“Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” originally meant “impossible.” Think of it: you can’t defy gravity just by pulling up on your shoes. It can’t be done.
And yet this phrase has become both a command and an insult wielded by those who insist that anyone can make it in America. “Quit whining and pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” is the refrain from news anchors and radio hosts who seem to think that being poor is a choice and poverty an indication of moral failing.
Enter Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado. I was pretty psyched to read this one, as most of the books on economics and inequality I’ve read recently have been written by academics or historians.
Linda Tirado is neither. She’s a person who has lived the reality of being poor in this country. She’s one of the millions of Americans who lives hand to mouth, told to pull herself up by her bootstraps, who has fought to navigate the maddening labyrinth of government welfare, been mistreated and shat upon in minimum wage jobs, whose life has been stressful and precarious because of a lack of money, and whose health and quality of life has therefore suffered.
This story on poverty in America is from the horse’s mouth.
Tirado answered a question on an online forum about what life was like for the poor and her post went viral. From there, she was offered a book deal. This book is basically an expansion on her original blog post. It is angry, frustrated, passionate, filled with the pent-up rage of years of being downtrodden.
Here’s what I learned.