Talia Jane may have deceived us, but her point stands

The latest social media outrage star is “Talia Jane,” the Yelp/Eat24 employee who posted an open letter to her CEO on Medium. The gist: Talia’s salary is so low that she is scrambling to afford, well, everything. Once, a guy who worked at CVS gave her $6 so she could get to work. She relies on a 10-pound bag of rice to get through most meals. Bread is a “luxury.” She makes $1,466.48 after taxes every month, but her rent is $1245. She can’t afford heat. Her car has a flat tire and a busted headlight, and she doesn’t have the money to fix them. She drinks water to keep from feeling hungry. She just wants her employer to pay her and her co-workers a living wage instead of buying all those coconut waters for the office that nobody likes anyway.

And then, hours after her open letter was published, she was fired. She updated the post to say as much, including a request for “any help until I find new employment” with links to her Paypal, Venmo, and Square Cash accounts. Someone else set up a Gofundme in her name, which has raised more than $2,000 in less than 24 hours.

So now, naturally, we have the backlash. A quick scan of Talia’s recent tweets, Instagrams, and Tumblr posts shows that she may subsist on rice, but she was plenty able to make cupcakes (margarita, mint julep, and pina colada flavored) for a bake-off with her co-workers a few weeks ago, and have bourbon delivered to her office. 

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Is Talia a poverty-stricken victim of the uncaring startup economy, or is she rolling in money and cupcakes and using this as a way to launch her viral career? I could make assumptions, but I had extra time today so I did this thing called “reaching out” and asked her myself.

“A majority of what I posted were things I already had before my move [in August 2015],” she said. “Some were things that were bought for me to make, and some were downright free. You can do the math and probably figure out that the only ‘income’ I had that wasn’t used on bills came from a credit card, which I had nearly maxed out over the past six months to pay for gas, train fare, laundry, and additional ‘luxury’ things that were justifiable expenses in context.”

The cupcakes and the bourbon, she explained, were for a company-wide bakeoff that offered cash prizes.

My read on it is that Talia’s situation isn’t as dire as some others or even quite as bad as she’s making it out to be. She may not always spend her money as wisely as she could, but did you at 25 years old? Or ever? Even you, Stefanie Williams, with the Medium rebuttal about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, albeit with a good deal of assistance from your family that might not be available to Talia or other entitled millennials?

Even if Talia was the most frugal millennial in all the land, she’d still be living beyond her means. In the Bay Area, that is shockingly easy to do, thanks in part to companies like her former employer that have driven rents sky-high with no ceiling in sight. Income inequality is a huge problem in this country, especially in the Bay Area. Yelp’s answer to that, by the way, appears to be to just move the lower wage jobs to Phoenix, rather than pay the employees it has in San Francisco more. Charming.

But, while giving some needed attention to this issue, Talia may not be its best ambassador, and making her such might mean we’re amplifying one voice at the expense of another, or donating to a GoFundMe instead of, say, a charity that helps people in situations that are far worse than Talia’s. After all, Talia made a few questionable decisions that put in her current predicament — taking a job that didn’t pay enough in the hopes that she’d get a promotion before that mattered is a big one — and a lot of people have it much worse through no fault of their own. 

So maybe Talia exaggerated her circumstances a bit, and maybe she’s just another whiny brat millennial or whatever term old people who want to judge young people because they forgot what life was like for them decades ago, like to use. It’d be a real shame if we ignored the larger point Talia was trying to make simply because we didn’t like the messenger.

By the way, food banks in the Bay Area could really, really use your money. Here are a few:

Bay Area Rescue Mission

Second Harvest Food Bank

San Francisco-Marin Food Bank

Oakland Community Food Pantry

Some of them even have Yelp pages.

[photo: @itsa_talia]


Tags: talia jane, Yelp