Breaking Down

04.24.2013, 10:12 PM

Stephanie called this morning around 9 AM. On her way to work at a local country club kitchen, her car broke down, by the concrete plant just outside of town. It was 50 degrees and pouring rain.

I drove to meet her, jumper cables and toolkit in tow. When I pulled in, the rain fell even grayer, even harder. Stephanie was practically sitting in the hood of her car, tinkering around, pulling off hoses, checking for strange sounds.

“I keep mooning everyone!” she exclaimed, pulling up her jeans, which had lost the button but were the only clean ones she could find this morning. “Just to warn you, I’m going to start cussing here in a couple minutes. I hate cars. I seriously want to go to school for mechanics so I know how to fix them. Mine always break down on me.”

Stephanie has been through many cars in her 25 years of life. She never has enough money to get a reliable one, and her credit is shot from unpaid credit card bills and about $10,000 of defaulted student loans. So when she goes to buy a new car, she goes to a “Buy Here, Pay Here” lot, with interest rates sometimes reaching up to 30 percent.

She bought the ’96 Ford Contour that now sat, very wet and very broken down, two months ago with $1400 of her income tax return.  It’s not uncommon for her cars to break down after a couple months of owning them.  Last time it happened was when she was eight months pregnant and the single mother of a four year old. She bought a van, which broke down less than two months later. She took it back to the dealer, who made the remark, “I’m surprised it lasted you that long!” When they sold her the car, they gave no indication that the vehicle was on its last legs. And ever short on cash, she didn’t spend the money to have an outside mechanic check it out.

“Why can’t I ever catch a break?” Stephanie sighed, her black zip up sweatshirt now wet and clingy, its hood hiding most of her short bleach blonde hair.

I stood there, largely unhelpful. I’d hand her a tool when she asked for it, wipe down the battery with a white rag, retrieve a flashlight, turn the ignition to see if anything had changed. But nothing did. Not even after we tried jumping the car.

“I tried calling my Dad,” Stephanie said. “He basically told me that I’m shit out of luck. I don’t talk to my dad.” Her dad owns a gas station not too far away, but she never sees him.

I thought about my dad—who had given me the tools and the jumper cables and the flashlight, along with a million other useful things, all packed with care into a red duffel bag, a kind of home-made emergency preparedness car kit.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from my dad, which he learned from his youth in Boy Scouts, it’s to be prepared. My brother and sister and I all kind of tease him about it, but in times like these, I’m thankful for his foresight.

“I really need your dad to make me one of those kits,” Stephanie said.

We stood for about an hour in the cold rain, until we were soaked through and our fingers were going numb. Cement trucks kept pulling in and out of the parking lot, but no one stopped to help. Cars flew by on the road, no one even slowed down.

“I know I look like a dude right now, but come on people! I bet if I were wearing a short skirt and heels someone would stop,” she joked seriously.

We decided that fixing the car ourselves was a lost cause. We found shelter for a moment inside the smoky cab of the ’96 Contour and decided what to do next. I suggested getting it towed, but Stephanie was resistant to that idea. “I’ve got $100 left in my bank account, and that is supposed to be for gas to get to work, and groceries,” she said. “Oh, and I have to write an $8 check for Colton’s field trip on Friday.

“Do you want me to go pick up Seth and David?” I asked, at a loss as to what to do.

“Nah. They’ve got the kids,” Stephanie said. My husband David was home working (while our eighteen month old watched Elmo—a special diversion reserved for times like these), and Seth is Stephanie’s boyfriend who is stay-at-home dad while Stephanie is at work.

Instead of getting the guys, our plan was to roll Stephanie’s car from the side of the road into the parking lot of the cement plant, and then to find a mechanic who would look at it.

“Go ahead and pull your car into the parking lot so it’s out of the way,” Stephanie directed.

After I parked and was walking back, I saw Stephanie pushing her car…by herself. It was in neutral and she was walking beside it, the driver’s door was open, her right hand reaching inside to steer, her left arm braced the windshield and she leaned her whole body into the frame to help her push the car. I got behind it and started pushing, but when we got to a slight hill, we had to stop.

