Thursday, May 3, 2007

Op-Ed: For the Lang Students That Aren't Rich, Living Ain't So Easy

Illustrated by Jeremy Schlangen.

By Connor Molloy

Sometimes, in an attempt to make conversation, I ask, “So where do you work?” Only at Lang do I get the response, “Oh, I don’t have a job.”

How can you not have a job? I quote directly from my little brother’s email when I say, “I mean, if you don’t work, doesn’t natural law kinda say that you starve?”

We talk constantly about awareness at Lang, but no demographic is more consistently unaware of reality than the upper class. The majority of them are totally oblivious to the daily math that goes into the earning and spending of your own money.

Someone who lives in the West Village and works 6 hours a week is living an entirely different existence from someone who works over 30 hours and then goes home to Sunset Park. In fact, this difference is comparable to the divergent realities of male and female, or black and white, or Muslim and Christian. Class, however, is never brought up in the demand for diversity at Lang. Nor, like the black kid in an all white seminar, are we ever asked to empathize with our less affluent peers.

Rent can cost as little as $650 a month, but you’d have to live pretty far into Brooklyn, spend over 10 hours a week commuting, and spend $76 monthly on a MetroCard. That is $726 already, and you haven’t eaten yet. Give yourself $10 a day to spend on food, including all meals, snacks and drinks. It might seem fine, but kids drop that without thinking on one lunch alone, maybe a burrito and soda at Chipotle ($9.26), or for the health-conscious, a salad and juice from Cosi ($9.06).

That’s $300 on food in a month, so now you’re at $1,026, but you haven’t bought toothpaste, Kleenex or shampoo, haven’t bought that book for class or done the laundry. We’ll add $124 for that, which brings our monthly expenses to $1,200. In this equation we are ruling out Netflix, a new blouse, aspirin, the Of Montreal CD and giving to the homeless.

And that’s forever, too; we’re not “putting it off till next month,” because next month is the same formula. You can go see Joanna Newsom at Webster Hall for twenty bucks, but then you can’t eat for two days. The anxiety is there with every purchase, every rent check and every store you can’t go into.

To make this budget work with a $9 per hour job, you need to work over 31 hours a week. That is on top of class time, homework, commutes and anything else you need to do just to get through the week.

There is also the subtle, dirty and unspoken shame. It comes up at times where no one else even thinks twice. Kids will say, “Come on, I’m hella broke too, let’s go to Joe Juniors—the sandwiches are only five bucks.” Yeah, well actually they’re $5.95, and that doesn’t include tax, and after a tip it’s an $8 sandwich, which you don’t think twice about but which only leaves me $2 for the rest of the day.

Instead, I say, “uh, naw dude, I’ll just peace out.”

But the differences are as fundamental as they are subtle. Someone with a 30-hour-a-week job and a 10-hour-a-week commute spends 40 hours simply not being able to do homework. Not only do other kids get a 40-hr/week head start on homework, they could spend those 40 hours sleeping more, or flirting with a girl, or learning how to skateboard, or writing a fucking novel. But kids without jobs go on bitching about being “so poor” or living in an East Village apartment that’s “ghetto as fuck.”

At a college where the student body is constantly preoccupying themselves with raising their critical consciousness concerning race, gender and sexuality, it would do everyone a great deal of good to work class into that equation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I stumbled upon this and it made
me teary. I go to a similar school in Boston and have the same struggles. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right?