my coworkers make fun of poor people

A reader writes:

I’m a receptionist at a small firm, and all of my coworkers are at least 15 years my senior, often twice my age. Generally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but the topic of money casually comes up a lot at work.

I’m in my early 30s with no college degree, but tons of debt (I was working three jobs while trying to take my last credits at home). To put it bluntly, I’m poor as fuck. I don’t have relatives who can float me cash here and there. It’s fine. It is what it is, but it’s pretty stressful, especially when I have to hear about my coworkers taking bimonthly trips out of the country for vacation or going on shopping sprees over the weekend. My coworkers have also been vocal about laughing at/criticizing poor people. Our building is close to a shelter that hosts soup kitchens and my coworkers have laughed at the lines. I have used a food bank more than once.

Hiding that I’m poor is hard enough. How do I stay sane in an office full of coworkers that aren’t shy about being well off?

This isn’t about coworkers who don’t hide how much money they have. This is about coworkers who sound like awful people.

If it were just that they talked a lot about their international trips or their wardrobe splurges, I’d tell you—yeah, this is a thing that will come up when you work with older, better paid colleagues. It can feel weird and it can come across as tone-deaf, but hey, let them pay for your drinks and maybe tell them about a favorite charity that might interest them… and know this is just a thing that will happen in some fields.

But your coworkers laugh at poor people waiting in line for food. This isn’t about income inequality; it’s that they have a dearth of empathy and general decency. I’m curious to know what your experience with them has been like outside of this, because I’m betting you’ve seen other evidence of serious deficiencies in their characters. Otherwise lovely people do not mock strangers who don’t have enough food to eat.

So the question really is: how do you navigate an office full of coworkers who are jerks about money and privilege, and willfully ignorant about the world around them?

One option, if you’re willing, is to make it far less comfortable for them to speak about poor people the way they do. When they laugh at or criticize people for being poor, let yourself have a natural reaction to it. Let yourself look shocked—because shock is a reasonable response. Say, “Wow, that’s an awful thing to say” or “I hope you don’t mean that the way it sounds.” If you’re willing to, you could say, “I’ve used a food bank in the past. No one wants to be in that line; they’re there because they need to eat.” If you don’t want to share that, you could say, “You never know who might have used a food bank in the past. I’m glad the help is there.”

But I want to push on your sense that you have to hide your own financial situation. It’s stressful enough to have money problems; you don’t need the additional stress of feeling obligated to hide it too. That doesn’t mean you should share all the details of your debt at work or reply with “must be nice!” every time someone mentions taking a vacation, but you don’t need to protect your colleagues from knowing that your reality is very different from theirs. And frankly, there’s value in them realizing that not all poor people are anonymous strangers, but in fact walk (and work) among them.

Of course, it’s not your responsibility to fix them, and you don’t need to take on the labor of educating them if you don’t want to or if you worry it could harm you professionally. These are people with more professional power than you; it’s OK if you decide the safer option is to just privately judge them for the crappy humans they’re being. (And if you do take that route, it can sometimes make it more bearable if you pretend you’re an anthropologist studying an alien culture and its ways. That often builds in some emotional distance, which can make it easier to remain calm in the face of truly infuriating things.)

But if you’re willing to speak up, it could be both a social good and a way to relieve some of the pressure you’re currently feeling to hide something you shouldn’t have to hide.

Here’s to decent coworkers in your next job.

First published on

{ 294 comments… read them below }

  1. Pepper Potts*

    OP, I’m so sorry you work with such vile people. Hopefully, it’s just a few that hold this disgusting view and the others feel they have to go along with it? Sending out the best vibes to you and best wishes for finishing up your degree and so you can hopefully leave this place as soon as it makes sense to.

    1. cabbagepants*

      Hoping it’s just a vocal, cruddy few. In the December holiday my workgroup decided to sponsor a family by buying them presents off a list the sponsored family had put together. The list was very humble, asking for things like hygiene supplies, clothes, and some very basic toys. Sounds very nice — but then several of my colleagues openly mocked the items for being too fancy (think Dove brand soap as being “too fancy”). I was stunned into silence. I still don’t know if I should have spoken up, as one of the mockers was my boss.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*


        That is really, really terrible, to mock someone for wanting non-shitty soap. Asking for soap for a Christmas gift is difficult enough—who wouldn’t rather have something fun instead of a necessaity?, and it’s very likely that Dove is their preferred brand because of some skin sensitivity or whatnot, but even if it isn’t…it’s freaking Dove soap!

        This is why, when I donate to drives for food banks, in addition to necessities like canned goods and peanut butter and boxed pasta, I usually throw in things like cake or brownie mix or something “fun”. People who are struggling to get enough to eat deserve treats as well.

        People really suck sometimes.

        1. NYCProducer*

          JJ– I am the same way. My single parent Mom often needed food banks and other help, including Christmas gifts, from other people. I hear cash is best for pantries, as their dollar goes farther than ours, but when it’s physical canned goods being donated, I try to add special things, and I always get name brand items. I remember getting donated food that was dented cans, store brands (back when store brand, generic, was TERRIBLE), or things I wouldn’t normally eat. It made me feel less-than, and I don’t want anyone to feel that way. Even today, when I donate clothes, I make sure they are clean, no holes, don’t need mending, etc. Poverty and shame are so intertwined.
          **Saw Mulaney’s special last night so your name gave me an extra chuckle today.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            Do you know of a way to recycle partly worn-out clothes? I hate throwing them away to sit in a landfill so I’d like to donate and have someone get some more use from it… a blouse that’s wearable with a few small holes is in my donation bag. I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel bad. I should just throw it away.

              1. HBJ*

                Fwiw, anyone thinking of doing this should look into it and decide for themselves if they think it’s worthwhile. Googling “H&M clothes recycling” brings up multiple articles about how many people think it’s just “greenwashing.” H&M wants you to feel good about where all that fast fashion you buy ends up so you don’t feel bad about using that coupon they gave you to buy more fast fashion.

                It’s probably better than just throwing it straight into the trash, but I’d say a better use would be to see if sewers can use any of it. Smaller projects like face masks, cleaning rags, patch material for something else, hair ties, or reusing the closures or trims, etc.

                1. nona*

                  There are jurisdictions that do textile recycling, so check with your local trash hauler/recycling companies to see what they offer.

                2. Curmudgeon in California*

                  I have a rag bag that all but underwear goes in to when it’s “sainted”. Then I can use stuff out of it to soak up spills, scrub counters, or clean up cat barf with a clean conscience. Clean, undamaged stuff goes to charity for someone else who it fits and can use it.

                3. scribblingTiresias*

                  I recycle old clothes to make doll clothes. If you know someone who sews, *ABSOLUTELY* offer them your old junky clothes- it’s harder than usual to get fabric right now, and while your stuff might not be what they need, some people will definitely appreciate it.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              The rule of thumb I have heard is not to donate stuff like the blouse. Perhaps you can find a place that recycles clothing for something else.
              From what I read places have tons of things like puzzles missing one piece or nail polish that is half used. It’s interesting to google search about what people donate and where it ends up.

            2. Nip It In The Bud*

              Use the parts of the blouse without holes to make face masks. If you don’t see, donate them to someone who does. (Assuming the fabric is suitable.)

            3. littlelizard*

              If you google “textile recycling [your city]” you will likely find a place that can take them. I got rid of all my decent-condition clothes by doing a thredUp cleanout bag, and now I have a bin of unwearable stuff to get rid of, and that’s my plan. I’ve found a few places that will take it, now it’s just a matter of making the trip. Stuff gets recycled/donated/resold depending on its condition from a lot of these places that will just take whatever.

            4. Perbie*

              My understanding is goodwill recycles clothes into scraps if they aren’t good for wearing; i have a scrap bag and a decent bag. So far they take both

            5. Observer*

              Could you please think about what you just said? I know that this is not what you meant, but what someone who has worn a lot of hand me downs from non-family is likely going to hear is “This is is too worn / torn /damaged for ME to wear, so I’m going to use some poor person to be my recycling.”

              If the blouse needs to be mended, mend it before your donate it. If it’s too torn or worn to wear, don’t donate it. Find a place that actually recycles or uses old clothes for other things.

              1. Quill*

                If the problem is that you don’t know how to mend something… youtube is excellent for learning that.

                Personally, anything that I wear to death rather than finding it in the “does not fit” category ends up stuffing for the bean bag chairs I’m trying to plump back up, or scrap material for other repairs, because I have so many rags.

                Dead socks and tshirts make excellent stuffing. I tend to mend bras if I can, but if I can’t sometimes I’ll liberate the cups to line a tank top that is supposed to be worn without a bra.

                I use jeans to patch the holes in my jeans etc.

            6. kenz*

              Madewell recycles denim into housing insulation if you have a Madewell store nearby. I think you also get a coupon for money off a new pair of jeans when you recycle a pair!

            7. pandop*

              In the UK some charities also have ‘rag’ collections, where they are able to sell damaged textiles by weight for recycling. You could ask if there is anything like that available where you normally donate.

            8. Jzilbeck*

              Goodwill accepts ripped, torn clothing for recycling. Check with your local store though before dropping off. The one I donate to will accept that clothing as long as you drop it off in a bag marked for “salvage” as opposed to a regular donation bag.

            9. Münchner Kindl*

              It depends on your area. If there’s a Group that sews, you can ask to donate because fabric can be re-used that way. (Which can be a private sewing circle, an upcycle Group, a protected Workshop that teaches sewing and does Upcycling…)

              Maybe there’s a repair cafe in your area where they Show you how to repair the blouse yourself.

              In some cities, they can recycle even damaged clothes if collected seperatly: the fabric is shredded and e.g. woven into mats or used as filling.

              Or you’re unlucky and Nothing available in your area.

            10. JSPA*

              I fix and wear at home until they’re ready for the rag bag, then tear them into squares or strips and use them as rags or ties (where I’d otherwise use a purpose-bought item for that purpose). Tying plants to stakes, tying back curtains, flossing dirt out of bike cogs…you don’t have to take up quilting to have a secondary use.

              Or if you’re on NextDoor, there are people who feel victorious over waste, not “less than,” using an item to completion (and who don’t want to brave the thrift store to shop). “Offer: 4 blouses, one dress. Size 10-12. One or two small holes each. Suitable for WFH or kid’s dress-up. Free.”

          2. Nip It In The Bud*

            I would never donate something to a food pantry that I would not eat myself (out of date, dented etc). That said, I see absolutely nothing wrong with donating store brands. I use store brands. I’m not going to spend money on a brand label, when I am eating the store brand myself. (Especially considering they are likely canned in the same factory.) Of course, I also don’t waste money on designer labels when the store private label is just as good. Why double or triple for a little flag, pony, or sailboat.

            1. Emma*

              I suspect this may be a case of the term “store brands” being applied to different things.
              I also eat store brands and would donate the brands I eat, however, when I was at university, there was a dollar store near us that sold some brands of food you could only find there (I don’t remember if they were actually store brands, or just brands no one else carried). Some of those things were absolutely vile, as in a box of mac and cheese so awful you could not find a hungry university student willing to eat it. However, some people were clearly eating those things and the only reason I could imagine is that they had no other choice.
              I would donate the store brands I eat, I would not donate that awful dollar store food we used to avoid as students.

              1. Alex*

                Yes exactly. I think it’s a case of “budget” brands rather than store brands, at least in the UK. Our supermarkets have “value” or “basics” ranges – the cheapest of the cheap, often in austere, obvious packaging. Some of it is OK, much of it is poor quality food that few would eat out of choice. I donate the “regular” store brand or name brand, but I don’t donate the value brands even if I’d eat them myself. I remember growing up poor and feeling embarrassed at the Tesco Value crisps in my lunchbox when other kids had Walkers, or having friends round and them seeing the cupboard full of Tesco Value products. I’m privileged enough now that spending a few extra pence for tins of better quality food is something I can afford, and if helps someone feel a little more dignity in the food they’re eating then all the better.

            2. Springella*

              TBH, it depends a lot on where you live. The UK and my home country have excellent generic and store brands, and I prefer to shop in Lidl or Aldi. But in my experience, generic and store brands in the US aren’t particularly good though food should probably be fine. Cheaper brands in the US are fine, too.

            3. Quill*

              When I was in middle school doing honors society we sorted cans for a food pantry and you would NOT BELIEVE some of the things that came in.

              Leaky apple juice was disgusting, but probably accidental. The person who donated powdered milk older than any of the volunteers? Dude, no.

            4. JSPA*

              I’ve seen homeless people line up at the dollar store to pool their change for a couple of cans of cat food. And that was before Covid.

              Whatever you can afford to donate is good to donate.

              There are three, four, five hour lines, and food banks with bare shelves.

              Unless you think it’s dangerous, no offer of free food is currently wrong.