“Stephanie sat in the driver’s seat, panting. “I’m so out of breath!” she said between gasps.

After getting help from four burly cement truck driver’s we got the car up the hill and into the parking lot.  I drove Stephanie to work, better late than never, and paid for a tow truck to take the car to the mechanic my parents’ have used for the past twenty-some years. Stephanie found out a couple hours later that the car is now junk. She’ll probably get a couple hundred bucks for it.

When she told me, she had almost-tears in her eyes. Just almost. She’s strong. She’s got to be.

For those of us who have social capital, it’s easy to miss how hard life can really be when you don’t have it. Stephanie’s dad is out of the picture. Her mom and stepdad help sometimes, but are struggling financially themselves and get annoyed by Stephanie’s requests. Her sister, who is also a single mom, had her car break down this week, too. (Stephanie was supposed to be her new ride.) She stopped hanging out with most of her friends when they got too involved with drugs and the like. She’s mentioned to me before that she’s not sure who she would call if she didn’t have me when she is broken down on the side of the road.

For as much as individual willpower matters (and it does), there is so much to be said for social support, for neighborliness, for a stronger civil society.


29 Responses to “Breaking Down”

  1. Mont D. Law says:

    Thank you.

  2. Wayne Wilkinson says:

    A powerful and moving account that concretely exposes the difficulties wrought by the failures of community and the inadequacy of our safety net for the most vulnerable among us. Thank you.

  3. La Lubu says:

    Yes, thank you.

  4. Diane M says:

    What jumps out at me in this story is debt. Once you get into it, it’s very hard to ever get ahead.

    One of the advantages my generation had was that we could get through college without student loans, or at least with much smaller ones. And nobody gave us credit cards. We weren’t better people, we just couldn’t get ourselves into the same level of trouble.

    Living within your income, even a small income, is easier if you aren’t paying interest on debt.

  5. La Lubu says:

    Living within your income, even a small income, is easier if you aren’t paying interest on debt.

    True, but there’s no getting around the fact that her income (and the income of millions of other USians without a college degree) isn’t enough to cover necessities. She needs charity to supplement her wages. That is unjust. She’s keeping her end of the social contract. Her society is not—it has abandoned her.

  6. charles says:

    Excellent observations.

    Vs public policy, doesn’t this come back to the individual?

    Being earnest and not helpless and being a constant fan of others,
    giving in any which way, I think is what builds social capital.

    Charles

  7. Diane M says:

    “For those of us who have social capital, it’s easy to miss how hard life can really be when you don’t have it.”

    I get frustrated by statements like this. I think many of us can actually see this and have been up close to it. I wish we got more credit for knowing something.

    I also look at Stephanie’s story and think – yes, but when I was young and drove a clunker, what got me through was partly that I didn’t have debts or kids.

    It is nearly impossible to get out of a situation like Stephanie’s. She needs some kind of help.

    At the same time, I think keeping people from getting into her situation is part of the solution.

  8. Diane M says:

    @LaLubu – “True, but there’s no getting around the fact that her income (and the income of millions of other USians without a college degree) isn’t enough to cover necessities. She needs charity to supplement her wages.”

    When I was young I had a minimum wage job. I decided it was not enough to live on and looked for work in another field. However, it was enough to cover my necessities, given very simple living, no debts, and no kids.

  9. La Lubu says:

    Diane M., when I was young, I too had a minimum wage job. I too had no debts and no kids. I too lived very simply. Yet my minimum wage job—twenty-five years ago— was not enough to cover my needs. I needed to go without food in order to make ends meets—as in whole days with nothing but water, even though my only form of transportation was my feet. Sometimes I was without a phone because I couldn’t cover that cost. The winter heat bill got paid off sometime in July. And I lived (and still do) in an area of the nation known for its cheap housing.

