For those of us who live below or at the poverty line, our 24 hours are very different from the wealthy.
You may be learning increasingly about capitalism and the ways in which it touches every aspect of our lives, especially with regards to student loan debt, healthcare and stagnating wages. There are efforts around the globe to address long-building inequities and the oppressions which feed into and from capitalism and create social structures which revolve primarily around working exceptionally hard for a very long time and for not very much compensation.
One of the most oft-repeated phrases is “we all have the same 24 hours” — other iterations of this include: “you have the same 24 hours as Beyoncé” for those of us who marvel at the icon’s ability to go above and beyond to create practically flawless art while being a mother to three children and a wife. The message of that phrase pushes the idea that Beyoncé is who she is within our same 24 hours, and if we work hard and grind til we own it, we too could be just like our fave. An important thing to note however, is that Beyoncé is a multimillionaire. We know this, she knows this, and as a capitalist society we are conditioned to admire obscene wealth and ignore the fact that Beyoncé is an exception, because her success does not mean that systemic oppressions have ceased to exist. Now this piece isn’t here to deconstruct Beyoncé or her career—and Beyoncé neither benefited from whiteness (although she does benefit from colorism), nor generational white wealth—it’s here to simply illustrate a point: that we do not all have the same 24 hours and that the foundation of these ideas is classist, racist and ableist.
For those of us who live below or at the poverty line, our 24 hours are very different from the wealthy and even the increasingly shrinking middle class. A day looks very different when you have:
- to take public transportation to get to and from work
- long commute times
- unstable, fluctuating hours at work and unstable, unpredictable schedules
- debt and/or student loan debt
- disability, chronic pain, mental health issues
- lack of access to grocery stores (aka: food deserts)
- inadequate health care
- multiple part-time or full-time jobs to afford a basic standard of living
- no child-care help
- housing insecurity (aka: an unstable home life, homelessness)
These examples are just some of the very few ways in which our time starts to look very different from someone who can afford housekeeping, child-care, or even time off from work. Those of us who are poor or who depend on hourly wages, and live paycheck to paycheck, see our time consumed by work and trying to gain access to the basics of living. This makes being able to build upon our dreams and goals almost impossible. This makes an actual savings account with more than $500 in it almost impossible. This also makes participation in local organizing and politics something that we’re too tired to do, or too busy to do. This is by design, as our political systems in the U.S. were meant to benefit wealthy, white men and if we’re too tired to resist oppressive political systems, then they can continue to hoard resources at the expense of marginalized people.
Our emphasis on wealth creation (which is always at the expense of other people) through the constant idea of “grind until you die” is a romanticized way of seeing humans as only being worthy of humanity if they are able to produce goods for other people to consume. People who do not produce anything should still be able to live comfortably. Humans should not be resources. Capitalism and capitalists push for our 24 hours to be used judiciously and at the benefit of others under the premise that we, too, can eventually live a lifestyle of extravagant wealth. Ask pretty much any person who earns under $3,000/month, and they’ll tell you that they just want to be able to not be an accident or health crisis away from complete and utter destruction. We just want to be able to save up, maybe go to the doctor more often, take a vacation, buy all the groceries we want and have time to spend with our children without it being about homework, eating or sleep.
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“Well, you can’t blame capitalism for all your problems, you’re just not working hard enough”. There is no one who works harder or longer than a person who is poor and, beyond that, everything is political, everything is tied to money and power. If that were not the case, why would the ultra-rich like Jeff Bezos of Amazon, want to keep all that wealth for themselves? Why would politicians try to re-work taxation to benefit the 1% if capitalism was a non-issue? Capitalism works hand in hand with white supremacy, misogyny and other systems of power. It is an economic system which is infused into our social structures and requires an extreme power imbalance and hierarchical structures.
Our 24 hours look very different when we’re making minimum wage or barely above it. Our 24 hours are crushingly depressing when we’re waiting to treat an illness which worsens every day. Our 24 hours look very different when half our wages go towards rent. Our 24 hours look very different when we know that the top 1% wage grew by 138% since 1979, while wages for the bottom 90% grew by just 15%. Our 24 hours look very different when we’re debating which bill to pay off first. Our 24 hours are not the same as Beyoncé’s 24 hours.
Art work by Dania Alexis
This article was made possible thanks to our patron Tim G, whose support on Patreon helps ensure that we can pay one writer every month!
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