              And FWIW, I eat my own “out of date” food (those are almost all “sell by” and “best by” dates, not “use by” dates; the rules about outdated food at food banks predate that shift). Ditto dented cans that don’t have any sign of bacterial activity. (If that worries you, boil at a rolling boil for a full ten minutes.)

              People, covid-19 is racing through not only slaughterhouses and fishing fleets, but also through picking / processing / packaging / distribution centers for all manner of agricultural products. The idea of waste or disparagement of any functionally edible food, under that circumstance, is problematic.

              I know we’re not supposed to rank one sort of “less-than-ing” vs another, or one sort of discrimination vs another, but “my mother is risking death to make that food” and “my family is literally going hungry” really should both outrank “that food is visibly lower status and less flavorful, though no less nutritious, than the food my peers are enjoying.”

              I donated to a local small business, to make sure people had “some staples and a little something nice.” The owner said, “people need rice. Maybe some beans. Other things are nice, once you have rice, but nothing replaces rice, if you don’t have that.” That’s where we’re at, folks. It’s not impossible that we’ll be seeing cases of kwashiorkor, rickets, pellagra (yes, in the U.S.) in the months to come. The shelves are not bare, but food stamp levels have come to quietly presume a certain low level of gray economy as backup that’s just not there anymore, in many places. When the food bank is bare, there’s no sidewalk to sweep, floor to mop or kids to mind for a few bucks and a loaf of bread.

              1. matcha123*

                I’ve had to use food pantries as a kid. People that don’t make assumptions like yours…that ‘starving’ is worse than eating some crappy food.
                No one in a first world country should be forced to make that choice!
                You don’t have to buy/donate the most expensive organic food, but you also shouldn’t be pulling food that’s way past its expiry date out of the back of your pantry or grabbing random stuff that you yourself wouldn’t eat (barring food allergies or preferences). And yeah, throw in some nice stuff from time to time. Feeling like you are seen as a human and member or society is so uplifting.

          3. Alice's Rabbit*

            So part of the reason why food pantries get a lot of dented cans and generic brands is not because of food drives (though yes, that happens there, too, sometimes). Rather, those are donations from the store itself. Dented cans don’t sell well, without being marked waaaay down, so it’s equally worth it to donate them and get the tax write off.
            And they give food pantries special deals on their store brand items, as it eats into their profit margins less than name brands.

            1. Perpal*

              Our grocery store sometimes does a food drive where you “buy” (donate) a pre-packed bag (I think they have a small selection, like 2-3, based on amount you want to donate). Kind of nice it gives the feeling of something physical but ensuring some quality control.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I’m known for bringing in the ‘luxury’ items for our office food drives, too. A few people snarked about the brand names like Oreos, and the Duncan Hines cake mixes – and frosting and sprinkles!! – and I snarked right back about their expired jars of pickled beets and dented cans without labels. WTH.

          Yeah, people really do suck sometimes. Their compassion and understanding are in short supply when its needed the most.

          1. FoodPantryLady*

            I work at a food pantry and anything that is expired or unlabeled gets tossed. Those donations just create more work for us. We don’t give out food that we wouldn’t want to eat ourselves.

            Last week a lady came in and donated a bunch of expired, opened food. It’s shameful and obvious that she just didn’t want to throw the food out and figured “What the hell, poor people will love my half eaten Cheez-Its that expired in 2018.”.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              Yup, and then we waste hundreds of hours sorting through those food drives, only to throw most of it away. And what’s left usually isn’t enough of any one thing to make a meal for the large homeless population we serve (except for stew, and that gets boring quickly; we also prefer to save stews and soups for rainy days and cold weather).
              I really wish more companies would organize monetary donations, instead of food drives.

              1. pandop*

                I read a really good article a week or so ago about UK supermarkets and food banks during the Covid crisis, at least one of them made a monetary donation to specifically help with transportation

            2. Curmudgeon in California*

              Eeewwwwww! Opened food? WTF?

              I commonly decant large bags of dry goods into storage containers. Once I do that, I can’t donate it – it’s open. If a friend wants some, that’s different. But not unlabeled or opened stuff to a food bank.

              1. pandop*

                I will donate opened/partial boxes of food only if the items are individually wrapped too. Then I just donate them as if they were individual items – eg I bought a box of cereal bars and didn’t like them. Other people may well like them, and there is nothing wrong with the three or five left in the box.

                1. FoodPantryLady*

                  If the items are individually labeled we will give those out but anything without an ingredients label/expiration date has to be tossed unfortunately. Thankfully most individually packaged items have their own label so that usually isn’t an issue. Every pantry seems to have different rules, though. I think we are one of the stricter ones due to the fact that we mostly serve the elderly/we rely heavily on grants that have very strict rules about how we can operate.

            3. boop the first*

              I used to work in a grocery that hired us to chop up veggies and make ready-to-eat raw salads and stuff, and they had an official shelf life of about three days. And our bosses kept flipflopping between keeping the shelf full or reducing waste, so every morning I’d have to go and pull the expired stuff and empty them into the compost. Grocery stores have a LOT of food waste.

              Anyway, there’s always some concerned customer who says “what a waste of food, you should donate that to the food bank.”

              I mean, I get the sentiment, being someone who doesn’t shy away from using a bottle of mayonnaise that’s been sitting for 2 years past the date in my fridge and all, but I also have a private bathroom for my butthole to explode in, a partner to take care of me if I accidentally destroy my body doing this, and a healthy savings account to keep us alive while we’re sick. Imagine wishing food poisoning upon someone who has none of those things and then feeling smug about it?

              1. JSPA*

                Our coop is allowed to turn the salad veggies into soup, I believe, so long as it’s done before they go out of date. And the cooking resets the “sell-by” date (which makes sense, as it kills bacteria and denatures enzymes).

                And some food banks can take the resulting fresh food, as it comes direct from a commercial kitchen. Not saying you should, just pointing out that it may be doable.

          2. londonedit*

            Yeah, the same thing happens here, unfortunately. Food banks here have lists of things they particularly need – usually particular tinned foods, toiletries, etc. The lists are displayed in supermarkets with a box for people to donate, so you can check what’s on the list and pop a few additions into your supermarket shop to leave in the donation box on your way out. It helps to stop the food banks getting too much of the same things – people always think they’ll want dried pasta and tins of baked beans, so they’re inundated with those and not with the things they’re actually short of (dried pasta often isn’t a great option because if someone can’t afford their gas or electricity bill, they’re not going to want to spend money boiling water for pasta – a lot of people actually need food that can be eaten without heating it up, if they’re in a real pinch financially). Anyway, quite often a food bank will advertise that they’re looking for donations of biscuits (cookies) or crisps (potato chips) and people will ALWAYS snark about how we shouldn’t be donating junk food to poor people. It’s awful. Everyone deserves some chocolate or biscuits or crisps now and then, even if they are using a food bank, and I find it really distasteful when people try to police what people are ‘allowed’ to have just because they’re on a low income.

            1. FoodPantryLady*

              We also have a list with our high need items and it includes a couple “junky” foods. But usually they’re calorie dense shelf stable foods that anybody can eat, whether or not they have a kitchen. We have a handful of homeless clients who come by for food and it’s nice to have food on hand that they can take back to their camp and eat without having to heat it up.

              1. Pommette!*

                Similarly, “junky” items on our often-requested foods list mostly included basic lunch-box items that kids might enjoy (granola bars, fruit leathers, and the like).

          3. Gray Lady*

            I just don’t get that mentality. I understand if money’s tight, and you want to donate, it makes sense to donate the lower cost things (as long as they’re decent quality).

            But if someone has the means to spend a little bit more on name brand stuff (and when you’re talking about a few items for a food drive, it’s going to total up to what, $3 more to go upscale on $10 worth of items, at the most?) how could someone possibly object to that? Poor people need to eat cheaply because they don’t have the means to eat better food, it’s not some kind of sumptuary law where they’re not “supposed” to eat better stuff.

            1. Pommette!*

              Plus, the fun thing about donating food (rather than cash) is that you get to buy the special “fancy” versions of stuff – the things that food banks would not themselves spring for.

        3. nonegiven*

          Dove is the one that makes me itch the most, out of all the brands, most of which make me itch. Cancer center gave me a bar of Dove for sensitive skin and I threw it away because it made me itch every bit as bad as the normal Dove.

          I’m sticking with the generic version of Cetaphil which is the only two I’ve tried that doesn’t make me itch at all.

          1. Eirene*

            Generic Cetaphil is much better than the name-brand — I discovered that although the CareOne generic version does not have fragrance in it, name-brand Cetaphil does. Are you sensitive to fragrance in skin-care products?

      2. Woah*

        Gosh, I know tons of people in my sensitive skin groups who only use Dove! I’d assume someone had exzcema and be happy they thought to specify so I don’t get them something they can’t use.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        Mocked them for wanting Dove? Did the jerks ever think that maybe they need that brand because they’re allergic to most others? (No, your allergies to foods or fragrances don’t just vanish when you’re poor.) If I had to ask for soap, I’d have to specify fragrance free, and if they though that was “too fancy”, then they could pay my medical bills for the nasty rash I get from fragranced soap.

        Seriously, Dove isn’t expensive or fancy. You can buy it at most drugstores, grocery stores or variety stores like Target.

        Sometimes you have to be picky on brands when it comes to chemical composition or clothing fit. Even if you’re poor. (Yes, I’ve been poor.)

        1. cabbagepants*

          Exactly! I chose Dove as my example because while it’s a step above store brand, it’s that: a step. Not a million steps, not a “luxury” brand, but just, like, not literally the rock-bottom minimum. I was aghast that anyone could find fault with that.

          1. Quill*

            My household has a rotation of zest for the summer, dove for the winter. The “fancy” soap was always lava soap, because my mom was a working artist most of my childhood and lava soap will get just about anything off your hands.

        2. jules*

          Re: allergies. I have Celiac Disease and have gotten eye rolls before when I donate gluten free pasta, crackers, cereal bars, etc. to food drives. Being poor doesn’t erase health conditions! If anything, it exacerbates them!

        3. Gray Lady*

          And it’s DOVE for goodness’ sake, not some French-milled, hand-wrapped stuff from the boutique. I checked at two places and Dove cost about the same as Ivory!

      4. Temperance*

        Ugh. I run hygiene supply drives for local teens in the foster system, at my large, corporate law firm … and the number of people who bring in hotel shampoos, clearly used products, and stuff that is at least 5 years old infuriates me. I just trash it all. I’m not about to take away even more dignity from these kids.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Unopened hotel shampoos are a problem? I can’t use them because they’re fragranced, but I thought they were ok for donation if they were unopened.

          Used or expired is… gross.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I guess it depends on the donation recipient’s preference. One of the shelters we donate to asks for them because they assemble packable toiletry bags and school-locker kits, but they also take full-sized bottles. Someone at work has a family member at a major hotel chain headquartered near us, and they nearly always bring what seems to be a pallet of them.

      5. mayfly*

        When our family puts together Christmas boxes for the homeless, we try to get the best quality clothes and hygiene products we can find. I’m fine with secondhand clothes and generic for our own family, because we have so much as it is, but those who have nothing and live on the margins of society deserve to get something high quality/name brand.

        1. Chinook*

          Also, the nucer brands are often higher quality that go further. Whenever I donate feminine hygiene supplies, I buy the name brands because of that. I remember being poor and suffering through store brand pads – no one deserves that poor quality.

      6. NotAnotherManager!*

        That’s just shitty. I always found shopping for sponsored families to be humbling because a lot of things on their lists were things I took for granted that were just in my house on the regular. My mom was also dead set on getting exactly what was asked for, and if you wanted Mint-Mango Breeze scent Fancy Soap, you were getting exactly that, even if she had to go to two stores to find it.

  2. Elizabeth West*

    I don’t see much value in the OP sharing her status. It could make her the target of snide remarks, and it won’t change the opinions of nasty people who obviously never mentally graduated from their elite high schools. I would GTFO as soon as it’s feasible. Crossing fingers for OP that it’s soon.

    1. Ashley*

      The only reason I would share my status is if the job doesn’t pay a living wage because I think companies often think they pay plenty when they pay just enough for people to scrape by if there aren’t any emergencies. Debt considerations can get trickier because of ‘choices’ about which school, where you live, etc but my guess much of that will be misunderstood by others. It is not easy to have these conversations with co-workers but I have found by speaking up previously I don’t have to keep listening to their close mindlessness at least. (I have spent enough time volunteering in homeless shelters and soup kitchens I could put a face to the story for people and tend to talk about how we need better metal health and drug addiction support systems.)

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        It doesn’t sound like that’s the case in her company, though. They clearly pay a living wage; OP just has a lot of debt to pay off before that living wage means comfort.

        1. TechWorker*

          I don’t think OP particularly commented on their salary in the letter – but it’s definitely possible (/likely?) that as the receptionist they earn much, much less than everyone else in the company. People who earn a lot and used to being around others earning a lot can forget what an ‘average’ wage is pretty quickly.

