Hand to Mouth: an Analysis of Poverty Social Inequality

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In Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, Tirado undergoes poverty on multiple counts and elaborates on her experiences from living in poverty. Throughout the book, Tirado speaks from a first-person perspective and thoroughly explains how living in poverty negatively impacts her personal and professional life. For example, she illustrates in great detail what it’s like to raise kids, work several jobs, put food on the table, and pay for a roof over her head while struggling in poverty. Within her work, she is able to pinpoint a central theme that shows how her struggles in poverty all result from a lack of sufficient income.

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Living in poverty generally indicates that the income one makes is not satisfactory enough to make a comfortable living. Lower paying jobs on average are much more physically demanding and can even have negative impacts on one’s own happiness and emotional state. This tends to be a direct consequence for individuals working jobs that barely pay minimum wage or less. Many of these jobs require employees to be on their feet for multiple hours with one break throughout the shift. Living in poverty severely reduces one’s chances of reaching a higher standard of employment with a higher hourly wage because social mobility is very limited when you are impoverished. Tirado gives numerous examples of this very same effect in her professional life as she faces several endeavors from just trying to make ends meet. For example, she discusses one of her jobs in which she worked as a cook in a kitchen and had much to say about the horrific state of her occupation. My arms and hands are covered in scars from the fryers. Oil at nearly 400 degrees doesn’t tickle when it hits your skin, and you can’t avoid the spatter entirely. I’ve burned my hands because the oven gloves had worn through and the owners were too cheap to spring for another pair. I’ve sliced my fingers open nearly to the bone when knives have slipped. I’ve hurt myself in more ways than I can count because that was how I got my seven or eight bucks an hour (Tirado 2014: pg. 19). This excerpt provided allows readers of Tirado’s work to gain a much more in-depth perspective of how many jobs that are associated with impoverished individuals tend to be much more physically demanding and hands-on required than jobs such as an executive of a major corporation. Jobs such as these can potentially have very harsh repercussions that result in physical discomfort and even pain in some circumstances and can lead to emotional trauma due to the conditions and immediate effects from working in such a place. In addition to many adults who suffer from physical and emotional consequences due to working jobs that are incredibly demanding, many children who are in poverty face similar issues related to this concept. Children in poverty may not have the ability or capacity to work an official job, but the issue that children face resides around the fact that they are much more susceptible to emotional, psychological, and even physical damage because they themselves are trapped in poverty along with their parents. The environment that is associated with poverty, along with major exposure to stress acting as a primary factor for children helps to better understand why children are extremely prone to physical and psychological consequences developing over time as a direct result of living in poverty (Pilyoung et al 2013). It is clear to perceive that individuals and families who suffer from staying locked in poverty will face numerous challenges regarding their physical, emotional, and psychological health that are directly correlated with the jobs they work, the way in which they live, the amount of disposable income they can allocate toward attaining vital resources, and even their likelihood of obtaining some form of government aid if applicable. On top of this, poverty in America can be measured in terms of socioeconomic status, income thresholds, family size, age, gender, and other related factors. In this case, differences in standard and non- standardized employment in the United States has some degree of influence corresponding to negative physical and emotional effects. Many of the jobs that involve increased physical action and procedure in order to effectively complete said occupation are more often than not labeled as bad jobs (Kalleberg et al 2000). In addition to this finding, employees of various occupations in the United States that are able to procure benefits that are directly affiliated with these positions, often receive higher pay than jobs that do not come with benefits such as forms of health insurance and perks related to retirement and pension payments (Kalleberg et al 2000). It is through these aspects that make it more understandable as to why we see such a discrepancy between standard and non standard-employment. Also, this distinction allows us to understand who is more involved in non-standard employment and why there are more impoverished individuals suffering from working bad jobs and are gaining no immediate benefits from working such occupations. Lastly, there is one final element that corresponds to people who suffer from consequences that are in twine with working lower wage jobs. This condition is based on the amount of education an individual has. Those who have lower rates of education are more primarily associated with blue-collar employment that is more often part-time, and follows a trend in which the probability of receiving benefits, such as health insurance from their employers is very low (Lee et al 2005). Education in the United States is a large predictor of various factors like socioeconomic status, class position, future opportunities, and many more. Unfortunately, poverty and a lower percentage of educational attainment are negatively correlated and thus, those in poverty have a much lower chance of finding higher quality jobs that offer assorted assistance perks such as retirement prosperity. Furthermore, entrapment in poverty makes it even more difficult for one to gain access to greater forms of education in order to pursue higher quality employment. From Tirado’s experiences and other collected data, it is clearly visible that poverty primarily identifies most with jobs that are considered bad due to their lack of benefits, low pay grade and increased physically demanding requirements. Education, socioeconomic status, class status, and other factors that play a role must be assessed in order to understand this connection. Future policy changes surrounding these components will hopefully change the statistic and help impoverished individuals increase their chances of fighting and even escaping poverty.

