Young Woman Thinking --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Young Woman Thinking — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

I am sure you have heard about James Robertson.

According to the Detroit Free Press,

Leaving home in Detroit at 8 a.m., James Robertson doesn’t look like an endurance athlete. Pudgy of form, shod in heavy work boots, Robertson trudges almost haltingly as he starts another workday.

But as he steps out into the cold, Robertson, 56, is steeled for an Olympic-sized commute. Getting to and from his factory job 23 miles away in Rochester Hills, he’ll take a bus partway there and partway home. And he’ll also walk an astounding 21 miles.

Five days a week. Monday through Friday.

Read more about him here. He is 56 years old and walks 21 miles roundtrip to work. He has done this for years for a job where he makes only $10.55. His job holds him up as the standard for coming to work while failing to realize the reason he can’t afford a car is because he doesn’t make enough. While others applaud his effort, I see it as madness. Why was this even an option?

Before the woe is me struggle patrol starts crying, this post isn’t about putting this man down. Trust me, I have walked for miles too. I know how it is to decide between bus fare for work and eating lunch. It is about making better choices in a very tough situation. People have raised over $180,000 for him. What people have done for this man is nice, however it does not change the structural inequality that millions are dealing with all over this country. He is not the only one, and no one will raise money for them. While you sit high in your ivory tower telling me how wrong I am, this post is for the 99% who won’t be saved.

Let his story be a lesson. Forget what these people tell you. The people applauding this do not make $10.55 an hour. They need a low-cost, docile and committed work force to support their high standard of living. Being poor is hard. It sucks trying to figure out if you will pay rent or keep the lights on. It is hard trying to decide whether you will eat lunch today or will you pay for your child to go on a school trip next week. There is no honor in suffering. There is no joy in working for a company during the best years of your life and having absolutely in nothing in your bank account when you are old. You will get old. There is no joy in walking in the snow in 10 degree weather. There is no joy in an empty refrigerator. There is no joy in telling your child you can’t afford a toy. There is no joy in self medicating because you can’t afford to pay for healthcare.  The reality is the government ain’t coming to help. Detroit buses or other bus systems aren’t going to get better. If you make minimum wage and are unskilled, you will have to fight to make a livable wage. You will not get younger and unlike him, no one will save you. So you have two choices in life. Live passively and wait to for someone to save you (which will never happen) or be smart, plan and save yourself.

You don’t have to be 50 begging for help. You can decide your future by making smart choices. That includes finding a supportive network of people, making smarter reproductive choices (it is expensive to be a parent), saving your money, planning for retirement, acquiring new skills and consistently educating yourself. Unlike this man, who needed to rely on the kindness of strangers, you have options. There are places where you can learn new skills for free here. I will acknowledge that all of those things may not prevent poverty, but it will darn sure give you better options.

I am tired of hearing stories like this. I will not celebrate struggle. I will not celebrate pain because I have been there and have done that. While this man’s commitment should be applauded, his situation should not. You have options. Take advantage of them.

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