          (If you want a ‘laugh‘, look up the bizarre rant from question time last year, where an audience member refused to believe his £80k salary put him in the top 5% of earners – he thought he wasn’t even in the top 50% which is a pretty incredibly skewed view! Median salary in the U.K. is 30k…)

          1. Springella*

            I lived in the UK, too and many people refuse to believe how immensely poor other people are. 48% of people earn so little that they don’t even qualify to pay taxes. My salary was below 40K and I was also shocked to find out that I was already in the top 10% of the earners.

              1. InfoSec SemiPro*

                According the the Economic Policy Institute, for the US “The median wage in 2019 is $19.33 per hour, which translates into about $40,000 per year for a full-time, full-year worker.” So its not terribly far off.

          2. parsley*

            I remember that guy – I had a look at one of those salary calculators to see what his take home pay would be and it’s nearly three times what I make before tax right now. Just a wild disconnect from reality.

    2. Foreign Octopus*

      I agree. Even if it stops the comments in front of her, I bet they’d be discussing it behind her back and make her open to criticism about certain things.

      However, I do like the idea of calling them out if OP feels comfortable with that. Right now it seems as though the coworkers are feeding off each other and the only way to interrupt that is to disrupt the flow. It’ll be uncomfortable and feel awful, but hopefully it’ll stem the comments, at least in front of the OP.

      1. Taylor*

        I think that even if OP calls them out, they’re still going to be discussing it behind her back. She’s going to be seen as The Good Time Ruiner. It’s going to be, “Oh, better not say that around OP!” and resenting OP, rather than “Oh, we were wrong to say that in the first place!”

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          Some people would rather be the Good Time Ruiner than the Assumed Willing Audience. I won’t judge OP whichever option they choose, because they both suck in their own way.

      2. Amaranth*

        A more subtle way to express support for the food pantry clients might be to volunteer there a couple of times after work. “heading next door, anyone want to help?”

        1. pancakes*

          Volunteering is seldom a spur-of-the-moment thing for either volunteers or places that rely on volunteer labor, though, and people with horrible attitudes aren’t much of an asset for the latter.

    3. deesse877*

      This is a valid consideration, especially since it’s often quite socially and professionally acceptable to hate the poor overtly. I guess what I’d say, though, is that if one does speak up, it’s not really to change anyone’s mind. It’s to carve out mental space for oneself, and to make solidarity with others possible. It’s always valid to choose not to.

      And to be frank, if one is really this far out of step with a horrible culture, bullying is going to happen eventually no matter what. There can be a strategic advantage in picking this specific battle, with a clear moral position and no impact on your actual job duties, as opposed to a murkier one about work duties or performance.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        it’s often quite socially and professionally acceptable to hate the poor overtly

        Ugh, yes. Many, many people are of the opinion that poor people are inherently less intelligent, less motivated, lazy…you name it. It’s their way of convincing themselves that it couldn’t happen to them, because obviously they are intelligent and disciplined and superior and would never succumb to poverty.


        1. Pomona Sprout*

          It’s the Just World Hypothesis(tm) run rampant. So many people seem to believe (consciously or not) that if bad things happen to someone, they MUST have done something to deserve it. *weary sigh* Some people find it very comforting to think that way, because it enables them to believe that nothing bad can ever happen to them as long as they don’t do “bad” things (however they define “bad”). Never mind that we live in a capricious world where very bad things happen to very good people All. The. Damned. Time.

          This is a big part of the reason we (in the US) can’t have nice things like an adequately funded social safety net, affordable universal health care, paid parental leave… the lust goes on and on. *insert sad faced emoji*

          1. Chinook*

            DH has that attitude now and we openly argue about because, when we married, we were poor. He thinks that, if he can pull himself up, so can others. This pandemic has atleast opened his eyes to the luck factor because, if this had happenned 15 years ago, I don’t know if we ever could have ever financially recovered as this is the first time we could ever do more than survive on his income.

            It is frustrating to be around, though, because I know just how easy it is to go back to being poor and he seems to think his job security and frugal ways are enough for anyone to succeed.

            1. jules*

              My husband and I went through a lot of similar discussions. We’re both from hardworking families and we both believe in frugality and independence. However, he’s also been healthy most of his life, whereas I’ve dealt with multiple chronic illnesses and the career and financial struggle that entails. After I left home at 17 I put myself through school working as much as I could, renting a storage room to live in, sneaking food from the trash at work, even moonlighting as a camgirl at one point. Life got better, and hard work was part of that, but there was also a LOT of dumb luck involved. Life is not just, thats for sure.

            2. Springella*

              When I lived in the US I met a couple at a party who were millionaires. They told everybody how they were on food stamps when they were young and also explained that food stamps are one step ahead of homelessness. They also pointed out how easy it is to be/ become homeless.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Ironically, they have had a hand in OP’s financial setting as they set her rate of pay. Or they tolerate her rate of pay. I wonder how many have spoken up on her behalf.

    4. lemon*

      So, I recently attended a workshop on how to be a good bystander when microaggressions happen. A lot of the advice was similar to what Allison suggests– we focused on coming up with responses we could keep in our toolbox so we’re not caught off guard when they happen and we can speak up quickly. But the most interesting thing I took away from the workshop was that speaking up as a bystander only tends to work when the person speaking up *isn’t* perceived to be a member of the group being harmed by the microaggression. When people who speak up *are* perceived to be members of the harmed group, they are actually judged negatively by the group, and the group is less receptive to the message. When the actual targets of microaggressions speak up for themselves, they are also judged negatively.

      Which is a long-winded way of saying… I agree that if the OP perceives that they have some amount of in-group status, that it probably won’t help to share their own status. They’d probably do more good playing the role of the bystander and speaking up, if the goal is to slowly and subtly start challenging the group’s biases.

      1. Starbuck*

        That’s good to know, thanks for sharing what you learned. Another good reminder of how important it is to speak up on this stuff if you witness it and you’re in a privileged position re: class, race, gender, etc.

      2. Dasein9*

        YES! I’ve noticed this with trans issues. If someone known to be cisgender corrects someone’s pronoun use, they’re believed more often than when someone known to be transgender corrects a pronoun. Since transitioning, I’ve also noticed that some folks listen to me when I talk about women’s concerns with healthcare providers, where they won’t actually listen to, you know, women.

        This is something to navigate carefully, because advocacy should follow the “nothing about us without us” rule, but sometimes it’s someone who’s not-us (or perceived as not-us) who’s going to be listened to.

        1. Chinook*

          This is not new. Think about every time a woman stands up forself but isn’t listened to until a male colleague backs her up. It isza trope for a reason.

      3. Mama Bear*

        RE: Bystanders – often everyone assumes that someone else will speak up and when no one else does, nothing changes. OP may make people realize that it’s not as acceptable as they thought if they drop a comment here or there. There are also times when the comment isn’t for the offender, but the audience. You might not change the rude person’s opinion, but that person on the edge? They might be willing to see a different POV.

        Depending on what OP feels comfortable with, maybe next time they laugh at the line OP could say, “Yes, times are really hard. Many people in line for food are the working poor, with families. We should host a food drive for them.” Or even “Wow, that’s incredibly rude.” Or something. OP can’t do much about the vacations and trips, but being nasty to people for needing food is awful. My family regularly volunteers and I pointed out to my child that if we were all waiting for the bus, it would be hard to pick out who was the volunteer and who was the client.

        I do feel for OP. It’s hard when you feel drowned out by the chorus.

      4. Bertha*

        I wonder how this works out with situations like, say, weight or wealth where your status can change (vs. the color of your skin)? I grew up quite poor, but I’m finally doing pretty well. If I speak from my own experience, how is that perceived?

      5. JJ Bittenbinder*

        That sounds like a great workshop and I thank you for sharing.

        The point you made reminds me of parenting a teenager. I can tell my kid XYZ and it’s met with skepticism, but if his peers or a teacher he particularly connects or his best friend’s mom says the same thing, suddenly it’s more credible.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, and for this reason I think it’s unfortunate that some parents react so badly if another adult corrects their child in public. The child may be so used to being scolded by their parents that anything they say goes in one ear and out the other. But if a total stranger says the same thing, suddenly they listen.

      6. Archaeopteryx*

        Yeah it’s a stronger position to say “Wow, what a gross thing to say” if they don’t think you’re taking personal offense (which can make them just go, “Oh, but not YOU of course!”) vs if they perceive you as not personally affected but still offended enough to speak up.

      7. Alli525*

        I had to start doing this with my former department head. She would loudly announce how excited she was that someone brought baked goods in, then spend the next couple hours loudly complaining about how she couldn’t stop eating them, she was sooooo bad, sooooo unhealthy. I’ve never had an ED, but we regularly had college-age women visit or intern in our office, so I tried to speak up whenever I could to redirect that negativity.

    5. Sparrow*

      I would be skeptical about sharing personal information with them, too. I have worked with well-off older people who thought I should be taking MORE fancy vacations than them, since I didn’t have kids to deal with. In those cases, I did reply in ways that made it clear I didn’t have their finances, but I felt comfortable with that because they were clueless, not actively terrible. I would still use part of Alison’s responses here (“People go to food banks because they need food. I’m glad that support is there,” etc) but leave myself out of it.

      1. Taylor*

        I deal with this too-“You never go anywhere! Go on a trip! Take a Tauck tour!” Sure, let me just grab that extra $15k I have lying around for no reason at all and jet off to Greenland.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, I have this too. I have no kids, and theoretically my wife and I should be living in relative luxury.

        But I also have three roommates who are disabled and would be homeless if they weren’t living with me. One was homeless before he moved in, the other two *had* to move and couldn’t afford an apartment anywhere in the state. This is actually more common in some places than people realize. When they can’t even work part time because of the pandemic or illness, I fill the gap, because our safety net has been mostly demolished in the US. I also end up helping my mom on (cheese-pared) SSI too.

        Yes, it’s choices. I chose to care about others rather than my own luxury. I’m not always a nice person, but at least I try to do some good in the world, and be part of the solution rather than the problem.

    6. TiredMama*

      Call them out on your way out and not before. I know people like this and they actively do not like being reminded that there are people who are poor, hence the making fun of poor people at the soup kitchen. I think they do not want to see that their attitude sucks and, if you did speak up, would want to see you fired or quit so they do not have to think about it. But roast them on your way out.

      1. WhisperingPines*

        This has been my experience as well. Some people take real offense to the idea that they may have been lucky in life.

        1. Nip It In The Bud*

          Maybe they take offense at the idea that their success is based on luck and not things like hard work and determination.

          1. Hrodvitnir*

            Well, precisely, Nip It In The Bud. Being very well of may indeed have required a lot of hard work and even sacrifice, but it almost always also involves luck. The idea your start in life is irrelevant to your ability to be successful is demonstrably incorrect.

          2. Sera*

            Maybe they take offense at the idea that their success is based on luck and not things like hard work and determination.

            I mean, they’re free to think that way but they’re still wrong.

            Lots of people are chock-full of determination and work very, very hard and have absolutely nothing to show for it but broken bodies and broken spirits.

        2. Tidewater 4-1009*

          My experience with such people is they think they’re in a good position because they’re inherently superior people and poor people are poor because they’re inherently inferior.
          IME challenging this view does not go well. They deeply want to believe this.

        3. TiredMama*

          I think there is a bit of fear and guilt too. Fear that they could someday be poor and guilt that they have so much while other do not.

    7. Batgirl*

      I have seen it done successfully. However the situations I am thinking of didn’t involve workplace or possible power dynamics. These are all social situations including people who have lots of working class pride encountering one of our friend’s succession of rich jerk boyfriends (RJB).

      Friend: Did you hear about the working tax credit cuts?
      RJB: I hear that billionaires pay so much in tax now. That’s not fair when cleaners who were obviously lazy in school are getting a tax break.
      Friend: Did you work a job while going to school or were you too lazy?

      RJB: My parents made sure I went to one of the best schools in the country but if everyone went there’d be no one to sweep the streets.
      Friend: That’s nice. I went to one of the worst schools but if everyone went they wouldn’t be able to recognise an easy ride when they see one.

    8. Meepmeep*

      Seriously. They’ve already revealed themselves to be bullies, and OP is lifting her hand going “Pick me as a victim!”?

      I’d make fun of them right back. People like that are eminently ridiculous in their clueless obliviousness, and deserve to be made fun of. I’m sure OP can come up with plenty of Marie Antoinette comparisons without even trying.

    9. Salamander Bob*

      In a work environment this hostile, I agree. Classism should not exist, but it does. I would start focusing on exit strategies, OP. Best of luck to you.

