I was at an event in a local restaurant, notebook in hand, doing my job as a reporter on a midsized daily newspaper. The event was being held by the local anti-poverty agency, which runs a program employing income-eligible senior citizens to work at local nonprofit organizations. The same agency runs the Foster Grandparents Program, which send seniors into schools and day care centers to read to, mentor and befriend kids.
The event is a breakfast. They throw the old people some ham and eggs. State representatives rise from the dais to praise the old people's efforts. Best of all, there are raffles at the end of the morning, after the breakfast and the speeches. You get the red raffle tickets at the door. The tickets are free, and you could win a basket of brightly colored bars of soap, or even a CD player. It's a hell of a deal if you're 75 and you get maybe $900 a month in Social Security.
Of course, you could be one of the lucky old people who gets a pension, too. It's mostly women at the breakfast, because the men are dead.
Forty or 50 years ago, there was a lot of garment manufacturing where I live. If you worked in a union shop, you earned a pension.
Twenty years ago, I interviewed an official in the now defunct International Ladies Garment Workers Union. He told me the average pension for one of his retired members was $110 a month.
The two programs for the old people limit you to 20 hours of work a week, and the pay is a $2.60 an hour stipend, which means you don't have to pay taxes on it, which is a damn good thing.
I knew an old woman who worked for the program, answering the phone at the local public library. If you asked, she'd also help you find the bathroom, or the children's room, or the romance section. The library was downtown, and had a public bathroom, so all the bums used to come in to use the toilet or take an improvised bath.
"That's Jimmy," she'd say to me, pointing out some swaying, dirt-caked bum on the street. "He's OK. He talks to me all the time.
"You can't understand anything he says," she told me. "He's nice, though."
One of the things about being working class is that, although you see the rich very seldom, you often see the very poor. They're there to remind you of what you'll become if you stop working, or go crazy, or drink too much, or use drugs.
If you're working for $11 an hour, the bum on the street is a billboard that says, "Shut up and stay lucky and healthy, or this is what you get."
And, of course, we hate the bum on the street, who forever seems to be chasing us, trying to get a hold of the edge of our skirt or the cuff of our pants, trying to pull us back from the haven of $11 an hour. It would make more sense if we hated the rich people, but they're too strong to beat, so we find an enemy who can't write us up, or fire us, or make us poor.
The politicians who spoke talked about possible cuts in the federal budget that would take away the 20 hours a week, and the $2.60 an hour, and the raffle tickets.
And it only makes sense to shut down this program because why the hell would anyone want to give $2.60 an hour to a room full of people who are almost bums?
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, "The Land of Trumpin'" is a collection of his collection of his columns written during the most recent election. It is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and is also available as an e-book on Kindle, Nook, iBooks and GooglePlay.