The point is that panhandling or scamming is growing in its complexity, and its artists are developing a more inventive scenario. No longer do they hang out at busy intersections with beat-up signs and embattled expressions. That doesn’t cut it anymore. Too many people are legitimately poor. Too many people are competing – not in the act of begging – but in the culture of impoverishment. These legitimate poor – the nonworking craftspeople and underworked professionals, the migrating new veterans and the old vets with PTSD, the assembly line workers and new college graduates, the sold out corporate execs and the locked out tradesmen – these people are clogging the empathy channel of America. There are just too many and there’s less compassion, less patience and fewer free bucks.
The new breed of panhandlers, those who’ve turned begging into an art form and a living wage, recognize that they will be extinct without a shift in tactics. I wonder if there are underground meetings where these issues are discussed along with brainstorming sessions. Do they report findings on the most lucrative storylines (cancer and Christianity score high in the South)? Have they reached a consensus on what works? And how do they divvy up their work space?
It is not implausible that this group of street people (some of whom return to a home after their shift) have a union of sorts, engage in strategizing and are as reactive to the economy as the “rest of us.” Unlike the rest of us, they’ve been here before. They are crafty, resourceful, adaptive. It might be wise for the rest of us to pay better attention to these folks. Give them credit for their entrepreneurial success. They have survived and thrived during the tough times. Our tough times, that is. Not only do they survive, they do so because the rest of us happily shower them with our diminishing revenue, and curse the government because we have so little.