    10. Artemesia*

      I do think knowing that someone is in the group you ridicule can bring some people up short — sometimes people get swept along with others and are thoughtless — I would be tempted to sponsor an office food drive for the nearby pantry and tempted to say ‘these are tough times for lots of people right now — I remember needing to use a food pantry and appreciated it was there; I feel those of us working can make a difference.’ etc. As the receptionist she is in a role that often runs things like this and she might feel better about working there if this could happen.

      And ‘Dove soap’? WTF. Soap for Christmas is already a bit sad — and this is not a luxury brand, it is a grocery store brand — they aren’t asking for french milled soap or whatever. We used to get kids from angel trees at Christmas each year the same age as our own and we specifically looked for kids who wanted bikes — since we could afford to buy a couple of kids’ bikes. We had friends who thought a kid wanting a bike for Christmas was ‘entitled’.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        We had friends who thought a kid wanting a bike for Christmas was ‘entitled’.

        WTF? Bikes for kids mean mobility, and maybe even ability to earn extra money.

        I assume you set them straight

    11. Emma*

      I would also worry that it would result in people policing her spending. As in, OP treats herself to a latte one day (or meets a friend who buys her a coffee that she takes back to the office) and gets loads of snide comments about how millennials are in debt or don’t own houses because they spend all their money on coffee and avocado toast. There are certainly some people who are irresponsible with their money. There are also a lot of people who are responsible with their money, who are on tight budgets, but allow themselves the occasional treat because it is really hard to live in complete austerity for a very long time.

    12. NopeNopeNope*

      Literally what has happened to me or coworkers in the past. You’re either with them or a target every time you bring in a bagged lunch or takeout coffee, or call in sick, or have your hair done, or EXIST when they’re in the mood to “BOOTSTRAPS!” lecture someone while ignoring their own privilege. Comments about poor people being humans too were met with blank stares, followed by them turning to whoever else is in the room to continue their discussion of ha ha of course poor people aren’t human too!

      Unfortunately I have no answer. I’m 43, I live in a small very white city with no money, and it’s been more or less in every job I’ve had. If it’s not the poor it’s the (some group it’s still okay to judge if you’re a wealthy white asshole). In the worst ones, it was All Of The Above. *shudder*

      Sadly I dont have an answer.

  3. Stormfeather*

    Or to further the thing about not hiding you’re poor – You are poor because you worked your butt off trying to get a college degree in a system that’s pretty well messed up in the first place (way to expensive to get a degree that shouldn’t really be “needed” for as much as it is, just used to check a box in various places), and are now working your butt of to try to do the conscientious thing and take care of your debt while supporting yourself with no outside help. This is not a personal failing! So please, please do not feel like it is.

    1. Sled Dog Mama*

      This is so true.
      In the past I have worked with people who appeared to flaunt their income and wealth but the truth of the matter was that they were spending every penny they earned and massively in debt (that they were not working on paying off).
      You are in debt yes but you are taking responsibility for it and working hard to pay it off. When you reach that goal imagine how much you will have learned about how to stretch your income and how quickly you’ll be able to create substantial savings because you already have the disciple to prioritize where your money goes.

    2. Batgirl*

      I honestly don’t understand how people brag about their parents’ money. Be grateful for it, sure? But to wear your need for patronage like a badge of honour when people like OP are already adulting? I couldn’t do it for millions.

  4. jess*

    Ugh. This reminds me of when I used to work in finance. There were some decent people there but also the highest concentration of absolutely awful human beings I had ever met in my life.

    1. Kate 2*

      I worked in finance and agree. Funnily enough I was/am also super poor due to college debt, it was a small firm and about half the people there also really hated poor people. Hilariously they were also super Christian and talked up Christian values. One of my superiors told me that poor people in America weren’t really poor, they were just lazy and that poor people in Notoriously Poor Continent he had visited were really poor and the only ones who deserved help ( and also proselytizing).

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Ha! I got this same speech about the homeless from a former work “friend” who was also supposedly super Christian. Needless to say, I cursed her ass out (what she didn’t know was that my mentally ill uncle was homeless at the time and was in no way “lazy” nor could he just bootstrap his way out of addiction, illness, and poverty) and never spoke to her again. She even tried to argue with me that she wasn’t speaking from a place of privilege (I totally told her she was) because she’s been working since she was 14 (never mind that her “job” was just occasionally mowing lawns for her dad’s business, which in and of itself makes her privileged since many people don’t have successful family businesses to fall back on – I know no one in my family does).

        People are so damn tone-deaf, offensive, and gross when talking about the poor and mentally ill.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        So I guess if superior hits hard times say from catastrophic illness in the family or something, then we are off the hook? We don’t have to do a Go FundMe thing or anything like that because he’s not actually a true poor person???

      3. Lovecraft Beauty*

        Look up “Prosperity Gospel”. It’s …quite the (mis)reading of Christian theology.

      4. JM in England*

        Have these Christians not heard the saying “There but for the grace of God go I…” ?

        1. Polly Hedron*

          And have they not heard Jesus:
          “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
          Luke 6:20

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Legal is not much different. Lots of wealthy/upper-middle class people with no concept of what it’s like not to have money to burn, take vacations, participate in tons of activities, and attend the best schools. I have never been poor as defined by poverty guidelines (or homelessness or food insecure), but I was raised in a blue collar household where a “vacation” was going to our grandparents’ for the holidays (or, when my parents were feeling particularly motivated, taking a few days off for a major home/lawn improvement project we did ourselves). My parents thought public school and universities were great and paying for private was a waste of limited resources. Over the years, I had to listen to all sorts of snide remarks about people from my background, so I can’t imagine how much worse it would be for people who have actually lived in poverty. Some of them are unintentionally cruel – just have no idea how “normal” people live (because being privileged is “normal” to them); others are the epitome of born on third base, think they hit a homer (real Brent Norwalks, if you will) and anyone else who hasn’t is not as brilliant as they are.

      1. Gumby*

        My vacations growing up were about the same except with the addition of camping. Word to the wise: camping in Kings Canyon National Park? Lovely. Camping in a tent at the Needles, CA KOA in July? BAD IDEA. Epically bad idea. I’m fairly certain that it didn’t drop out of triple digits until after midnight if at all. It was part of a road trip so it was only one night but still: no.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Yes, it’s important to research your camping destinations carefully, and not just from the tourist brochures. Sometimes, changing to a different campground as little as 50 miles away can make a huge difference. Like one time when we had a ridiculously hot night like that, and then moved the following day to a campsite on a mountain that was much, much cooler. Or finding a campsite with an ocean breeze vs one hidden in the city.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Needles, CA KOA in summer? Ugh. We hit some really bad campgrounds over the years – pit toilets, no running water, rutted dirt roads, etc.

          Yeah, we used to take the very middle class road trip when I was little – but on the cheap. That meant cheap campgrounds, no paid rides, no restaurants unless we couldn’t stop to cook, lots of hikes, many of which bored me nearly to tears. We hit some really bad campgrounds over the years – pit toilets, no running water, rutted dirt roads, etc. I didn’t stay in an actual hotel until I was an adult. While I like camping, I can’t do it any more – too much work and not enough fun.

      2. 11001001*

        “attend the best schools…”

        It should be pointed out that the “best schools” (Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc.) often provide a fully free ride to people from blue collar backgrounds. At Harvard, families that make less than $65K pay zero tuition. Families earning up to $150K pay a maximum of 10% of their income. This is frequently less expensive than state schools.

        1. Mary Connell*

          But students can’t get in without either heritage admission or the kind of credentials that middle and working class kids don’t have, especially if they have to work during high school.

    3. Alli525*

      Ha, yep. I spent 4 years in finance in NYC. Several people I worked with were all-around good humans. Most were fine. And the really bad were rotten. Sometimes the rotten people thought they were actually good people, which was pretty scary to see in action.

      1. Tidewater 4-1009*

        In my experience the worst people think they’re good people. The denial is mind-boggling.

      2. Ice and Indigo*

        I temped a hedge fund one time. The first round of emails I got, there one company-wide ‘hilarious’ joke, the burden of which was that homeless people are unkempt and yucky and it’s totally necessary to spend thousands a month so you don’t look that way, tee hee.

        I seriously debated walking out right there. It was not a nice place to work.

  5. Phil*

    Adopting the attitude of an amused observer of an alien culture may help relieve the stress.

    1. Retro*

      Honestly, putting some emotional distance from the situation might be the best way to protect yourself from this toxic environment. Like Allison said, it’s not your job to change or fix your jerk coworkers same as it’s not your job to fix a toxic environment. It’s more important to make peace with yourself about how much you choose to intervene than to make peace with your coworkers on their behavior.

      Hang in there, OP! And best of luck to all the great opporunities that are awaiting you after this sucky situation!

      1. Annony*

        Yep. There is no way to actually make the coworkers better people. You might be able to get them to be silently awful instead of loudly awful, but you won’t change their worldview.

    2. The Original K.*

      I did this at a previous very toxic job. I pretended to be an anthropologist. It was very helpful – it helped me dissociate from the toxic behavior and take it less personally. (I was still thrilled to leave though.)

      1. MtnLaurel*

        +1. My BFF gave me this advice when I was in a toxic nuclear soup of a job. It really did help.

    3. Batgirl*

      I do this. I think it’s considerate of them to wear their black hearts on the outside where their naive level of evil actually makes for good stories and you can keep a safe distance. The ones who are more subtle and hidden are more of a problem, I think.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Now, now, that’s an insult to trash. Trash can be composted and made into fertilizer. OP’s coworkers are just useless.

    1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Yeah, at ex-job, there were some ‘mean girls’ in my department. One day, they were looking out the window at the view of the highway and laughing at and making smug remarks about the homeless people they saw camped out under the highway. These ‘ladies’ were just making themselves look bad. If my opinion of them lowered, I’m sure whoever else on our floor heard them thought the same thing.

  6. This one here*

    In November, I wrote to Alison about my coworker’s Halloween “costume” – a cardboard sign. I give bags with food, bus fare, and sometimes soap, to homeless people, and the coworker in question knew this, and had even commended me.

    At the time, this coworker sat next to me, and after I got over the shock, I said “[Coworker], I have to use my words, even though it’ll make the rest of the day awkward. The people we give bags to are dealing with physical and mental illness, and even addiction. This is NOT funny.” Coworker said “OK” and was quiet. Coworker didn’t walk around with the sign again, and didn’t participate in the costume contest, though left the sign near the desk, so it was only a partial victory for me.

    I’m not poor (I’ve been there, but now am middle-aged and comfortable), so I’m coming from a different perspective, and it’s not something that goes on every day at my job.

    1. Mimi Me*

      I used to volunteer as a Girl Scout leader. Every year the troops in our area would perform in a talent showcase. Every year there would be a food drive. Then one year the head of the troops in our area decided that we should be charging our families $20 to come watch their children perform – announcing this decision a week or two from the actual event. This was outrageous to me. I had several girls in my troop who came from financially restricted situations, my own daughter included. I protested and said that the food drive was a perfect entry fee. Turns out, they wanted the food drive to be an “in addition” to set up. One of the leaders / mothers in the area said “$20 isn’t a lot of money. We pay money for sports and instruments so this isn’t really that big a deal.” I was horrified by this statement. It took every ounce of courage I had to say “My kids don’t do sports. I can’t afford to pay for them. My kids don’t play instruments. I can’t afford to pay for them. My kids do scouts. And for the women in this room to assume that their lives and bank accounts translate to every person in here says a lot about the privileges you all have. Unfortunately there is an overwhelming majority of girls in this town who do not come from similar situations. If the $20 is mandatory then we will have to back out of the talent show, but I will be letting my girls and their families know why and who is responsible for why we won’t perform.” You know that feeling when your face gets red, your hands get cold, and you feel your lip quivering? That is exactly how I felt speaking up. My co-leader, who was better off financially than I was but who 100% saw the $20 being an issue on more than half our families, held my hand the entire time in solidarity. Ultimately they waived the fee that year but instituted it in future years. Attendance dropped off and last I heard it was cancelled forever. I know that I did the right thing speaking up but for the remainder of that year and all of the next, certain women in the organization would look at me pityingly.

      1. This one here*

        I am proud of you! There’s an expression I like “Speak the Truth, even if your voice shakes” – mine shook as I talked to my coworker (and could be heard by all nearby). Your situation was a much bigger deal, too.

      2. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        GOOD FOR YOU for sticking up for those families and yourself.

        Family spending incomes in Scouting get revealed very quickly when the camping gear gets pulled out. You can see who shopped at the fancy stores and who shopped at Walmart (and it doesn’t matter for these little weekend camps). Also, the kids whose parents just fork over the $$ for the good stuff have very little appreciation for the nice gear and don’t take care of their gear…and have no respect for anyone else’s gear either.

        It also shows up quickly when you’re trying to organize weekend events and no one is around because they are skiing, skating or doing hockey or a million other organized extracurriculars.

        Gawd, I don’t miss that life at all.

      3. Merpaderp*

        Thank you for sharing. And thank you for standing up for the girls in your troop. Former girl scout here and I used to love it until some of those same mothers/leaders made it a “college admissions resume builder” and poof, the soul of Scouting dissipated on the wind.

      4. Uranus Wars*

        This made me cry. I don’t even know you but I AM SO PROUD OF YOU. And what a great example to set for your kids.

      5. Malarkey01*

        Thank you for speaking up- as hard as it was, and as it didn’t result in future changes, I can guarantee it challenged some people in the room to think about their privelage and perceptions and changed the way a few think about things moving forward.
        I still remember someone speaking up 20 years ago when I was young about a similar situation. I wish I could go back and tell that stranger that her words at a meeting have stuck with me and made me a more inclusive thoughtful person and by sharing that experience she affected a lot of good. Since I can’t tell her, I’ll tell you.

      6. Pretzelgirl*

        That’s amazing you spoke up! You should be so proud! I am sure there were more people than you know who were forever grateful you said something!

      7. Batgirl*

        Well done you. I will always remember my cousin telling her new head teacher not to punish kids coming to school with the wrong shoes: “We’re a comprehensive in a deprived area. Not everyone can afford a completely separate pair of shoes for school. We can have the rule but you’ll either have to give them time or money” His response was disbelief that some people can’t afford more than one pair of shoes. Look, if some people can’t afford food, then they can’t afford *pretty much everything else*.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Heck, there were times when my dad was a kid that he couldn’t afford even one pair of shoes, let alone the snowboots necessary where he lived. His little sisters had to wear his hand-me-downs.
          The idea of everyone being able to afford 2 pairs of shoes is so ridiculous, the mind boggles.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Holy crap! I don’t remember having more than two pair of shoes until I was in my teens. Half the time one was “Sunday shoes” and the other was sneakers. When I was on my own and had money I … um … went a little overboard on getting more. I still tended to buy cheap shoes at someplace like Payless or a department store on sale.

          1. Phoenix from the ashes*

            Omg, underwear! I was in my 30s before I had enough bras, knickers and socks that I didn’t have to plan my life around laundry drying times! And even then, it was only because a primark opened up near me that made it possible at that time. I remember walking out of the shop clutching my bag of cheap new undies and feeling like a millionaire!

            And I was an accountant with supposedly the most valued qualification in my country, and I worked so hard I later burned out completely – but the salaries were just so low. I just – we need to talk about this more because the shame of being in that position is so awful and so isolating – but OP, this is not your time to do so, you won’t change your horrible, vile colleagues and they’ll use what you tell them against you.

      8. Buni*

        Current Girl Guide / Brownie leader here. I had to go alone before the board of governers at the school whose hall we use – in a fairly affluent area – and explain that the rent they wanted to charge was more per term than we took in in voluntary subs* in an entire year. We also plead with our parents to not feel the need to buy new stuff for the girl’s first camp – she may hate it and never use it again, and we have loads of second-hand / communal stuff they can borrow.

        *and we had a couple of girls/parents who couldn’t even make the payments, or were paying in installments, or just what they could when they could.

        1. allathian*

          The scouting organization in my country is very keen on every child being able to afford at least one extracurricular. There are a few kids in my son’s troop who don’t pay the full amount. There’s also a way for parents who are well off to pay extra so that disadvantaged kids can attend camps and hikes.

      9. WoodswomanWrites*

        That is incredible–you are fantastic for speaking up on behalf of the girls and families!

    2. Uranus Wars*

      This perspective made me think of a back to school supply drive and summer cereal drive I used to help with. We would set up outside of different grocery stores and reallocate the collected items equally to schools and community centers in areas based on need (not only in the area collected if that makes sense).

      Those who lived, and grew up in, the areas with the highest need would spend $50-$100 each out of their own pockets for these programs. In the more affluent areas we did not collect half as much. One woman stopped me one day and said knowing how she grew up, and how her kids went without when she & her husband were young and scraping to get by that the $100 was well spent if it meant helping someone who might be in her situation.

      Those who never went through it just didn’t understand it from a ground level perspective. Lots of “well if they just” ‘s going around.

      1. Chinook*

        This isn’t just a child or family thing. I feel like I am the one who has to remind others that our $30/year fee is a lot to some. Sure, it is great that they give it for free for those over 70, but I know that I would have never joined at age 35 if an anonymous donor hadn’t covered my first year. It is a constant fight to keep our non-fundraising events as “suggested donation” instead of a ticket price wven when I point out that, for as many “free entries” we get, we get an equal or more amount in people who donate more.

    3. Pomona Sprout*

      Thus one here, was your letter published at AAM? I can’t tell for sure from what you said. I have been looking for it using the search feature on the site, and all my attempts have pulled up tons of hits but nothing that’s an obvious match.

      I ask because I’d love to read the whole story. I’d especially like to know exactly what the sign said. I commend you for the stance you took, and would love to know the *exact* nature of what you were reacting to.

  7. Michelle P*

    This is a place by “expressive” face would get a workout. Ugh. Sorry you work with such oblivious people.

    1. BookishMiss*

      Yeah my “oops did i make that face out loud” face would be working overtime. I worked somewhere where OP’s co-workers did their banking, and my face often Said Things that I entirely meant but would have been fired for saying with my words.

  8. Homebody*

    From someone who came from a poor family (grew up on welfare) and is also dealing with a mountain of debt, don’t let it bother you. I work in a field that people often get into by coming from wealthy backgrounds and I totally understand the utter lack of empathy you get from people who didn’t have to work hard to get where they’re at. It’s not fair, but unfortunately people tend to not think outside of their own experience. You worked hard to get where you are and it has made you grounded and strong. Be proud of it!

    I would not recommend sharing your financial status with others, people are more likely to be insensitive than kind.

    1. Sue*

      There are certainly entitled people who feel that way but there are also people who have struggled and have no sympathy because “bootstraps”. Empathy is missing in some people of all backgrounds unfortunately.
      Some people would hear your story and be sympathetic because it’s so much easier to do that with people we actually know. It might open eyes but it might also just make you even more self-conscious to feel you might be discussed by these sad souls.

      1. Tabby*

        Ah, yes, BOOTSTRAPS.

        *stares in grew up poor (remember those stamp books with the different denominations? I do. Oh, and the LOVELY imitation I’m-sure-this-isn’t-really-cheese cheese they gave you from the food banks?) and is currently in a lot of debt I’ll never be able to pay off because I’m now too ill to actually work more*

        People who say this are automatically BECs to me. Just on sight, I don’t like them, and everything they do is annoying, for now and forever more.

        1. Michelle P*

          I remember standing in line at the court house with my dad and siblings with our boxes waiting for the faux cheese, powdered milk and mystery canned goods. I also remember being the one following the cart with a calculator in the grocery store to make sure we didn’t go over and have to put stuff back.

      2. Mannheim Steamroller*

        As many wise people have said in years past, the standard “bootstraps” line means nothing to those who have no boots.

        1. Libervermis*

          *And* was part of a phrase that referred to an impossibility – that you can’t actually pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. The laws of physics forbid it.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            This. The whole “bootstraps” idea is a mockery, an impossibility. IMO, it’s a shorthand for “do the impossible, because we can’t be bothered to help”

  9. Warlord*

    Some people are so poor all they have is money. Bless their poverty-stricken little hearts.

    1. Batgirl*

      My nana used to say “If you want to see what God thinks of money, look at who she gives it to.”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The site “Today I Found Out” has an article about “Why it Sucks to be Rich”.
      And the punchline is pretty much the lack of real friendships.

      And here we see why they don’t have any real friends.

      I have heard from friends who used to be well off that in some areas of the country (not naming a certain area, although a certain area was mentioned), that the wealthy people in that area literally sit around and mock poor people. They find hundreds of ways to berate and hate. The things my friend repeated curled my hair. These remarks here represent some of the thinking but it does get worse than this.

      Hate doesn’t look pretty on anyone regardless of financial status.

      Like my father, I was also wiped out by a spouse’s catastrophic illness. I can tell you first hand that I would not have gotten as far as I have without friends. There are some things that money just can’t buy. How do you buy a person to call at 2 am when there is a stranger on your front porch? How do you buy a person to go with you to put your beloved pet down?

      OP, while I don’t want to suggest you take on a superior “sense of knowing what is real”, please always keep in mind that there are many things that money cannot and will never, ever buy. And it’s those things without a price tag that can make or break a person’s quality of life. I have a person on the perimeter of my life, who I do worry about. Money is their solution for EVERYTHING. I know this won’t go well for the longer haul. As the years tick by I see, indeed, it’s not going well. It’s so sad because life does not have to be this lonely. But Person “has to protect their wealth”. And that is about what they will end up with is just their wealth.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Those rich people sound so pathetic! If I had lots of money, I might do fun things like take cool vacations, not sit around to mock people. (Also, I would give more to charity.)

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I have a somewhat friend who has more money than friends too. He’s disabled now, but still has plenty of cash. He’s learning that money doesn’t mean everything, but he can’t understand why it doesn’t.

        I spend most of my money. I’m not rich, but if I was, I have a huge list of projects I would love to be able to do – most of them involve housing for my friends and paying off people’s debts.

  10. Widget*

    Semi-sardonic advice: try not only observing, but keeping a journal, complete with the most outrageous quotes and incidents, so that someday you can structure your notes into a tell-all memoir (see also: Heads in Beds, Waiter Rant, etc.), possibly with movie deal and join the ranks of the sneering wealthy.

    1. juliebulie*

      Or you might structure your notes into legal testimony when one of your sneering selfish coworkers is accused of some greed-related crime. (Just in case you were unwittingly witness to something illegal.)

      1. juliebulie*

        In case the previous comment was confusing, I was just thinking how nasty goes clean to the bone, and there was a possibility that by keeping good “anthropological records,” OP might stumble onto signs of some kind of fraud or malfeasance.

        That’s probably absurd, but I watched a lot of movies over the weekend and now I think everything sounds like it could be a movie plot.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Isn’t that sort of how The Devil Wears Prada came about?
      Lol! Yes keep copious notes and a diary. It may just be your bestseller one day and BOO them!

  11. Some Lady*

    I agree with Alison. If you can use your proximity to these people to inspire some empathy and understanding, you’d be doing a social good. But if that feels too risky or emotionally expensive for you to do, protecting yourself is 100% the right thing to do. Sorry you have to deal with these particular aliens.

    1. Kiki*

      Yes, I don’t know if LW is feeling this, but if LW is feeling like they are morally obligated to say something and speak to their experience to make positive change, I want to make sure they know they are free of that obligation. It is okay to focus on yourself and just make it through your coworkers’ terrible behavior and pay your bills.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I’d be tempted to use examples from real life: “Gee, a couple who were friends of mine ran into difficulty when one of them got really sick. In the end, the one spouse needed a med that cost $170k per year plus a helper med that was $30k per year. Insurance would not cover it. How many people could find $200k per year for just a med if neither partner was able to work? They had other huge medical expenses also, so the med was just one of those expenses.”

      Or another classic: Both my father and my uncle hired people to help take care of a home bound person with a serious illness. Both my father and uncle saw first hand, that people just don’t show up, even when they say they will. Is the healthy spouse lazy for not working and staying home to take care of sick spouse???

      There are millions of stories like these that can be worked into conversation… if you feel like fighting that fight. I don’t blame you if you don’t. I might not either.

  12. Taylor*

    OP, I am in a similar situation. I am the youngest, most junior, least financially-secure person in my department. While they aren’t overly cruel about poverty, my coworkers take anywhere from 3-5 trips out of the country every year and are generally very well-off, both due to their professions and due to the fact that they’ve been practicing so long. I have also heard them make snide remarks about other people’s cars, professions, and make subtle digs about everything from cutlery to sparkling water to word choice.

    I am generally a fan of the “pretend you’re observing an alien culture” approach, especially when you’re not necessarily someone who’s being talked *to* but rather being talked *around.* As in, if they’re standing in front of your desk and talking amongst themselves, I would be cautious about interrupting their conversation. If you’re all out to lunch or talking *to* you, I would feel like I had a little more standing to say something, but I would still be very cautious.

    Sometimes when you try to implement a culture change (especially if you’re not actively involved in said conversations) you’re seen as The Good Time Ruiner, even if you’re totally, 100% morally correct. I would really weigh how much you think these people could make your life miserable on a day-to-day basis before saying anything. And yes, that sounds like a shitty conclusion to draw, but that’s the one I personally have drawn-being financially insecure and in the middle of a pandemic puts us in Survival Mode, and I personally am not willing to burn through whatever capital I have with my coworkers by trying to correct their stance on this particular social issue.

    1. tangerineRose*

      “hem make snide remarks about other people’s cars, professions, and make subtle digs about everything from cutlery to sparkling water to word choice.” These sound like very insecure people to me. And jerks, of course.

