JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 8, 2011
This horrific story offers a window into the reality of life for low socioeconomic status minorities:
Ikenna, a 28-year old construction worker, went to deposit a $8,463.21 Chase cashier's check at his local Chase branch, only for the teller to decide that neither he nor his check looked right and he got tossed in jail for forgery, KING5 reports. The next day, a Friday the bank realized its mistake and left a message with the detective. But it was her day off, so he spent the entire weekend in jail.
By the time he got out, he had been fired from his job for not showing up to work. His car had been towed as well. It ended up getting sold off at auction because he couldn't afford to get it out of the pound. He had been relying on that cashier's check for his money but it was taken as evidence and by the time he got it back it was auctioned off.
All this while the cashier's check had been issued by the very bank he was trying to cash it at.
Chase didn't even apologize, not even after a year.
Something like this would never happen to me. I'm white, which makes me far less likely to be accused without evidence of trying to cash a fake check. And if I were so accused, I know enough lawyers that somebody would save me very quickly. But, say, a black construction workers lacks that kind of protection.
Cracked, of all places, recently published a very good -- though highly profane -- piece about being poor. The best way to think of its is that middle-class people enjoy all sorts of protections against misfortune. For poor people, a single thing going wrong can lead to a life-altering spiral -- they lack the social and financial resources to overcome one problem, so a flat tire become a late day at work which becomes a lost job, an overcharge fee busts a checking account, which in turn becomes a ruined credit rating.
It's worth keeping all this in mind when you consider the common conservative view, expressed most recently by Orrin Hatch, that people in the bottom half of the income distribution are getting a free ride off the rich. The underlying assumption here is that market income reflects differences in merit, and that exceptions to this rule are primarily limited to cases of political manipulation of the markets. In the real world, class is very sticky. You have to be very smart, hard-working, and/or lucky to move from the bottom to the top, and very dumb, lazy, and/or unlucky to fall out of the upper tier if you've arrived or even been born there.