    There is even more of a stark contrast between the minimum wage versus what it will cover now. Gasoline is more expensive, which drove the price of groceries up. Rent and utilites have doubled. Frugal living—even when it includes literal hunger and malnutrition—won’t get people out of that situation. Stephanie is clearly trying (as shown by the student loans), but still isn’t escaping. Even if she was childless, she’d remain on that treadmill—unless she got really lucky (like I did) and got into an apprenticeship of some sort. Gone are the days when enterprising young people could take a union job at the factory during the summers and earn enough to pay their way through school.

    “Social capital”, like having a “hometown”, is an inheritance. It’s not something a person can build through his or her own efforts in enough time to benefit from it when they most need it. It took me fifteen years of diligent effort, getting involved in all kinds of community groups before I started seeing the glimmers of social capital. It was twenty years before I could actually say I had any. And still, it’s a Sisyphean task here—this is the kind of place people leave. Can’t blame ‘em a bit. Another friend hugged me on Sunday and told me she’d miss me; her family is packing a U-Haul before the end of May. That happens all the time.

    And you know what generally goes unacknowledged? As isolating as Anglo-American culture is in regards to children…it is several orders of magnitude easier to build social capital for the child-ed than the child-less.

  10. Diane M says:

    “Yet my minimum wage job—twenty-five years ago— was not enough to cover my needs. I needed to go without food in order to make ends meets—as in whole days with nothing but water, even though my only form of transportation was my feet.”

    I did not find that to be true, although it was almost thirty years ago. I am not sure why, but I think the difference may have been that my boyfriend also had a small income and we had housemates (some of whom were on welfare or food stamps).

    My point is not that people should be able to live on minimum wage or that it’s easy. My point is that I don’t think social capital is the main issue here.

    ““Social capital”, like having a “hometown”, is an inheritance. It’s not something a person can build through his or her own efforts in enough time to benefit from it when they most need it.”

    Yes, but. As much as I am a lucky person with plenty of social capital, there was a time in my early twenties when I had very little and my parents didn’t rescue me.

    What is the social capital you think Stephanie could have had? Because I look at her and wonder, did her student loans get her a degree? Why doesn’t her father want to help her out – is he a jerk or has she been irresponsible in the past? Where is the father of her four-year-old? If her parents had stayed together, would she have enough social capital? If her father were willing to help her, could she pull out of her hole?

    When I compare my social capital to Stephanie’s I see three things:

    My education/social background helped me get jobs and possibly housemates;

    My boyfriend helped me; and

    I didn’t need as much as she will because I didn’t have kids or debts.

    It’s not that I’m against helping people. I see Stephanie as someone who won’t be able to do it alone. It’s more that I don’t see social capital as what this is all about.

  11. La Lubu says:

    Social capital can make up for financial lack in a crunch. Social capital means getting information about and help getting better jobs. It means being able to get a ride to work, school or the grocery store when one’s car breaks down. It means being able to share or trade child care in lieu of paying for care. Lack of social capital means losing jobs or having to drop out of school due to transportation or child care issues. It means being on the losing end of job applications; hearing “sorry, we’re not hiring” or “sorry, we’ve already filled that position” while a person with social capital gets the job. Social capital is the life preserver in a crisis. Not having it means needing considerably more money to “get over”, since the informal trade economy is closed to you.

    In the rust belt, social networks have collapsed; those remaining are tenuous. Being on the margins economically is almost a guarantee that one is on the margins socially; frequent relocations and loss of social structures (like work or school) are destructive to social networks. Rebuilding connections with new people is a continual (and draining) process.

    Stigma assists in this. I suspect that Seth’s family is unsupportive of his relationship with Stephanie.

  12. Diane M says:

    I think one of the issues for Stephanie is that her family is choosing not to help her.

    “Social capital can make up for financial lack in a crunch. Social capital means getting information about and help getting better jobs. It means being able to get a ride to work, school or the grocery store when one’s car breaks down. It means being able to share or trade child care in lieu of paying for care. Lack of social capital means losing jobs or having to drop out of school due to transportation or child care issues.”

