I’m in the middle of an 15 day work trip mostly in Louisville, Kentucky. Four hotels. Multiple cabs. Banquet meals.
My expenses are covered. The beds are plush. The hot water is plentiful. The wireless and cable are free. There is complimentary coffee.
It would be easy to move through this work trip without seeing the other people working all around me. There are hotel housekeepers, cab drivers, restaurant servers, concierge managers, and shuttle drivers. They depend on my tips. And they make comments to me as we share stories that make me realize that the economic divide between us is deep.
- One hotel restaurant server phoned me in my hotel room hours after lunch to tell me that there was a problem with my bill and she couldn’t get her tip. (The front desk had forgotten to place my credit card on file so when I charged the bill to my room, it hadn’t gone through.) The tip was $3.00 – 20% of my bill – but she needed that $3 before leaving at the end of her shift.
- One of my cab drivers shared that he was working extra hours to pay off medical bills because he doesn’t have insurance and his wife has cancer.
- Another cab driver told me that when he lived in NYC, he and his wife worked in a bakery but they didn’t earn enough money to rent an apartment so they slept on the subway. Once a week, they checked into a cheap motel to sleep in a bed and get a shower.
- The shuttle driver and I were talking about snowstorms and he said that he was grateful they didn’t have snowstorms in Louisville because it would be hard to get snowed in and not be able to work. (He doesn’t get paid for snow days or sick days or vacation days.)
Each one of these people is a hard worker who has not had the advantages many of us have had, through no fault of their own. My own privileges start with my skin color and multiply from there: born to college-educated parents who expected college for me, annual vacations, music lessons, braces, health care, and an excellent public school system. The advantages of having connections assisting me in everything from admission into circles of influence to offering safety nets if I needed them.
Those of us with college degrees forget that over 60 percent of those living in Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri and Wisconsin, and over 80 percent in certain counties in western Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin do not have college degrees. (Source here.)
What do we do about this economic divide? We can start by joining the New Poor People’s Campaign led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. If nothing else, this movement connects people who would not be connected otherwise. If nothing else, our involvement helps us to see people who are usually invisible in our busy worlds.
If we talk to people in service professions, we will find our lives enriched and our perspectives broadened. (So this, too, is a selfish endeavor.)
It’s harder to accuse people of being from $#^% countries or being “losers” if we know that – actually – they are among our hardest working neighbors.
Image from a recent hotel stay. I learned that the Galt House in Louisville makes a concerted effort to hire formerly homeless individuals for their housekeeping positions.
Every month I go to the bank to get what I call “religious money,” small denominations that I carry in my wallet for incidents you just described. I hand out cash tips instead of putting them on my credit card, especially now that the rules are changing about how tips are dispersed to workers.