The Increasing Permanence of Class Divides

New Orleans   A rare spate of freezing temperatures with ice and snow particles frozen for days seems strange in New Orleans. It’s temporary of course. By this weekend the old “normal” will return with highs in the 70 degree Fahrenheit range, so the dog can stay out and the citrus in the ACORN Farm can begin to recover, or so we hope.

With few papers delivered, I found myself working down the stack of magazines and stumbled on a passage in an unexpected place that spoke of the freeze that is becoming more and more permanent. The piece was a highly sympathetic profile of a young Moroccan novelist living in France and drawing prizes and attention for her recent work. The New Yorker writer identified with the novelist and the concern of her new book based on their sharing the burdens and blessings of motherhood,  while in one case writing and in another case reading a fictionalized treatment of a real incident where a nanny killed two of the children in her care in New York City several years ago.

In the book, the reporter, Lauren Collins, believes that the author, Leila Slimani, has concluded something profound and unsettling, as she writes here and quotes Slimani,

“In Slimani’s appraisal, the emotional marketplace has rendered basic human entitlements a luxury. ‘It’s the question of, Can we buy everything with money? Can we, in earning a good living, procure for ourselves comfort and freedom,’ she said. ‘But does that also mean that those who don’t have the means will never be able to attain that comfort and that freedom?’ Whenever we met, we were both able to be there because of a parasitic chain of caretaking that inevitably, discreetly, leaves someone alone at the bottom end.”

What do we make of this observation, I wonder? First, it’s good that some in the upper classes who have the “comfort and freedom” bought with “money” and “a good living” have noticed reality, but otherwise is there any shining light or insight here or just a tinge of guilt for both children and the worker, but otherwise, same ol, same ol.

The reality of this now permanent class – and caring – divide is everywhere, and, if anything, more pernicious outside of the home, where at least it cannot be ignored. Meanwhile in the real world, home care workers continues to be one of the fastest growing occupations in the US, as it has been for decades. It also is one of the lowest paid with benefits illusive or nonexistent. Care workers in nursing homes, private homes, and even community homes for the differently-abled are unseen, and handled even worse perhaps as politicians at both state and federal levels refuse to budget realistically for their wages. Comfort and freedom, how preposterous! Most would settle for living wages and health insurance, and can’t get that. At the end of last year, Local 100 went to impasse over a cut in hourly wages for home care workers for the mentally disabled in one of our nonprofit facilities, because of freezes in state reimbursement of Medicaid dollars.

It almost seems precious, rather than poignant, for outstanding representatives of the upper class to suddenly realize that untold millions are raising, keeping alive, educating, and caring for hundreds of millions and wondering what impact it will have on the family and society, when this level of inequality and structured servitude is increasingly fixed in concrete, seemingly forever, by government and corporate policy almost everywhere.

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