The pattern is to curtail financing for services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement: starve school and public transportation budgets, then make truancy illegal. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Be sure to harass street vendors when there are few other opportunities for employment. The experience of the poor, and especially poor minorities, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.Despite much public rhetoric to the contrary, class is a large and often determining factor in many aspects of American life. Not only are the poor politically powerless, but they are vilified as being lazy, shiftless and stupid. Though frequently the subject of anecdotes that conclude they are scamming the system, most people on the bottom of the economic ladder are desperate to free themselves from their circumstances. When, as a child, I was sent to the corner store with food stamps I felt humiliated by the experience, keeping the paper coupons hidden in my pocket and only approaching the counter when I thought the fewest people would see me.
There's a famous quotation from French Nobel Prize winner Anatole France:
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.The statement is, of course, ironic, but amazingly the Ehrenreich story points out that an American local public official, recently and without irony, said, “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance.”