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The Independent Critic

 "Getting Me Cheap" an Informative, Engaging Experience 

It seemed appropriate that as I found myself arriving in the closing pages of Amanda Freeman and Lisa Dodson's enlightening "Getting Me Cheap: How Low Wage Work Traps Women and Girls in Poverty" that a tear would fall as I read one final story that drives home the absolute necessity of a book such as this one.

I approached "Getting Me Cheap" from multiple perspectives.

First, of course, as a reviewer approached by the publisher who had become aware of my reading patterns and correctly assumed that such a book would resonate me.

However, far beyond this most obvious reason I also possess both personal and professional reasons for my interest in this informative and engaging work.

As a paraplegic/double amputee with spina bifida, I grew up in a home where we always struggled financially largely because, quite honestly, of me. My parents were married less than a year I arrived and I'd dare say that at least some of their hopes and dreams got set aside because they now had a child with significant disabilities and little chance of survival.

My father was a lifelong carpenter. He most certainly provided. We had the necessities or at least it seemed to me that we did. We lived in a rough area, but we got by. My mother was the one who set her own aspirations aside because I was a child with a lot of medical appointments and a lot of support needs. If I had any doubt that she would have likely been the breadwinner, that was resolved when she was finally able to enter the workforce in my teens and did, in fact, become the breadwinner for a while.

I sometimes laugh, and cringe, when I share that it was only a couple years after I moved out (much to everyone's surprise) at age 17 that they finally gained enough financial stability to move into a better neighborhood.

When I moved out, I lived on a tiny SSI check of just over $400 monthly. After I failed at my first job, largely because no one expected me to survive so I had poor daily living skills, I was rushed onto disability and lived this way for several years. I survived, barely, managing to find subsidized housing but never qualifying for Medicaid or food related supports.

It wasn't until I did a fundraising event during which I traveled by wheelchair around the state of Indiana that I said to myself "I have more potential."

I tried. I failed. I tried. I failed. I tried. I failed. I failed a lot. I eventually found a small private college that focused on primarily Black adult learners and they embraced me.

I graduated. Summa Cum Laude. Who even knew I was smart?

Slowly, I built a life. I managed to learn the system and managed to become really good at navigating it. The day after graduation, I was employed in a hospital where I worked for 9 years. I've been in my current position with a government agency for nearly 16 years.

Somehow, with lots of failures along the way, I created a better life than I ever imagined and, yes, I'm still alive into my 50s. Now, I do what I can in my position to help others with disabilities move out of facility settings and into the community. It's not perfect, a point brought to life again and again in "Getting Me Cheap," but after 30+ years of activism and having intentionally chosen to work in the system that often wasn't there when I needed it I'm acutely aware that in order to really change lives the system has to fundamentally change.

The brilliance of "Getting Me Cheap" is that it's both magnificently researched and emotionally resonant. Freeman and Dodson, both sociologists, spent over a decade conducting in-depth field work and hundreds of eye-opening interviews to explore how America traps millions of women and their children into lives of stunted opportunity and poverty for the convenience of the affluent.

As I kept reading page after page of "Getting Me Cheap," I was struck time and again by the insight, intelligence, wisdom, and compassion of so many of these women whose lives had presented circumstances trapping them into lives far outside their amazing potential. As nearly anyone who has ever been in the system will tell you, myself included, once you're in it it's nearly impossible to escape. I mean, I remember making so many mistakes early on when I was trying to transition from disability to the competitive workforce that to this day I'm paying back a Social Security overpayment. It's just so disheartening.

I found myself not only aching for these women and children, however, but also examining my own life personally and professionally. What am I doing that helps? What am I doing that hurts?

I was convicted of my own behavior in more ways than one and throughout "Getting Me Cheap" I found myself contemplating how I could make sure my own actions contribute to a solution rather than perpetuating the problem.

But again, it still comes down to the system's need for revolutionary transformation.

I also reflected upon my own experiences struggling to get my needs met. It's well known, for example, that people with disabilities have some of the highest rates of abuse and sexual assault (men included). When you create an exploitative system, people get exploited. I often joke, though it's not a joke, that I've been sexually assaulted more than I've been loved. During those transitional years when I was moving from disability to "work," I was especially vulnerable and to naive to protect myself effectively. So, this exploitation becomes cyclical and it ripples.

A book like "Getting Me Cheap" should, in fact, make you think beyond the stories being told. It should also make you think about your own life, circumstances, and experiences. I thought of the home health aides I've had who've brought their kids with them. I thought of some of the remarkable home health aides I've had who were likely doing remarkable work for very little pay and likely no benefits. I convicted myself for always seeking out the lowest amount I could pay rather than trying to balance my fiscal limits with being fair to those providing support.

I thought. I thought a lot.

Freeman and Dodson have crafted a thoroughly researched discussion with story after story to illustrate the issues from a variety of angles. They provide both policy solutions and a clear moral vision for organizing women across class lines. "Getting Me Cheap" isn't falsely optimistic - there's little denying that this reality is harrowing and there's no compromising that truth. However, I also felt a sense of hope because of the relentless determination and persistence of these women and their fierce dedication to their families, themselves, and toward a better future. There's something resembling hope here, though it's a hard-fought hope that will require commitment, hard work, and a kind of unity that seems rather distant these days.

For those dedicated to social justice, "Getting Me Cheap" is a must read. However, it truly goes even further than that. "Getting Me Cheap" is a necessary read for women who've felt alone in the struggle, for those (myself included) who work in the system and are genuinely trying, for those who carry shame over struggling to survive and can't even fathom thriving, and I'd dare say for anyone who calls themselves a community leader or politician.

While a research heavy book may sound intimidating, Freeman and Dodson do a stellar job of creating an expertly written book that is accessible, relatable, and nearly impossible to put down once you start reading.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic