Saturday, September 13, 2014

Work ethic in the US ghetto

This essay by a former Baltimore drug-dealer discusses the relentless work ethic of the black poor living in our country's ghettos.  He describes a childhood spent around people working multiple jobs, both formal and informal, paid and unpaid, legal and sometimes illegal, to get by and often to look out for the rest of the community, too. 

His description squares with my observations living and working in different poor black neighborhoods in Chicago.  I was often surprised at seeing this constant, tireless activity, in part because it was so different from the more leisurely pace of street life in other neighborhoods I'd known, and also because it goes so counter to the popular image of the supposed laziness of the marginalized urban poor.  I see a similar resourcefulness and a high regard for work among many of the poor in developing countries.  In the US and abroad, the poor are innate hustlers, creative entrepreneurs, and committed laborers, not necessarily because their character is better than other people's, but because circumstances demand they be so in order to take care of themselves and of the people they care about. 

Quite frankly, today's economy in the US and the world at large is such that we would all do well to learn from the hustling poor.  Steady jobs are hard to come by, and often you need to work side gigs even if you are lucky enough to have a decent job.  The secure, assured prosperity of the 20th-century US middle class is firmly a thing of the past, if it ever really did exist that much to begin with.  Today, we've all got to be hustlers, working hard, keeping an eye out for opportunity, and perhaps even skirting what society considers respectable.  The inner-city has a lot to teach us about the 21st century, if we'd just pay attention.

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