    LaLubu, that all sounds logical, but I’m trying to apply it to my own life. When I was fresh out of school and unemployed, I didn’t have anyone to give me information on getting a job. I did not have anyone who gave me a ride anywhere.

    I think people probably do lose jobs over transportation and child care issues, but I don’t think that’s a social capital issue. More like money.

    Perhaps I am the wrong person to talk to about the whole car thing. I have never in my life owned a brand new car and probably never will. I have always lived where there was public transit or I could walk.

    “Stigma assists in this. I suspect that Seth’s family is unsupportive of his relationship with Stephanie.”

    I don’t think we have any reason to think that stigma is involved here. We also don’t know anything about his family or what they are doing or not doing.

  13. La Lubu says:

    I think people probably do lose jobs over transportation and child care issues, but I don’t think that’s a social capital issue. More like money.

    Even people who aren’t poor have car trouble (or scheduled repair work, or get into an accident and maybe don’t have replacement vehicle coverage while the repair work is going on) or have child care issues. Social capital is a safety net and a helping hand. Yes, it’s possible to get by without it, but…the lack of social capital isn’t just a material lack. It’s stressful. Human beings are social beings. Not having social capital is very isolating. The advantage to higher education isn’t just a degree or cultural capital—it’s social capital as well (a structured forum for developing adult friendships, collaborative teams, finding mentors, etc.).

    I don’t think we have any reason to think that stigma is involved here. We also don’t know anything about his family or what they are doing or not doing.

    On the contrary—Stephanie didn’t think to call Seth’s family, right? It’s entirely possible that she lives in a different cultural milieu that I do, but it’s a red flag to me that she wasn’t comfortable calling them for a ride or a tow. The previous post left me with the impression that Seth’s family lives in the vicinity. If they haven’t developed a relationship with Stephanie after she had their grandchild….well, that’s a clear signal (speaking from a working-class rust belt perspective). So, while it could be purely cynical speculation on my part that Seth’s parents never approved of Stephanie because she was a young single mother prior to having a child with Seth….there’s no getting around the fact she doesn’t seem to have a relationship with them.

  14. Diane M says:

    @LaLubu – I didn’t connect this story on Stephanie to the previous one. I don’t think it tells us anything more about the parents and stigma, though. We really don’t know where Seth’s parents are or why Stephanie can’t get help from them.

    Seth, I think, is the one with an issue – he doesn’t want to marry someone he met at a wild party, although, obviously he did whatever she did.

    I guess I am old because if someone told me that they didn’t have anyone who would come help them when their car broke down, I would wonder what they had done to offend everybody. Stephanie actually has people nearby who could afford to help her out a little, at least to the tune of a tow truck. I would, of course, still help her get to work, but I would guess that her friends and relatives were mad at her for a reason.

    “The advantage to higher education isn’t just a degree or cultural capital—it’s social capital as well (a structured forum for developing adult friendships, collaborative teams, finding mentors, etc.).”

    I think this is where my experience doesn’t fit. I graduated from college and then had to find work without using any social networks I got from college. Unless the boyfriend I met in college counts as my social capital?

    Anyhow, to get back to Stephanie – I really do think that what would have helped her was staying out of debt and not having kids without a committed partner. I think we need to look at the morality of lending money in this country.

  15. mythago says:

    Diane M: In other words, you did have social capital. In fact, you note that it was that social capital (boyfriend and housemates with subsidies) that made “the difference” between your situation, where you got by, and La Lubu’s, where she didn’t.

  16. Diane M says:

    @Mythago – perhaps, but that is not what I thought social capital was.

    “Diane M: In other words, you did have social capital. In fact, you note that it was that social capital (boyfriend and housemates with subsidies) that made “the difference” between your situation, where you got by, and La Lubu’s, where she didn’t.”

    I thought social capital was about education and family. If social capital is a matter of having a boyfriend, a housemate, or friends, it was not something I inherited. It was very much something I created.

    I think it might be helpful if someone in the field weighed in on what it means to have social capital.

  17. Anna Cook says:

    In sociology, social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups.