  13. Hills to Die on*

    I have worked in places like this (making fun of people who take public transportation, blue collar workers, anyone who has been to jail, had addiction issues, people without college degrees), and it is disturbing.
    I’m glad Alison made the comment that you should not feel obligated to do/say anything about their behavior because it could hurt your professional standing. You don’t have to endorse it but you don’t have to say something.
    People who made comments about why it’s not okay to make fun of people for taking the bus were in turn made fun of for speaking up. Don’t say anything. I don’t miss working there.

  14. LGC*

    I like how the Plagueatorium in the last letter is only the SECOND worst workplace today!

    I’d be speechless if I were still able to be shocked by the callousness of some people. (Also, LW: I wouldn’t be so sure they DON’T know about your general situation. After all, someone is writing your (apparently paltry) paychecks.) Here’s hoping that you’re able to get out of there and into a job that doesn’t make fun of unhoused people.

  15. Me*

    If they’re spending oodles of money then they very likely have oodles of debt.

    In my first real office job, I was amazed how some of my new coworkers were able to have great outfits including $$$ purses *and* take little vacations almost constantly.

    The 20-something me didn’t realize that folks charged things like that to one or more credit cards each month and then only paid the minimum due on each card each month. And they would get a new car every couple of years, effectively ALWAYS having a car payment.

    So you just don’t know. Yeah, your coworkers are awful people but chances are pretty good they’re also awful people with a ton of debt.

    I wouldn’t try to change them.

    1. Marny*

      Nah, there are many people who spend a lot of money who don’t have a lot of debt. Some people do, some don’t. Her coworkers are terrible people regardless of their credit card balances.

    2. Miss May*

      This so much! I work someone that has a 2020 vehicle, constantly buying stuff from amazon, and making big-purchase items constantly (jetski, hottub, etc). Thing is– she makes the same I do, we just have different ideas on how to spend money. She’s got a ton of debt.

    3. Taylor*

      Maybe, maybe not. But even if OP’s coworkers are swimming in debt, they could buckle down for a couple of years or even a couple of months and pay it off. It’s not really the same thing as being poor or financially insecure.

      I do think that people make fun of other people sometimes as a way to alleviate their own insecurities-people make fun of fat people sometimes when they’re afraid that they could be fat. People make fun of poor people sometimes because they’re insecure about their own financial situation, or swimming in debt and don’t want people to know it, etc. So that may very well be the case here.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Maybe, maybe not. But even if OP’s coworkers are swimming in debt, they could buckle down for a couple of years or even a couple of months and pay it off. It’s not really the same thing as being poor or financially insecure.


      2. mayfly*

        Yes! It’s the same argument that UMC people frequently make: after saving for retirement, saving for kids’ college, private school, and a nice annual vacation, they really don’t actually have all that much money left over.
        Income is income. If you make a lot and spend/save most of it, that doesn’t mean it somehow isn’t a sizable income.

    4. Temperance*

      Eh, it’s a matter of differing priorities and backgrounds, as well as other skills (like sales shopping, Poshmark/Thred Up, etc.). It’s not always people living above their means.

      I grew up in poverty. We regularly had really shitty beater cars that we’d pour thousands and thousands into to keep running; failing inspections was a regular thing in my world, and when it happened, it was a BFD. So yeah, as an adult, I lease. I “always have a car payment”, but I’m also not in a situation where I’m trying to scrape money together to make the necessary repairs to get my car inspected. Then again, I also live in a one-car household, which saves a lot of money.

    5. Batgirl*

      It’s true that people who feel that a show of wealth is necessary are sitting ducks for debt. Maybe they do have enough to bail themselves out but they’d never cope with a stroke of bad luck.

  16. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    Don’t share your status.

    You might get severely judged.
    You might get a ton of unsolicited, unwanted advice.
    You might find yourself getting offered an odd assortment of hand me downs, because “you’re poor.” Your debt situation should not turn you into a dump zone for other people’s unwanted stuff.
    You might get asked to justify how you spend your money and get odd comments when you treat yourself.

    Do call out their privilege.
    Do remind them that they have no clue why those people are there.
    And remind them, if living in the US, all of them could be one huge medical crisis away from being in the same line.

    And remind yourself that your money saving and scrimping will pay off in the long run. Believe me, it will!
    And remind yourself that more often than we care to think, as they brag about their spending, they are only a few paychecks away from being broke themselves.
    And remind yourself that keeping up with the Joneses is a terrible way to live your life. It’s incredibly stressful and anxiety producing.

    I watched a co-worker who through her own unfounded fears, not pay taxes she knew she would owe for two years. When that chicken finally came to roost, she moaned sadly about her debt while still trying to keep up with the Joneses: dance lessons for her daughter, a trip to Cuba for her family (it was a bargain! – everyone takes a trip south in winter!), meals out and even contemplating a new waterfront house to move to, all while insisting she had no money to finish her bachelor’s. You better believe she was being judged behind her back.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Exactly, don’t share your status. It doesn’t do any good for them to then say “of course you’d pity them, you’re just like them!” No, instead you use your voice when they have that idea that you’re their equal.

    2. Batgirl*

      I like your last paragraph. I actually do pity people whose most basic budgets include dance lessons and vacations. It’s like never learning how to dress yourself.

  17. Shani*

    What about fitting in with the culture? OP might rub potential references the wrong way. It’s up to management what they think is appropriate in their office.

    1. sequined histories*

      Sure, it’s totally normal to worry about this sort of thing, which is why no one is suggesting that the OP is OBLIGATED to make speaking up to these horrible people her personal crusade. She knows more about her situation than anyone else and is in the best in a position to judge what it would be best for her to do.

      But, you know, not ever pointing it out or pushing back in any way when anyone who has a more money, power, or influence than you do says or does something awful has its own costs, both to the individual and to society. People have a tendency to assume that silence is assent, and sometimes it’s worth it to let them know that not everybody thinks it’s all good to mock people standing in line because they’re hungry and can’t afford food.

  18. LKW*

    I am so sorry that you work with such awful people. Two things to perhaps help you.

    1. Know that people who truly have money – I mean MON-AY don’t talk about it. These are people for whom money is never going away. They have no need to brag about it. They will wear the same sports coat for 20 years, and do not care if it is designer, shows wear, etc. because they bought it when they needed it and it still does what it’s supposed to do. When you hear these folks talking about how much they have, always remember that a) if they really had that much they wouldn’t need to brag and b) there will always be someone who has more (like a lot more).

    2. Play the “That’s nice” game if you really want to see people get flustered. You may even be able to get all of them to go at one another’s throats. My dad was awesome at this game. When someone starts bragging you just say with a mix of enthusiasm and condescension “Oh, isn’t that nice for you!” “Oh you must be so pleased!” and “How nice.” or “That’s great.” (don’t try to compare or say “must be nice” or anything that gives a sense of one upmanship). Just keep repeating those phrases, toss in a few more generic replies. Think about how you talk to a 3 year old that tells you he has a dinosaur. Reply using the same tone and generic-ness. (“Oh a Maserati! What color is it? Oh that’s a very pretty color. I bet you like that color very much.”) What will happen is either when you don’t react with either jealousy or trying to compete – they will start trying to impress you and start telling you about all of their things and possibly try to one up one another until they’re just shouting about the things they have. They will get embarrassed if they do either of these things.

    Never talk about what you have or do not have. Just remember they are 3 years old and they have a dinosaur and want to show it off.

    1. juliebulie*

      I can vouch for #1. I briefly worked in two different industries that were all about people with MO-NAY. People who have serious money don’t need to show it off and usually aren’t motivated to do so.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Thirding this. I work in fundraising and everywhere I worked the Top Donors tended to be pretty demure (in my experience they also tended to be the least demanding of things).

      2. Amy Sly*

        e.g. Mitt Romney wore Costco’s house brand jeans on the campaign trail. That’s what having real money looks like.

      3. tangerineRose*

        I knew a couple that was very, very well off, but you wouldn’t know it to spend time with them. You might figure it out by the charities the wife was involved with and donated to. If you saw their house, you’d know they had some money, but the house wasn’t so much fancy as it was customized to their tastes. Nice people, and they enjoyed what they had without flaunting it.

        1. allathian*

          This. People who are so wealthy that they can ignore the “keeping up with the Joneses” are probably nicer than those who are wealthy but not rich enough to be able to pay off the national debt of a small country if they wanted. There are obviously exceptions to this, but the ones who’ve realized that you can’t buy genuine friendship with money and who realize that you can’t take your money with you when you die, probably are.
          Reverse ostentation is a thing when you’re so high up the wealth ladder that you don’t need to flaunt it with status symbols.

    2. Colorado*

      #2 is amazing advice! Amazing! I will remember this!
      #1 is true too. People with A LOT of money drive 20 year old Honda’s and don’t talk about money.

    3. NYC Taxi*

      Yup, true about people who have MON-AY. One of my friends is a department store heir, and you would never know it. Has a normal full time job, drives an average car, wears normal clothes–nothing about him or his wife says money. He lives in an amazing house and tells people it’s his uncle’s house. He knows he’s a member of the lucky sperm club and doesn’t flaunt his wealth or take it for granted.

      1. Who the eff is Hank?*

        Oh man, I am definitely stealing the phrase “lucky sperm club” because that is just gold.

    4. pope suburban*

      The best strategies I’ve ever found for dealing with a toxic workplace came from Supernanny. In my old Workplace Of Bees, we had one department lead in particular who loved needling people. He wanted big emotional reactions for whatever reasons, and he terrorized the entire inside staff. I didn’t want to give him anything he wanted, ever, on general principle, so I treated him as if he was three years old. He hated it, and quickly began to leave me alone. It helped that, at its heart, his behavior WAS very childish, so treating him as if he just needed a juice box and a nap felt appropriate. I highly recommend this kind of thing when dealing with the world’s worse people.

    5. Lora*

      Yup. Can confirm. In situations where I need to network with the fabulously wealthy, this is the difference between Old Money and New Money: the Old Money people who can trace their heritage back to the Mayflower or whatever, are wearing their 20-year-old LL Bean clothes to do the gardening on the weekends and drive an elderly Volvo until the wheels fall off. They spend their time at various fundraiser dinners or doing some sort of museum volunteer work when they aren’t golfing at the same country club their parents belonged to. They don’t talk about money or brands of things at ALL, they like to talk about their projects (though this project might be funding a health care clinic in a developing country or funding some fine arts group – something you can only do with a couple million $$ to burn) or their kids.

      New Money talks about all the crap they can afford and why it makes them special, all the time. They definitely get upset if it seems like you are not suitably impressed, no matter how polite and “isn’t that lovely!” you are about it. The Old Money folks went to grade school with a bunch of people who similarly had piles of money, they are used to money not being a very big deal – yeah, they had money, but so did the Cabots, Chaffees, Endicotts, Putnams, Wigglesworths and Lawrences, and it didn’t make any of them any nicer or better: money didn’t make you stand out from the crowd when everyone had it.

      I definitely recommend not outing yourself as not-wealthy as they WILL make fun of you, but if you want to “pass” as upper class, it’s a LOT easier to do if you’re trying to be Old Money. Good quality consignment and thrift store finds, preppy-ish and tailored to fit well, with decent neutral shoes. If you’re female, a blunt bob haircut in your natural color and minimal makeup. Khakis, not jeans. That’s the uniform. This enables you to look at the New Money people in silent horror for an uncomfortable few moments and reply, “I’m working on a fundraiser dinner for (service for poor people) actually, and tickets for the dinner go on sale next month if you’re interested” or whatever. Which, hey, even if you are working as a volunteer in the coat check, it’s true.

      1. Amorette Allison*

        I LOVE THIS! I am astonished at how crass the newly-rich are. As Lora said, old money has better manners.

        1. Amy Sly*

          It really is the curse of a “meritocratic” system. Old inherited money has the concept of noblesse oblige and that their privileges come with responsibilities. New “meritocratic” money thinks they’re rich because they’re better than everyone else, and as such they have no obligations to the people who didn’t win the game like they did.

          Granted, I want a system where people can rise on merit, but everything has trade-offs.

          1. Thornfir*

            The whole concept of noblesse oblige is troubling to me, to be honest. It seems predicated on the idea that old families are good to the little people, and that’s… not true historically or in the present. Sure, they may have better deportment and social niceties so that they don’t make fun of people in public, but you can be darn sure they do in private, and they absolutely pursue their own interests to the detriment of others, just like new money.

            I don’t know. It feels good to say it to a rich person who became rich within the last century, but the undercurrent is literally “you will never be as good as us because you don’t have the heritage.”

          2. Ellie*

            I don’t think this holds, and this whole subthread seems like a bit of a pile on. I know a seriously rich couple where the wife is lovely and the husband is horrible… they have the same background. There is no rule you can follow, there are good and bad people in every income bracket, new or old.