Throughout Tirado’s work, she thoroughly analyzes how being in poverty can severely reduce one’s chances of gaining steady and affordable health care, benefits from government aid programs, and even goes into depth on explaining how impoverished groups of people are consistently stereotyped. She is able to represent these findings through many different examples within her work and apply it to a larger scale. For example, she uses dentistry as a primary example of a characteristic that is paired with poverty. Dentistry is one of the things we are most lacking in. And it’s one of the most glaring marks of poverty. I watch the tooth-bleaching ads and cringe, because I know exactly what I’m being pegged as. Incapable. Uneducated. Oblivious. What I should be pegged as: uninsured, and until recently, uninsurable (Tirado 2014: pg. 38). This illustration is both a form of stereotyping and a result of a lack of affordable health care. Impoverished folks are more likely to have little access to proper health care that is affordable and sufficient to them. In terms of stereotyping, this applies because Tirado implies that dentistry and poor dental hygiene are glaring marks of poverty that can be seen across groups of people who are living in poverty. Stereotypes that these people endure are often that they are incapable of aspiring to greater heights, they are uneducated, and that they are incredibly oblivious. This has much to do with their standing in society. It is unfortunate because there are plenty of people within the population of poverty who in fact are educated and who are attempting to make a life for themselves, but simply cannot because of financial disadvantages and social inequality. Tirado brings some much needed attention to the stereotype on how rich people, more often than they should, criticize and look down on impoverished folks due to the fact that they are unable to acquire preventive health care, essential vitamins, and other forms of necessary remedies, through honest means because it’s unaffordable for them (Tirado 2014). These stereotypes continue to survive because they are not directly challenged by society and are false representations targeting a group of people on the basis of oversimplification. In terms of the connection between poverty with health care access and the impact of government aid programs, rates of this connection vary across the globe. In order to properly assess this concept, the differences between developing nations and wealthier nations must be considered. First off, there is reasonable evidence to support the claim that many publicly financed forms of health care systems in various developing nations have failed to reach out to the groups of people who need it the most, which tends to be the poor (Wagstaff 2002). This critical issue should be studied and thoroughly evaluated by the governments of these nations and by their individual aid agencies in order to understand why this problem is persisting. On the contrary, wealthier and more developed nations face a different issue regarding health care and aid programs. The issue nations like the United States face revolve around the fact that the health care systems and the promotion of the services are reflected unequally at the household and individual level based on factors such as education, income rates, location of the homes, community life, and even specific aspects regarding household life (Wagstaff 2002). This idea suggests that policies should either be edited or changed all together in order to promote action that could be taken to reduce inequality on a smaller scale before tackling poverty as a whole. In addition, health care services and aid programs in the United States could potentially work to get more information from the poor on their access to the services and how available it is to the specific communities. Furthermore, many of these services that face the same problem would stand a better chance of helping poor communities by learning more about the issue together and allocating collective resources to more effectively reach out to those in need. Currently, there is a gap between the impoverished populations in the United States and the health care and aid systems that are explicitly designed to aid these groups of people. This divide is particularly prominent in rural America. In many communities across rural parts of America, the problem lies between access to the health care services and the status of these people’s health overall and consequently, many of these individuals rated their health as decent or poor in comparison to that of urban residents in other parts of America (Patrick et al 1988). It appears that an initiative is clearly lacking in regards to this situation and further measures in relation to distribution methods of health care services must be improved in order to fix this issue affecting rural communities in the United States. (Patrick et al 1988). The major issues surrounding impoverished communities from not being able to receive benefits from health care and aid programs stems from a number of complications such as poor distribution methods of services, lack of information on poorer communities, and individual level aspects like income and education. Policies that work to counter these troubles must be reevaluated and structured in a way that will ensure new action will be taken to help these communities bounce back from their struggles that other parts of the nation have never experienced.

The obstacle relating to a lack of satisfactory income that hurts many individuals, families, and communities is something that Tirado had accurately investigated on multiple levels. She implemented various methods, strategies, examples, and stories that contributed to her analyzation of what living in bootstrap America really looks like and how it can certainly take a toll on all involved. In correspondence to the research I had found, Tirado’s work was very in tune with much of the research, and both offered similar and contrasting ideas that allowed me to understand poverty and inequality in a whole new perspective. Her work was very centered on highlighting the experiences of poverty from an angle that focuses more on the individual and their resulting involvement in poverty, while some of my research targeted poverty on a broader scale and looked at the societal elements that are correlated with poverty. In addition, Tirado was able to effectively compare poverty within her book through the use of data and other methods. She addressed factors such as current income inequality rates in the United States, health care and government aid services impacts, and social implications and adverse effects of poverty that are still highly present today. Her book gives people who know little to nothing about the effects of poverty on families, communities, and individuals a first-hand story of what so many everyday people go through without many privileges and benefits that many others enjoy and take for granted. I think everyone should read this book because it will bring you an entirely new perspective on the social implications of poverty and why communities suffering in this state need to be helped in order to give all the chance at a better life.


Tirado, Linda. 2014. Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America. New York City, New York; G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Pilyoung, Kim, Gary W. Evans, Michael Angstadt, S. Shaun Ho, Chandra S. Sripada, James E. Swain, Israel Liberzon, and K Luan Phan. 2013. Effects of childhood poverty and chronic stress on emotion regulatory brain function in adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Yoon Lee, Teng, Hsun-Mei, Lim Sin-How, Gallo, William T Hallym. 2005. Older Workers: Who are the working poor in the US?. International Journal of Aging.

Arne L. Kalleberg, Reskin, Barbara F., Hudson, Ken. 2000. Bad Jobs in America: Standard and Nonstandard Employment Relations and Job Quality in the United States. Washington, D.C. American Sociological Review.

Adam Wagstaff. 2002. Poverty and Health Sector Inequalities. Bulletin of the world health organization.

Donald L. Patrick, Stein Jane, Porta Miquel, Porter Q. Carol, Ricketts C. Thomas. 1988. Poverty, Health Services, and Health Status in Rural America. University of Washington, Seattle. The Milbank Quarterly.

Gabriella Flores, Krishnakumar Jaya, O’Donnell Owen, Van Doorslaer Eddy. 2008. Coping with Health Care Costs: Implications for the Measurement of Catastrophic Expenditures and Poverty. U Geneva; U Geneva; U Macedonia; Erasmus U Rotterdam. Health Economics.

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Hand to Mouth: An Analysis of Poverty Social Inequality. (2019, Apr 07). Retrieved July 6, 2022 , from

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