    Diane, I believe you’re articulating something closer to social privilege, which I think could be seen as a component part of social capital.

  18. mythago says:

    I thought social capital was about education and family.

    Please re-read the last two paragraphs of Amber’s post, where she talks about not only Stephanie’s family, but her child’s father, her friends and “civil society”, which extends much further than simply family and education.

    Of course social capital is not Stephanie’s only problem. If she were independently wealthy she could pay for a tow truck, a nanny or a mechanic. But she isn’t. By the way, I think it’s a little odd to look at your boyfriend as “social capital” that you created; Stephanie apparently tried to do the same thing as you, creating “social capital” through romantic attachments, only hers did not end as well as yours.

  19. Amber Lapp says:

    Thank you all for the comments and the shared stories.

    Anna Cook, I like the definition you provided. That was the understanding I was working with when I wrote this blog. I do see it as broader than family and education, although those are aspects.

    And yes, money matters. But a little money goes farther when you have social capital than when you don’t.

    Also, La Lubu, your suspicion that Seth’s family disapproves of Stephanie is dead on. Both of Seth’s parents are college educated. They live in a middle class neighborhood ten minutes up the road. Seth’s mom has told her before that she wishes Stephanie had gotten an abortion.

  20. La Lubu says:

    I guess I am old because if someone told me that they didn’t have anyone who would come help them when their car broke down, I would wonder what they had done to offend everybody.

    I wouldn’t say you’re old (*snicker*), just unfamiliar with working class life in the rust belt. Out here, the first question is: who is “everybody”? Because setting aside that in Stephanie’s case she didn’t keep up with high school friends because of their drug use/associated life, “everybody” in the rust belt is…mobile. My daughter is in middle school now, but the grade school she attended had a 60-65% attrition rate; over half the student body changed during the course of the nine-month school year. My daughter was the only student to attend all her grade school years at that school during the time that she went.

    More things to remember about the rust belt: the jobs aren’t centralized; they’re scattered. Our grandparents worked in factories, so could easily find a ride (if necessary; some factories were in neighborhoods) what with the several hundred other people going in that direction; today’s retail clerks or food service workers have a skeleton crew of other people to work with, and it’s rare any of them live in the same direction. Or even the same city—small town people have to travel to “the city” for work, because small town economies have vanished. Urban sprawl is real, too. Economic segregation (as well as racial segregation) is obvious, and the amenities (like grocery stores) followed the money—-relocating to the highway interchanges (to take advantage of nearby suburbs and commuters), which makes it harder (and more expensive) for the working class people in the older sections of the city to run errands (see: food deserts). Bus service runs from sketchy to nonexistent in the rust belt.

    If Amber hadn’t said what she did about Stephanie’s friends, my assumption would have been that they all left. After I graduated from community college, I left. Most of the people I knew immediately moved out of town after high school—some to the military, some to other cities, but the choice was clear. There was nothing to stay for.

    Illinois relies heavily on social capital. We wanna know “who sent ya”. Terms like “connections” and “clout” are ubiquitous here. It’s all about the social capital, and always has been. I don’t know if every place is like that, but here? Social capital trumps hard work every single time. My father told me when I was still attending community college that he was sorry he couldn’t “do anything” for me—as in, get me a job. That was a huge contrast between his time and mine; by the time I came of age, jobs for everyone were scarce, and since he wasn’t born and raised in the area we lived, his influence was small. Where his influence (and our family name) meant something, there was no opportunity.

