The working poor are working people whose incomes fall below a given poverty standard. In the United States, the proportion of workers facing significant financial hardship has increased steadily over the years. Pulitzer Prize winning author David Shipler writes, 'Nobody who works hard should be poor in America.' But low paying dead-end jobs, high debt, and the profound failure of government to improve upon the quality of education, housing, and healthcare, for the working class, has made the so-called American dream of good ole' fashioned hard work a living nightmare. Stories of the working poor not only remind us of days passed when industry boomed and blue collar Americans had something to show for their sweat and tears, they document the very mechanisms of courage, hope, and perseverance that inspire us as human beings to overcome challenges, to adapt to changes both good and bad, and create personal meaning in the world.
This project began with the patrons of a small tavern called Croz Pub and Grub in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. Located at the tattered intersection of Main Street, on the IL/Wisconsin border, the locals of this slowly dying town tell many stories of more prosperous days when Twin Lakes was a mecca for winter and summer tourists. Like the residents of this sleepy town, many of the bars and restaurants have now closed or are closing their doors. The few bars remaining stay alive through long-term relationships with locals who become almost every day patrons.
My choice to begin this series in a tavern was not random. Tavern culture, especially in small towns like Twin Lakes, has a rich history in the United States that crosses all racial, cultural, political, and socioeconomic lines. Regardless of where you may travel, every tavern has it's small group of 'regulars'. While their faces may be different, many of their stories are the same: economic hardship, adapting to a changing quality of life, drug and alcohol abuse, broken families. But more than that, as individuals they demonstrate the qualities that make every story worth telling, courage in the face of adversity and an unlimited capacity for love.