WASHINGTON -- Linda Tirado, author of a viral blog post on the nature of poverty late last year, will be a guest at a White House event on Wednesday focused on inequality and the minimum wage, according to a source with knowledge of the event who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Tirado's essay, titled "Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts," tries to explain why the decisions poor people make, while appearing irrational or self-destructive from the outside, often make sense in the moment. Initially posted as a comment on Gawker, the essay was subsequently featured on The Huffington Post and seen by millions.
Tirado launched a GoFundMe page to solicit money to turn the essay into a book. She ended the fundraiser after more than $60,000 came through, and has since made good on her promise, inking a deal for a book to be called Hand To Mouth.
But Tirado's essay and subsequent success led to a backlash from critics, who declared it a hoax. Tirado defended one key claim -- that her situation had led to a mouthful of missing teeth -- by taking to YouTube and pulling out some of her fake teeth. The Nation magazine published records of her public assistance to prove other elements of it.
Defenders of Tirado at Gawker, a tight-knit commenter community, noted that as recently as this past fall, a small group came together to help prevent her electricity from being cut off, indicating that she was far from wealthy when she penned her piece.
The White House invitation, along with the book deal -- both of which come with significant vetting -- are a rebuke to the conservative critics who questioned the veracity of her story, and also to news outlets such as CNN and The New York Times, both of which included her story in annual roundups of sloppy reporting and Internet hoaxes -- without themselves doing any reporting on her story.
Not that any amount of vetting could ever please critics in a country with longstanding suspicion of the poor. What some who've called Tirado's story a "hoax" really meant was that she doesn't deserve sympathy because of her own mistakes, even though her piece was an admission of bad decisions in the first place, and in the second specifically not a request for sympathy, but instead for an understanding of why some people make the decisions they do.
Approaching the Rose Garden event on Wednesday, Tirado recounted some of her family's struggles to The Huffington Post as an argument for measures to combat inequality, such as raising the minimum wage.
"It took him two years to get to $7.75," she said of her husband. "We get our raises in nickels and dimes. $7.35" -- a dime over the minimum wage -- "is very common."
Tirado said that boosting the wage to $10.10 would mean a dramatic change in people's lives.
"It's life-changing. It means knowing your electric bill is going to be paid if you're working a full-time job. Nobody should be working a full-time job and be poor," she said, adding that the difference between the current minimum wage and the proposed one is "an entire rent payment. We paid four or five hundred dollars in rent sometimes."
Bumping the minimum wage to $10.10 would mean another $456 every four weeks for someone working at the minimum wage rate.
"You might be able to keep healthy food, maybe you can afford a gym," she said. "Maybe all those things people say you should do for your health, we might actually be able to do. It might mean a bunch of us could actually live longer."
At HuffPost, Tirado's story inspired an ongoing series of dispatches by and about the working poor. To be part of the project, tell your own story of what it takes to get by by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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