Last month Linda Tirado, a 31-year-old from Cedar City, Utah, was reading Gawker comment threads when she came across some of her online friends grousing about poor people’s self-defeating behavior. “They didn’t understand why poor people just kept doing these things that were counterproductive over and over instead of tightening the belt,” she says. And so Tirado, a mother of two with two low-paying jobs and a full college course load, tried to explain, writing under her commenter handle, KillerMartinis.
“You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired,” she wrote in an essay titled “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts.” “We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don’t apply for jobs because we know we can’t afford to look nice enough to hold them…. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on b12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that’s how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn’t much point trying.”
Tirado was trying to put flesh on the sort of ideas that Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir popularized in their much-discussed new book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. Among other things, that book flipped the conventional wisdom about bad decisions leading to poverty, arguing instead that poverty impedes good decision-making. This was something Tirado understood intimately, and she wanted to communicate what it feels like to live that way.
Initially, her piece, like most Internet comments, floated echoless in the ether. But a week and a half ago, it started going viral. After a few thousand people had read it, Tirado e-mailed Jessica Coen, the editor of Gawker’s sister site Jezebel, and suggested that she highlight it on that site’s front page, which she did. Then the piece appeared on the front page of The Huffington Post. The Atlantic blogged about it. A literary agent got in touch, and after a few readers emailed offers to contribute to a book project, Tirado started a GoFundMe page. Her initial goal was $10,500. As of this writing, she’s raised more than $60,000, well over twice what she typically earns in a year.
This crowd-sourced munificence has left Tirado less giddy than simply stunned. “I’ve never thought about the practicalities of what I would do and what my responsibilities would be if the Internet magically said, ‘Here’s $50,000,’ ” she says.
We spoke on Sunday while her 10-month-old napped, a few hours before her night shift as a cook at a cheap chain restaurant. At that point, she’d raised a little more than $54,000. She also had a new job offer. When her sudden fame hit, she’d just started a part-time contract with a disability-rights nonprofit, and the boss, impressed with her evident fundraising abilities, invited her to come aboard full-time.