Serving in Florida and the Logic of Stupid Poor People: Reality of Being Poor

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Tressie Cottom’s “The Logic of Stupid Poor People” and Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Serving in Florida” both explore the observations and experiences of living in poverty. As Ehrenreich highlights the struggles of surviving with minimum wage jobs, Cottom explains the logic and decisions of a community from a different perspective. Although both authors appeal to emotional stances, using anecdotes to convey their message, they differ in tone.

In “Serving in Florida, Ehrenreich establishes the appeal of emotion by including many anecdotes of the people she works with. For instance, she includes one about Gail and her situation on her health insurance:

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“Gail, for example, was doing fine, healthwise anyway, until she ran out of money for estrogen pills. She is supposed to be on the company health plan by now, but they claim to have lost her application form and to be beginning the paperwork all over again. So she spends $9 a pop for pills to control the migraines she wouldn’t have, she insists, if her estrogen supplements were covered” (Ehrenreich 928).

Including these anecdotes of her co-workers makes the reading more personal and gives personalities to these minimum wage workers, allowing the reader to feel like they know the people. The backstories of her co-workers also effectively supports her claim of how the working-class Americans struggle to sustain a healthy and happy lifestyle from living off of just minimum wage jobs.

Cottom also includes anecdotes in her article to appeal to the reader’s emotions. She mentions how an “elderly woman had been denied benefits to care for the granddaughter she was raising” (Cottom 1012). However, the woman received the benefits after Cottom’s mother helped her. Cottom includes this anecdote about the elderly woman to make the reader feel for the woman for what she could not be given. This also reveals how someone who looks “worthy of engaging” (Cottom 1012) can receive the service she needs from the “gatekeepers” (Cottom 1012). She also talks about how people are treated differently. She states, “There is empirical evidence that women and people of color are judged by appearances differently and more harshly than are white men” (Cottom 1014). This provokes emotion to remind the reader of the harsh judgment people receive just because of their appearance. It also explains why people buy “ridiculous status symbols” (Cottom 1015) just so they can fit in and not be treated harshly. This and the anecdotes are successful in appealing to the reader because it relates to people on an emotional level since no one would want to be treated badly.

Although both writings are similar, they differ in tone. Throughout Cottom’s article, she presents a matter-of-fact and direct tone. At the end of her article, she states, “You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor” (Cottom 1015). She calls the reader out on this hoping to make them feel a sense of guilt in order for them to understand and widen their worldview. This exposes the audience to the harsh reality of the poor people’s logic. In contrast, Ehrenrich’s presents her argument in a sardonic but casual tone, which is developed through her humor and attention to detail.

Overall, both authors use the same strategy to appeal to the audience to achieve their purpose of informing the reader of the reality of being poor and what it is like living off of just minimum wage. In order for them to convey their message, they use anecdotes to provoke emotion and relate to the audience on an emotional level. Although they use similar strategies, they present their argument in a different way through tone, which also aids in strengthening and effectively delivering their claim. 

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