The Poor Work Without A Net

Jul 11 2011 @ 9:26am

by Patrick Appel

A construction worker was recently arrested for trying to cash a check the bank mistakenly thought was a forgery. The man ended up sending a few days in jail, which lead to him losing his car and job. The lesson Chait draws:

[M]iddle-class people enjoy all sorts of protections against misfortune. For poor people, a single thing going wrong can lead to a life-altering spiral — they lack the social and financial resources to overcome one problem, so a flat tire become a late day at work which becomes a lost job, an overcharge fee busts a checking account, which in turn becomes a ruined credit rating.

Thoreau runs in another direction:

This is yet another example of how our system is set up to punish people for merely being suspected of a crime.  Actually being punished for whatever crime you committed is something of a crapshoot:  The system is so dependent on plea bargaining that their main interest is basically processing you rather than actually figuring out what you did and what an appropriate response is.  But even if you somehow persuade the system of your innocence–and even if you manage to do this very early in the process rather than after a long, long wait for a trial–you’re still in rough shape.