    I tried to build social capital when I was young, just like you did, Diane M. It just didn’t work out for me because everyone kept leaving, even in the community I moved to; what looked like greener grass to me (in comparison to the hellhole I moved from) looked like dead grass to the people who grew up here. Eventually, because of my union status, I was able to build a community through that—-though most of my union buddies live nowhere close. But what really made the difference was having a child. People are suspicious of working class women over thirty who don’t have children (it started younger than thirty mind you, just…by the time you reach thirty and don’t have a kid they’ve given up on you). That thing you said about assuming she must have ticked everybody off? Well, that’s what folks around here assume about people that don’t have children (unless you have an infertility story)—that there must be something Seriously Wrong With You, and/or that you are a hostile person and don’t like kids. It was a barrier to me in building social capital that I didn’t have children, and I never realized how much of a barrier until after I had my daughter. I gained more social capital within the first year of having her than I had in the previous fourteen years of living in my community (twelve of which I spent being active in my union, and seven—meaning after my divorce—I was active in several other community groups as well). I stepped back in a major way from everything except my union involvement after she was born, but the social capital still poured in. I was seen differently after that, and that made a huge difference. Other people felt I “belonged” after I became a mother; the barriers dropped.

  21. La Lubu says:

    Also, La Lubu, your suspicion that Seth’s family disapproves of Stephanie is dead on.

    Ask me how I knew that. *smile*

  22. Diane M says:

    Well, I’ve been operating with the wrong definition of social capital. My only comfort is that sociologists don’t agree on exactly how to define social capital. :-)
    Wikipedia, article on social capital

    If you look at social capital as being part of a set of social networks that will help you, then I think I know what it is to not have social capital. As a young woman, I went off away from my social networks and had to find work and survive.

    However, if you look at social capital as something that exists in the community – trust, cooperation, and values about how you should behave – then when I moved, there was some social capital in the new place that I could benefit from.

    In the first way of looking at social capital, individuals have a role to play in creating their own social capital. You build relationships and behave in a trustworthy way so that people will be part of your network.

    In the second way of looking at social capital, the community creates its capital, although an individual may play some role in how much social capital they can get.

    I like both ways of looking at it, actually.

    Amber Lapp, I am wondering if this is the best example of social capital. I have always had great luck with strangers or neighbors helping me when my battery died or I had a flat tire. However, my family and extended family don’t live near enough to help and I don’t know anyone else who got a toolkit from their parents (you have great parents! I may remember this for when my kids grow up). I would not call a friend or expect a friend to call me if my car died. I might have when I had less money, but of course, then they didn’t have cars! And if the car needed to be towed, I would not have expected anyone, including my parents, to pay for it.

    (I promise to read your new post in a minute.)

    To get back to Stephanie – in her life in general, clearly one of her problems is lack of social capital in the sense of a set of social networks and norms that she can rely on.

    If Stephanie had more help, she might have a decent car to start with. Her father is not part of her life, although it sounds like he has a decent income. The father of her first child is not part of her life or his child’s life. The father of her second child is not willing to marry her and is not earning money. Her in-laws don’t see her as part of their family (and I guess they don’t care about their grandchild either).

    I think money is also a big part of her problem, of course.

    @Mythago – You don’t have to be independently wealthy to afford a tow truck or a mechanic.

    Anyhow, if social capital is about being part of a network of people who will help you, then it includes boyfriends/girlfriends and husbands/wives. Strong family networks give a community and the people in it more social capital.

  23. Diane M says:

    This is a little tangential, but I am frustrated here by the definition of middle class as having completed high school or some college.

    Income-wise, Stephanie is not middle class. Her father is and perhaps her mother and step-father are. Stephanie has fallen out of the middle class. She can’t afford enough to feed her family and she has to buy cars from moral scum.

    So is the point of the report on changes in middle-class families that a large number of people who are middle-class in terms of education have fallen out of the middle class in terms of income?

  24. La Lubu says:

    Diane M., I share your frustration with the use of the term “middle class”; to me, an adult person in the US cannot (accurately) be described as middle class unless that person has a four-year degree, full stop. Even then a person may not have a middle-class income (see: younger schoolteachers; social-service/501c3 workers), but they at least have the possibility of advancement or changing to a more lucrative job, and aren’t as reliant on their body to earn a living. What people forget about blue-collar workers with middle-class incomes is (a) how much our work relies on our body, leaving us very vulnerable to (inevitable) illness, injury and aging; (b) about that aging—we get thrown on the economic scrap-heap earlier; and (c) how vulnerable our jobs are to the economic ebb-and-flow. “Boom or bust” is how it’s described in the trades, but there hasn’t been any “boom” in my geographic region since Bill Clinton left office. More “bust” than “boom” arguably has a cumulative effect on communities even more so than individuals.