            I know one man who is new money, the stereotypical, hard-working immigrant. He built up his business from nothing. His children are awful, uncaring snobs, they will not talk to you if they don’t think you’re rich. His grand children though are lovely… a little naive sometimes, but basically kind, good people. I’ve seen some entitled kids spout rubbish, get corrected, then change their behaviour to the point where they’ll start giving money and supporting local programs. It happens… but OP has to be careful if these are the people who sign her paychecks.

        2. Thornfir*

          You know, I get this, and it’s a nice retort to rude rich people, but… it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Because “old money has better manners” has some troubling implications–like “there really are aristocrats in the world who have noblesse oblige, they’re just the ones who have been benefiting from economic privilege (and usually other privileges) for centuries instead of decades.” I know that’s not how it’s meant, but I’m uncomfortable with it for that reason.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This is really great advice. OP, find yourself a project that you actually enjoy- save the eagles- whatever. And talk about your project. You will have something they don’t have and it will get to them.

      3. nnn*

        Do you know if the New Money people perceive this difference? (i.e. would they recognize the Old Money as Old Money?)

        1. LKW*

          Not usually. They live in a world with other New Money and so they spend time competing.

          That’s why I recommend the “That’s nice” game. Because you can’t compete with someone who isn’t playing. Old Money doesn’t play because they don’t need to – they own the game.

      4. Broke*

        > but if you want to “pass” as upper class, it’s a LOT easier to do if you’re trying to be Old Money.

        Since we as a society are finally talking about race, privilege, and assumptions on a large scale, I want to point out that many of us will never be able to pass as “Old Money” (at least not in a Western country) and you shouldn’t assume letter writers or AAM commenters are WASP. Even Eleanor’s family couldn’t pass (in the beginning of Crazy Rich Asians), and they’re Old Money Singaporean.

        1. Thornfir*

          Right. Part of the reason I cringe at ‘oh they must be crass New Money, because Old Money is classy and polite’ is that, like… in Western countries, essentially all Old Money is white people. (Wealthy minorities don’t count as Old Money no matter how long they’ve actually had money.)

          1. Altair*

            Yeah, this entire thread is making me laugh bitterly. As my father once put it, “it takes a LOT of money to turn a Black man green.”

    6. Buni*

      My parents had to move out of their place for 6 weeks while essential building works were being done. They were discussing with friends where to go in the meanwhile and some lady at their church – who lives in a house basically the same as my parents, wears a 20yr old wax jacket that probably belonged to her mother, shops in the same shop – went “Oh, you can just use the flat!”. Turns out she & her husband have a storage garage in the next village. Where they keep their dozen vintage cars. With a little caretaker’s flat over the top. Old money whispers.

  19. Everdene*

    Is it Rage Week again?

    I don’t think anything the OP says abouther situation will change the behaviour of these awful people. Now I am no longer young and/or poor (I remember counting out the money to see how much we had to last the week, only getting the train to work but walking home etc) I very much see it as my responsibility to remind people not everyone is in the same boat. For example when my hobby group wanted to move from weekly to annual subs I caused a (relative) scene and demanded an installment option. Especially since we were on a drive to encourage younger people to join! I have used this with colleagues, friends, family etc.

    It’s a different situation but the same outcome. When people who talk about domestic abuse introduce themselves as a professional they are listened to and respected. If they say they have lived experience the respect diminishes, even if they previously were considered a knowledgeable professional. It’s wrong but true. Many people will ignore you if they think you are part of the vulnerable/marginalised/minority group.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I reported a prof for [reasons]. The dean listened to me. At the end, i said, “i have to ask. Why are you listening to me when others go unheard?” The dean said, “it’s because of your GPA.”

      (Sorry, all of the sudden, i can’t get a capital letter “i” out of this keyboard and dunno why.)

      1. allathian*

        Yikes. Glad it worked for you, but even students who don’t have a stellar GPA deserve to be listened to… Given the dean’s attitude, I’m not surprised there’s a prof that needed to be reported.

  20. Alex*

    ew, gross. Yeah, the problem here isn’t who does and doesn’t have money, it’s that these people are assholes.

    For me, I think I might approach it under the guise of agreeing but actually disagreeing.

    Them: “Ha! Look at all these losers in the food line!”
    Me: “Wow, yeah, that’s so sad. I’ll have to make sure to include this shelter when I’m looking at my charitable giving budget. They seem to really need it. I hope they’re able to help everyone in that line.” (Doesn’t matter if you don’t actually have money for charity at the moment and “when you are looking at your charitable giving budget” is “sometime when I’ve paid my debt”–they don’t know that.)

    Hopefully modeling compassion will throw into relief what jerks they’re being. Or maybe not, but at least it isn’t sitting back and letting their comments slide.

    1. Bear Shark*

      I used to use this line on charity telemarketers – “I’m sorry, I’ve already allocated my charitable giving for this year”
      They didn’t need to know that some years my charitable giving had to be $0.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I use that with political solicitations too: “I’m sorry, I’ve already allocated my political contribution budget for the month/year.”

      And, essentially, I do – I have certain amounts that I am willing to donate to charities, service orgs and/or political causes. It’s a function of how much “wiggle” I have in my budget and how many disasters have to be handled. It’s seldom zero, but it can be pretty slim some years.

  21. dragocucina*

    Thank you Alison, this is a perfect response:
    “This isn’t about coworkers who don’t hide how much money they have. This is about coworkers who sound like awful people.”

    The truth is it is hard being poor. Been there. Never want to live in a condemned house again. The welfare cheese though was really good. Your coworkers lack basic understanding and empathy. It’s one reason I dislike hit and run charity events. “Oh, let’s all work at the soup kitchen this year for our community outreach.” It does nothing to building understanding of the causes of poverty and homelessness.

    There may be a way build a larger involvement that will foster comprehension. Of course I don’t mean a reach into your pocket for a $20 donation. Perhaps when natural work on building an interest and plan for a partnership with an organization that educates your coworkers and helps others.

  22. Turtle Candle*

    Oof, yes. You don’t have a coworkers-are-wealthy-and-don’t-hide-it problem (it’s hard to hide vacations, and while it’s tacky to show off your Gucci bag or whatever, people are gonna have them sometimes, it’s uncomfortable but it’s just gong to happen), you have a ‘your-coworkers-are-the-most-massive-of-compassionless-jacka**es’ problem. If you can, it’s useful to try your best to separate the two. The ‘visibly better off than me’ thing you should let go if you possibly can, because most workplaces will have visible income disparity of some kind. It sucks, but it sucks because capitalism, not because bad person.

    But the second one? No, they are horrible people, and you absolutely can find workplaces that don’t have people mocking people for being poor. That’s egregious, it’s not normal (okay, maybe it’s normal in some industries, but IME not most industries), and of course it makes you feel bad because it is bad! So I’d recommend job searching if you at all can. In the meantime, I would not disclose–I would instead start mentally being the alien anthropologist investigating the inhabitants of Planet Glassbowl.

  23. notacompetition*

    If you’re in the US, you might also softly point out the rampant economic inequality experienced here: “You know, 40 percent of America doesn’t even have $400 in the bank for an emergency. Lots of people use food banks and soup kitchens because lots of jobs don’t pay a living wage, or because they are trying to get out of medical debt, or because they are still recovering from losing their savings in the 2008 recession.” There is a way to do this that embraces empathy without making it a political debate/convo about bootstraps.

    Also, this is one of the reasons I stopped working at a $70K/yr tuition private school. I feel for you. There is no shame in being poor. There is great shame in making fun of people who are trapped in an economic system that disadvantages them.

  24. LilSebastian23*

    Ugh, that sounds like such a tough situation for you to be in. To go along with other great suggestions here, you could try something like this if you want to point out the behaviour without shedding light on your own financial situation.
    “Mmm, I’m not going to judge anybody’s situation. We never know what is going on with somebody else and now that covid has come along things can change so rapidly. I’ve read so many sad stories of people who were doing well but then lost their jobs, even more so lately.” Maybe that could spark a “there but for the grace of God go I” type thought in somebody…maybe not if they are truly uncaring. Whether or not you say anything, I wish you the best.

  25. reelist1*

    When they laugh or make fun of people in soup lines say, ‘but for the grace of god go I’ or ‘We are so lucky not to be in that line’. Your repeated calm reminders that they are bags of sh!t may get them to tone down.

  26. Rosalita*

    Never have I ever felt such an urge to throat punch people. Ive been where you are OP. I have no advice just a sorry that you are on such a situation. It sounds stessful.

  27. Colorado*

    When they start making fun of poor people or anything else, just give a dead pan “wow”. Or even a “wow, why would you say that?”. And leave it there, awkwardly hanging while you go back to what you were doing. I read that on Carolyn Hax I believe a long time ago. I’ve used it many times.

  28. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This isn’t normal and your coworkers are scumbags.

    I am in the Seattle area where homelessness is in our face even more so than many other areas and I hear minor grumblings but never this kind of extreme. Mocking people in line for food?! WUT.

    Small, heartless minds are pitiful. Think about how ugly inside you have to be to kick the lowest in our society? “L-O-L hungry people haha hahahahah ahhaha”, nasty.

    Bless their hearts. You don’t need these people’s approval is what I want to really drive home. I sure hope nobody is living above their means because if we’ve learned anything in the last 20 years, it’s that you’re out on your ass a whole lot faster these days with the economy nose dives.

  29. mystiknitter*

    Perhaps there might be a volunteer opportunity here, like a day-of-service team building event, at the meal program? I’ve seen that be a successful way to bridge the otherness that makes it too easy to make foolish assumptions about people one does not know.

    1. Temperance*

      I definitely, definitely, definitely do not recommend this. People are not teaching tools.

  30. Postcrosser*

    Years ago a local civic group (such as Kiwanis, Rotary, Eagles etc) advertised a “Poverty Day”: “Come to the meeting ‘tattered and torn, old and worn’.” I’m not a member of said group but it was listed in our local paper and it really bothered me. A friend and I tried calling them to point out the insensitivity but they were definitely not hearing it. Arrgggh!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      It’s like Spirit week in high school? Come dressed as a “hobo clown” or some nonsense?

      What a gaaaaaaaaaaaaas. *slaps knee* I have so much hate in my heart towards these kind of people.

  31. Delta Delta*

    The coworkers are terrible. I would have no hesitation in saying to the coworker “you are being terrible.” No explanation needed.

  32. Donkey Hotey*

    Ouch. That’s a rough position to be in, OP.
    Former employer had an office in a less-good part of town (Fun fact: not too far from the etymological origin of the term “skid row”) and our back parking lot had its share of people “sleeping rough” or in their cars. One gentleman pitched a tent and lived pretty much under my window for about six months before social services came to help him along. This meant my cube had a constant stream of people coming and tsk-tsking and wondering aloud about his circumstances. Annual charity drive time arrived and I made sure that people correlated the charities that we give to with the help he received. I may have kept a stack of donation forms near my desk for that very reason.

  33. Amorette Allison*

    I would probably blurt out “Jesus, what a crappy thing to say” when they insulted poor people. But I’m poor and everyone around me is poor so that doesn’t happen very often.

  34. YetAgainEvenAnotherAlison*

    Anyone that would make fun of a poor person or a person who stands in a soup line is someone to avoid. Those that would make fun of someone down on their luck have limited empathy and lack kindness. Associate with those people only when needed because that lack of empathy is a big red flag on how they will treat you.

  35. Yep, me again*

    I’ve been poor several times in my adult life, some within a few years of the last bout of poverty. Some of it was my fault. Some of it was just bad luck. All of which was hard and frustrating and awful.

    I’ve also volunteered to cook/serve dinner with my company at the homeless shelter and it’s heartbreaking to see people come through, some with kids, some pregnant, some amputees. Some lost houses. All of them *thanked* us as we left for the night. Very, very nice people in some bad situations.

    I agree with Delta Delta. Tell them it’s inappropriate. If they still don’t get it, nod to the line and ask ‘how many of them were in your shoes a few years ago’ and walk away.

  36. MistOrMister*

    Who in the world would make fun of someone for not having money?!? I can’t fathom that. I think I would stay far, far away from anyone like that (or as distant as possible while still being cordial at work). I hope they’re great coworkersin every other way, but my goodness I think I would find it really difficult to work with people like that, regardless of ky financial situation.

    I would say try not to take the vacations and shopping sprees to heart. Some people spend on those things but don’t are in debt. Growing up we had a neighboring family where the wife didn’t work, they went on big trips all the time, etc….and come to find out the house had been mortgaged at least twice and the husband was in despair saying he would never be able to retire. Some people who spend a lot have a lot, but some spend what they don’t have and might not be too far from needing a food bank themselves. I try not to look at other people’s spending just because you really never can tell what their situation is. I find it helpful for my mental health to not assume everyone else is rolling in money. It reminds me of my 20s when I was working retail and figured the managers must be pulling in SO much money. Knowing what I know now, I doubt that was the case, but sometimes these perceptions are relative.

