing to be handed to me, and will continue to work my @$$ off for everything I have. That's how it's supposed to work. I am NOT the 99%, and whether or not you are is YOUR decision."
Do you hear that sound? That's my blood boiling. Buster Blonde, a blogger over at Persephone Magazine, got angry too. She put her rage to work by researching the claims made in the photo to test their probability. Using data from Seattle, her city, she calculated the costs of 4 years of school and compared them to the earnings from 4 years of minimum wage work.
Income from working 30 hours a week: $45,891
College tuition: $42,296 without scholarship/ $4,230 with 90% scholarship
Cell phone: $2,160
Bus Pass: $912
Health Insurance: $6,024
Total: $81,056 without scholarship/$42,989 with 90% scholarship
It's one thing to read someone's story and think "Yeah, I guess that could happen," but seeing that story put to numbers starts to paint a different picture--one where something's missing. Buster Blonde makes a good case for the unlikelihood of a 90% scholarship and points out that even if this person was lucky enough to snag one, we can't expect that from everyone. It's not just unrealistic to think everyone will get a scholarship, it's impossible. Everyone can't be the best.
Second, where does this person find time for everything? I did a little math myself and guess what? There aren't enough hours in the day.
168 hours in a week
-30 hours of work
-15 hours of class
-45 hours of homework (estimates say 3 hours of homework/1 credit hour)
-42 hours of sleeping (at 6 hours a night)
-14 hours of travel a day (1/2 hour to get to and from work and school)
-14 hours of cooking and eating and cleaning (remember, she doesn't eat out)
= 8 hours a week for chores, personal hygiene, errands, overtime, etc.
What about life? Does this person have time or money for friends? How about a new shirt? Do they ever take a sick day or have to spend hours waiting in the financial aid office? Even robots need to be cleaned and oiled every once in a while.
Let's talk about this person's credit score. Oh wait, they don't have one because they've never borrowed money or had a credit card. How will they buy a car or a house when they eventually want to? How about jobs? This person might have a college degree and a 3.8 GPA but they still won't be able to compete in the job market. They'll be up against thousands of people who have resumes positively covered in extra-curriculars, awards, and internships. You don't get bonus points for having to work harder than everyone else because you weren't born lucky (if you did, someone might label it a "quota system" and conservative radio hosts all over the country would talk about its unfairness).
While we're on the topic of being born lucky, let's talk about this person's demographic details. If they're white, male, straight, cis, or able-bodied, they were born into a legacy of privilege. They have social and monetary capital that minorities were barred from as a result of historical institutionalized discrimination.
All these oversights add up to something that's, in Buster Blonde's words, "not only ill-informed, [but] harmful." Whether or not you agree with Occupy Wall Street, the fact that people involved in this movement continues to be dismissed as as undeserving and lazy makes it worth a second look. It reveals just how deep the belief in American exceptionalism goes. As long as we continue to believe that success invariably comes from "doing the right thing" and failure is always the result of bad decisions, nothing will change. The race to the top is lonely which might be why it seems that the slogan "We are the 99%" is as much about creating a sense of community as it is about fighting corruption. By recognizing that we're members of a group, we start realizing that our common goal to thrive doesn't have to mean that we're all taking the same road there. Because if Sally's way is the only way, something's not going right.