    No discussion of what is “trustworthy” is complete without a corresponding discussion of racism, classism and sexism. To be blunt, not everyone who behaves in a “trustworthy” manner is going to be seen as trustworthy—like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. With that said, yes….community trust has gone down in the rust belt, as it tends to do in struggling communities where people have (objectively) less control over the major areas impacting their lives. Fear, anger and distrust are coping mechanisms, and they are handed down like family heirlooms. This backdrop is a part of the formative experience of children.

    It floors me when you say you’ve never had a problem with strangers offering help. That is sooooo different from my experience.

  25. Diane M says:

    @LaLubu – “I share your frustration with the use of the term “middle class”; to me, an adult person in the US cannot (accurately) be described as middle class unless that person has a four-year degree”

    I don’t think that definition would work for me either. Apparently only about a third of people have a four-year degree. I can’t see middle class as referring to the top third.

    I think it’s hard to define class because it can be about education or about income or about job or about family.

    What especially concerns me here is that we are talking about changes in behavior for the group of Americans with enough education to get a job. If this group has had a change in income (and we know it has), then that could be part of the change in behavior. Is the change in behavior mostly a sign that the income has changed for this group? Is it that the non-middle class has grown? Or is it better to talk about changes in the middle class not having money?

  26. Diane M says:

    “It floors me when you say you’ve never had a problem with strangers offering help. That is sooooo different from my experience.”

    Well, I have sometimes had to ask someone if they would help me charge my car (I had the cables). I’ve also had men notice that my car wasn’t starting and offer help; that’s how I learned about jumper cables.

    The last time I had a flat tire a guy changed it for me. I did not expect it or request it. The time before that, a woman stopped and tried to help, then flagged down a guy who actually changed the tire for me. I do try to change tires on my own, but I don’t think I’ve ever finished changing one.

    Honestly, I am not sure why this is so. I was not wearing a mini skirt and high heels! My usual is jeans. I am not young and thin.

    Perhaps I look helpless?

    Perhaps it is different if you are on a bigger road or it is rush hour?

    I have also wondered sometimes if white people are less likely to stop and help you.

  27. La Lubu says:

    Changes in jobs aren’t just about changes in raw income, large as that component is (translation: downwardly-mobile; lack of college degree translating into de-facto lack of access to the type of employment that is “middle-class income”—pays the bills, comes with benefits, allows for savings, with still enough left over for pleasure). It’s also about lack of job stability, even at the level of weekly scheduling (a recent Labor Notes article stated that 70% of service industry workers had no idea what their next week’s work hours would be; “just-in-time” scheduling software exacerbates the problem, and makes reliable cars even more necessary for low-wage workers. Waiting for the once-an-hour bus to come by could mean losing out to another worker whose arrival time is faster. “Just-in-time” software also automatically reduces hours for workers who are late or absent).

    Fewer unions means less worker voice on the job, and less power to change conditions. Unions have been the only vehicle to protect wages or working conditions for non-college-educated workers. Unions are also an important social structure for non-college-educated workers, and an important source of volunteer and charitable work in communities.

  28. mythago says:

    @Mythago – You don’t have to be independently wealthy to afford a tow truck or a mechanic.

    Fortunately, I never said you did. I noted that Amber doesn’t have the money to make up for the gap in her social capital. If I have enough money to hire a tow truck, it’s less important whether I have friends who will come tow my car.

  29. Diane M says:

    @Mythago – I think your comment that Stephanie would be fine if she were independently wealthy suggests that you need to be that rich.

    I think Amber did make up for the gap by paying for a tow truck, no?

    Anyhow, I think most people don’t have friends who can two their cars.

    I agree, if you can pay for a tow truck yourself, you don’t need a friend or family member who can do it for you.