Opinion: The Poor Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Spending During the Pandemic


Lately, I’ve found myself spending a significant amount of money on things that I believe will make my life easier both during and after the pandemic. I’ve invested in everything from gardening tools to Fallout 4 add-ons to having my cat food delivered automatically. I’ve also been trying to avoid posting about any of it on social media because I’ve been worried people will see my frivolous spending on myself during a period of worldwide suffering as selfish. Like any extra money I get, I’m supposed to either save or donate to non-profits. But why shouldn’t I be a little selfish?

I’ve been poor my entire life. I grew up in a moldy mobile home in a South Louisiana trailer park. I’ve worked for poverty wages at almost every job I’ve had since I was 14 bussing tables for cash. I have always qualified for public assistance, although I haven’t always taken advantage of it. Not to mention, I’ve paid my fair share into unemployment. I am now making twice as much as I was with both my jobs before getting laid off, only a few days after the virus was reported to have reached NYC. For the first time in the 14 years since I took my first job, I am not living paycheck to paycheck– And I am not alone. According to this article, around 66% of Americans are making more now than they were before. So why should this government relief make me feel anything other than relieved?

If you’re on unemployment in the U.S. right now, that means the government is adding an extra $600 to whatever you already would be getting from them. That means you’re getting $2400 a month on top of what you qualify for. By beefing up our unemployment in this way, the government is saying “this is what we think is the base amount necessary for survival”. If that’s the case, why is our labor worth less than our leisure?

Keep in mind that $2400 is more money than 52% of soldiers in the US Army make (which is fucked-up on its own), so it’s hard not to feel guilty for suddenly getting free from the binding constraints of a lifetime of poverty when you’re getting a bigger paycheck than most of the people still working amid a virus that is actively killing people. I get it. But we are not the guilty ones. By adding this money to our unemployment, the government is not only admitting that they’ve been allowing poverty wages in America, but also that they are sending people off to war in exchange for poverty wages

I am not saying we need to take to the streets over this. We’re already on the streets. But between your expressions of righteous rage against police brutality, feel free to order sushi, or subscribe to a new streaming service, or get new bed sheets, or buy new toys for your pets. We have earned it. But also maybe save some too and donate where you can, because we don’t know if we’re ever gonna have money like this again.

John Merrifield is a comedian, activist, freelance writer, and satirist for The Hard Times. He was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana but resides in Brooklyn, New York, where he spends most of his free time growing vegetables, cooking Cajun food, dunking on racists, and taking pictures of his cats. He is also the host and creator of a comedy game show called “Oof.” and founder of a wildly popular Cajun meme group called cajUUUn Memes. Follow him on Twitter at @jbmerrifield