    1. Lifelong student*

      There are some fancy houses in my town- and many residents have fancy cars- but the houses are furnished with card tables and folding chairs. They eat beans and watch their big screen TV’s on the folding chairs. I have done tax returns for people living in these communities and the amount of their mortgage interest compared to their income is staggering. Don’t judge by the facade- because that is all it is.

  37. Princesa Zelda*

    I don’t have any advice, but I do want to say that you’re not alone — I’m in my mid-20s and live very close to the wire, and have been since I was 18. Right now I have enough food in my cabinets that I don’t need to go to the food bank yet, but if I can’t find another part time job soon I’m going to have to. I have been lucky enough to work somewhere where my coworkers are kind, and two of the managers are from working-class backgrounds, so I haven’t felt the need to hide this at work. I hope you’re able to find a job like mine that pays a little better and lets you be your authentic self, with coworkers who aren’t bad people.

  38. Tidewater 4-1009*

    I got involved in activism because I’m concerned about gentrifiers taking over my city.
    One of the really disturbing things I saw was comments on a news article about gentrification. There were several comments from monsters who said poor people (those who can’t afford gentrified apartments) don’t deserve a place to live and made it clear they think we don’t deserve to exist.
    Also when I worked at an investment bank in the early 2000’s and my colleagues openly said they’d vote for the president who promises tax cuts because they only cared about money.

    It would be nice to think there are only a few who are so rotten, but I’m afraid there are many who normally keep their monstrous thoughts to themselves and only say them when they think everyone else in the room is like them.

    OP, if you speak up to make these people uncomfortable you could be risking your job. It might be better to wait till you leave (soon, I hope!) and then find a way to out them – maybe on Glassdoor, or is there anything they can be reported for? I bet if you contacted the soup kitchen they might know of a reporter interested in your story… :D

    Also please don’t think you have to wait till you have a degree to get a good job! Some clueless employers screen with degrees, but many appreciate skills and experience. Go ahead and start looking today!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I cackle every time I hear someone talk about what presidential candidates want to promise.

      I’m not old but I’m still educated enough to remember the “No New taxes” monumental lie.

  39. Dagny*

    In these circumstances, I say, “I’m really glad that the food banks and soup kitchens are there for people who need it.”

    No one fights you on that. No one. I don’t make it personal about people who might have needed it before and are succeeding now or other hypotheticals; it’s just about being glad that we have resources for people who need it.

    This response also helps because it’s classy, and people who behave this way (conspicuously spend money, make fun of people with less) are often trying to overcome their own backgrounds or pretend to be more special and elite than they are. Just lead by example with the real ‘class’ response, which is, simply, it’s a good thing that we help those in need.

  40. Penny*

    Years ago, I worked with someone who referred to overweight people as “chunky monkeys” which is especially awful when you realize that this person was a healthcare professional. After my jaw dropped 3 times in front of her and she didn’t get the hint, I finally asked her to not use that phrase around me. It was almost comical to see how upset she was to be called out on her unprofessional behavior. She sputtered and stammered that no one else was offended and it wasn’t a big deal and why should I care since I am not overweight and blah blah blah. Later on, multiple people told me they were offended by her comments but didn’t have the guts to stand up to her. You don’t know who is also offended by these AWFUL human beings.

    1. Dagny*


      I know someone who lost a fair amount of weight and now is just Ms. Body Shamer. Stares at my waistline, makes rude comments about my body non-stop, actually mocked me for gaining a pound and a half, you get the drill. (She’s about two dresses sizes larger than I am.) Finally snapped and told her that no matter how much weight she’s lost, she doesn’t have the right to body-shame other people, especially not over less than two pounds.

      SO OFFENDED. You would have thought that I suggested pureeing the family pet.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        No matter how much weigh she loses, she’ll still have to look at her glassbowl self in the mirror.

      2. allathian*

        Yikes. I hope you don’t work with this person. I’d go low to no contact with people like this. My body size is not up for discussion, except maybe with a medical professional when appropriate. But not when I’m there half dead with strep throat and just want my antibiotics and doctor’s note ASAP.
        That said, I never talk about my weight at work so people aren’t commenting mine.

  41. Delta Delta*

    I also want to say this. Resist the urge to be upset with the coworkers talking about their lives and what they do. They may take vacations, but they don’t take vacations *at you*. I had a situation once where I went on a really big trip out of the country (it involved a family wedding and we made it a longer trip). I saved up a lot for it and planned really well. When I returned I knew my coworkers didn’t want to hear about my (seemingly) lavish vacation, and I didn’t want to make it seem like I was rubbing it in that I got to do something they didn’t. So I made sure I was armed with a couple good stories and a few good photos in case someone asked (ha ha jet lag! it’s terrible! or whatever) that had nothing to do with costs of things. The last thing I wanted was for my coworkers to feel uncomfortable that I did something that seems unaffordable, so I told them a funny story about repeatedly missing a train.

    1. Observer*

      Yeah, the problem is not that they take nice vacations, etc. It’s that they talk about the money they spend all the time. And they make fun of people going to a food pantry

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, that bolded bit is what yanked my chain.
        I’ve never been extremely poor, but poor enough to live from paycheck to paycheck, and at one point I was living on unemployment benefits for a year or so. But that just taught me to count myself lucky that I can afford all of life’s essentials and some things that are merely pleasant to have or to do, not to look down on people who are less fortunate than I am.

  42. LifeBeforeCorona*

    A good response may be “No one grows up thinking that they are going to be using a food bank or homeless. You have no idea about what went so wrong with their lives.”

    1. StellaBella*

      Agree with this. OP, I am sorry that you work with people who lack empathy as Alison says. One thing to point out to them is the current recession and potential depression coming and that current stats in the USA indicate things are likely to get a bit worse before they get better. I read recently, “The Congressional Budget Office expects unemployment to remain elevated at a 10.1% level through 2021 and only decline to 9.5% by the end of 2021. Notable large companies have already started laying people off. This will likely only accelerate and not reverse trend as companies deal with shrinking revenues.” You can share this with your colleagues to say that hard times befall people, and many people need help, and see how they react. Probably like the jackholes they are, so do not hope too much but still. Be careful tho not to lose your job over a moral issue or not fitting in, if you have a lot of debt to pay off.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I appreciate the sentiment behind this response but let’s not forget that poverty is actually a cycle ingrained in our society and lots of people do live from childhood through adulthood requiring dependency on food banks and soup kitchens. They aren’t afforded the dreams of breaking the cycle either. Precious few have been able to break it due to the system issues we have.

      I always say “the system is built to keep more at the bottom than the top, don’t think you can’t topple down there with those who are struggling right now.”

  43. mgguy*

    I’m in acadaemia, and there is a rather notorious pay discrepancy between faculty(especially successful faculty) and staff. Part of that is because when faculty get a grant, depending on the exact terms, they can often kick back part of it to their salary. 6 figure salaries for moderately successful faculty, with more than a few at over $200K, while most of our staff is between $40K and $50K.

    Our secretary was, until recently, one of the lowest people in the department, which was a huge disparity given that her duties include a lot more than just traditional administrative assistant duties. One of the first things our new supervisor(department manager-staff-a totally new position) did when he started a couple of years ago was go to push through some pretty substantial raises for staff he saw as very underpaid for the work they did. Around the same time, the secretary and I both received ~20% pay bumps. That’s pretty much unheard of for staff to get a raise anywhere close to that at this institution.

    In any case, I know from her telling me that she has a lot of debt and still struggles, although her raise did help a lot. I don’t think she shares her money trouble with very many people, and I certainly don’t pass along what she says. Still, though, I feel bad about people around here talking about elaborate vacations and also comments about people just “not knowing how to manage their money.”

    For my part, because I’m young and single(at least for the next couple of months) I do travel more and have my fair share of “big boy toys”(cars, cameras, etc) that I talk to faculty about, but I avoid talking about them around her since I know it’s a sensitive topic.

  44. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    I have never been shy about sharing my struggles with poverty in the past. I have been on food stamps, I have used food banks, and I’ve been homeless. I remember growing up with the shame that surrounds being poor, it’s traumatizing.

    You also learn a lot of bad life skills that end up holding you back and forcing poverty onto you longterm.

    I feel it’s important that I share these facts whenever appropriate so that the people around me understand that it could just as easily be them. We also need to normalize the discussion surrounding money. I’ve talked to a lot of people that didn’t realize they were only making 20-40% more than the person they were judging for being impoverished. We’ll never do better until we can help each other instead of trying to “rise to the top” on each other’s backs.

  45. All Outrage, All The Time*

    Am I missing something? The link Alison posted goes to an article about David Letterman.

  46. Jaybeetee*

    I’ve had some bouts with poverty myself, and the worst was a couple years ago when I went through a breakup (long story short had to give some money to my ex), then just had a string of big expenses (car repair, vet bill, laptop died, etc) that just had me completely wiped out for about a year. As in, one or two times I had to wait for my next pay to take care of a $10-20 expense. So many times I got paid and my account would be overdrawn in a day or two just from bills and expenses, and my credit card was constantly maxed. It was the worst because by that point I’d finally made it into a “good job”, and on the rare occasions I had to confess that I literally didn’t have $10 left until my next pay, it was mortifying. It was easier to admit I was flat-broke back when I made minimum wage or just over it.

    You never know what someone’s circumstances are. Even if they’re making decent money on paper, a divorce, illness, or spouse’s job loss can make things incredibly tight. I’ll bet a bunch of those colleagues are near the red line themselves, but are ashamed to admit it. I live in a white-collar city with a high median income, and I live within walking distance of at least eight payday loan stores.

    Don’t feel the need to comment if you think it could jeopardize your own position. If you do want to say something, maybe mention that most people using social assistance have jobs. And just know in your heart these people are insecure and wrong.

    1. Persephone Underground*

      Me too- a lot of my peers went through something like this during the recession, and I think it’s part of what drives the fact that we’re statistically a more charitable generation. We’ve been there, and know what it means to be poor, and so have much more empathy with others in that situation than people who never had to worry about if their empty-ish had tank had enough left to get them to work. Hang in there OP!

  47. Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery*

    Like with racist jokes, you can often get hours of amusement by acting like you don’t understand. Frown slightly and innocently say variations of “I’m not sure what you mean by that” and “what makes you say that?”. Either they say their shitty view explicitly or have the decency to look embarrassed and then you know whether it’s worth having the debate.

  48. Ducksgoquack*

    I’m sorry you have to work with such vile coworkers, OP.

    There’s an excellent service I’d like to recommend which I’m sure you heard of – you can arrange to send people a bag of dicks or glitter bomb. Happy to do it for you for free.

  49. Persephone Underground*

    I’ve found it’s possible to float disagreement with this sort of thing while keeping “office polite”, similar to what Alison says about just letting your natural reaction show. You say what you think is the decent response to the thing and look a bit shocked at any disagreement. E.g. (when someone mentions the soup kitchen line) “There but for the grace of God …” or “I’ve been meaning to volunteer there sometime, they do such important work.” Or something else perfectly normal to say. Basically modeling the decent human approach for anyone who might actually pick up on it and at least making it clear you don’t tacitly agree with whatever awful thing was said. I kinda inadvertently did this at a job when there was a story about a trans woman who had been selling golf clubs that she lied about the composition of or something. There was a scandal over the lying, but also over her being trans, and she committed suicide. A co-worker brought up the story sort of like juicy gossip and I was just horrified about the death saying how sad it is that trans people have such a high risk of suicide, fraud story aside. I think he seriously never looked at it that way, and my reaction kinda took the wind out of that conversation (even if it didn’t change his mind), and others privy to the conversation didn’t think I agreed that it was a “juicy story”.

    1. Persephone Underground*

      For the soup kitchen comments on the long lines, you could say something like “Yeah, it’s terrible how long people have to wait in those lines, we should donate so they can hire more staff to speed that up!” Basically be oblivious to the mean-spirited part of the discussion and redirect. That lets you make the point without having to get too confrontational with people who have more power than you in this office. With a friend I would absolutely bring up my personal history (I did this when a friend who is otherwise compassionate brought up how drug od’s should have to wait for treatment because they did it to themselves- pointed out my stepsister used to be an addict and she had just as much need for treatment as anyone else, and was no less valuable as a person because of it.) but not in a situation like the OP describes.

  50. TWJ*

    I fell out with a guy I owned a business with over his ridiculous views on poorer people.
    We were driving and I said I was stopping at a bookies for 5 minutes to bet on a horse. “Why would you willingly go into what is effectively a benefits repository?”
    Stuff like that, a year of it and I said, “Enough”.

    “Are you seriously going to ruin a successful business because you disagree with my views on the workshy?”

    Haven’t spoken to the guy since that day and am pleased I haven’t.

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