It’s expensive to be poor: Netflix’s limited series MAID offers a stark portrait of poverty in America

According to an October 12th, 2021 Reuter’s article, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) trimmed its global growth forecast from 6.0% to 5.9%, with a 2022 forecast of 4.9%. 

Metropolises such as Los Angeles have seen lower-middle-class citizens pitching tents, all while the LAPD and city council have been enacting new laws against homeless encampments. 

If you’re an upwardly mobile member of the middle-class, the global poverty crisis we’re entrenched in might not seem real to you, that is the luxury of being privileged.  Our 46th President, Joseph Robinette Biden, and his Vice President, Kamala Harris, have been campaigning for new policies that will redirect our troublesome budget whose original emphasis was on the 1% and Military Industrial Complex, back into the hands of the people.

Since the Reagan era, the cost of living has gone up, while the national minimum wage has stagnated at $7.25/hr. The rent average is $1,200 for a one-bedroom/one-bathroom apartment. Inflation has doubled, or even tripled, the cost of groceries. 

The United States of America is in trouble.

On the heels of this catastrophe, Netflix has released an under-the-radar but very prescient limited series entitled, MAID, starring up-and-coming ingenue, Margaret Qualley (Once Upon a Time in HollywoodThe Leftovers). Qualley stars as Alex, a young woman fleeing an abusive relationship with her daughter, Maddy. 

Netflix (2021)

Based on Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, the series was developed by Molly Smith Metzler. The memoir and the series magnify the traumatic battle of being poverty-stricken in the United States. MAID busts the myth that it’s easy to get a “government handout” if you’re poor. In the first episode, Alex meets a caseworker that can barely do anything because Alex fails to meet any of the bureaucratic policies that would allow her to even afford subsidized housing and a SNAP card for necessities like food. Qualley gives an authentic performance. She doesn’t condescend to her character’s adversities, she doesn’t play, “tough as nails,” rather she keeps a sardonic wit balanced with the vulnerability and fear of what it is to be a young woman alienated by the world. 

The exposition of the series flows nicely. Set in the Pacific Northwest, we’re left to gather that Alex has been living in the poverty cycle her entire life. Her mother, Paula (played by Qualley’s mother, Andie MacDowell) is a hippie artist who lives out of a van with her fauxstralian boyfriend, Basil—a relationship that Alex objects to. 

As the title of the series implies, Alex takes a job at Value Maids and begins working immediately. Unfortunately, she must pay for all the supplies herself. Her customers are obscenely wealthy and live in sumptuous mansions by the water. The class disparity between Alex and her clients is staggering. The first episode sees Alex throwing out fresh food for a wealthy couple because they’ll be spending the weekend in New York City and they, “don’t want the fridge to smell like kombucha.”

The Chekov’s gun comes in the form of an expensive Dyson vacuum that must be returned by the end of the day, an anxiety-inducing ferry, a cell phone with no service, and an emotionally unstable mother. 

Alex’s litany of anxieties never seem to end, she is at the will of her constantly depleting bank account. Her simmering anger is justified. The series emphasizes the invisibility and the relentless battle against her circumstances just to afford living through a single day. So often when the subject of poverty is brought up in upper-middle-class circles, there is the limiting belief that there was some precluding factor in that person’s life that they did something wrong and that’s the reason for their misfortune. The reality is much worse. Late-stage capitalism has run amok, subscription services are the new norm while corporations have been seizing affordable houses in low-income areas and turning them for a profit. Supply chain disruption and inflation have corrupted the cost of necessities such as groceries and sundries. The cost of living in America is on the rise with nearly 77% of the population living in some degree of debt.

Perhaps with MAID, the privileged class can take a deeper look at how expensive it is to be poor. The middle class is all but vanishing. Centrist and conservative voters need to vote on progressive tax plans that push for a more syndicalist, FDR-esque taxation of the rich instead of the stagnating Reaganomic policies that keep the poor down while the rich get richer. After all, it’s far easier to fall on hard economic times than it is to become grotesquely wealthy like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. This is the reality we face. 

MAID is available to stream on Netflix. 

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