Posts Tagged: poverty

Warring over the minimum wage


I got in a spat on Facebook this morning; a comment battle, some might call it, but it wasn’t quite that contentious. I hate when that happens, to be honest, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. I get sucked in by good intentions, then can’t stop myself because every now and then I want people to stop. Stop for just a second, and think. Think about something outside of their own four walls. Outside of their own struggles. Outside of their own little lives, and realize that some people live different ones; they have different priorities, needs, and desires.

The spat was about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The basic gist of it is this: There are a whole bunch of American workers up in arms because they currently make $15 an hour (or maybe even less) and have been working the same job for years. I get their point. I honestly do. For me, the real beef isn’t about minimum wage so much as it is about what’s fair.

These workers have years of job experience. Job experience is hugely valuable. If they have that much experience, it also means they do their job well enough, at least, to have kept that same job. Being good at the job you do is also hugely valuable. I trust that no one would disagree with either of those points.

But framing the minimum wage according to one’s personal situation, and that alone, isn’t fair. Here’s the thing, minimum wage was not meant to assist only entry level workers. That’s the argument people most commonly make, but that’s not true. It was meant to be a living wage. It was intended to create a country where no matter what your ability, a worker could make a decent living.

The argument always goes like this: well you shouldn’t expect to be able to live on what you can make as a cashier at McDonald’s because that’s just an entry level job. Maybe it was for you, but that’s not true for everyone. What if a person’s very top intellectual capacity is one that allows him to be a cashier and nothing more? What if no matter how hard a man works he can’t read or do math well enough to do a more sophisticated job than clean a restaurant or bag your groceries? Do you mean to tell me that man, who is the best damn cleaner you’ll ever meet, who shows up every single day to bag your groceries and help carry them to your car, who takes pride in a bright shiny floor after he’s done buffing it — You’re telling me he doesn’t deserve to live comfortably? Let me tell you something, bub, the current minimum wage doesn’t allow even that.

Here’s another thing. If you don’t want the minimum wage increased, then shut the hell up about about paying taxes for food stamps, and Medicaid, and any other federally funded program we have that protects the welfare of the poor. Because you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. You have to pick one or the other.

After all that’s said and done, though, I think we have a much deeper problem in our country than what’s a fair minimum wage. Our bigger problem is we don’t respect a hard day’s work anymore. We don’t value a woman for doing a good job if it’s a job that won’t make her rich. Or at least buy her a nice new car. And we sure as hell don’t respect a woman who opts out of working a paying job to raise her children. And isn’t that sad?

When did we stop valuing a man for his best contribution? And don’t get your panties all in a bunch. I’m not talking communistic, we all share equally, kind of deal. All I’m saying is hard work = hard work regardless of whether you have the smarts, luck, or family ties to be the CEO, or not. Let’s be blunt here: if you read the studies on human perception, a lot of what makes a CEO a successful one, is how straight his teeth are or if she’s got good hair. So you go ahead and think this is some crazy, revolutionary idea if you want to, but that there is just not right.

Martin Luther King Day

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During a conversation yesterday, I was posed this question: Is violence in the ghetto justified? My answer to that, on face value, is No. I don’t think violence of any sort toward any body is justified, but I can understand how it feels justifiable.

No, I don’t see those as the same thing. I don’t believe violence solves any problem. We have to be smarter than that. I don’t believe anyone has a right to inflict bodily harm on anyone else. But I can fully understand how anger and outrage and frustration can build up inside a person for years and years and eventually bubble over in violent acts. We’re human, after all.

Let me offer an example and I’d like you, reader, to think (really sit back and consider) what it would be like for you to be in this situation. Here goes: Say you grew up in a family that had no permanent roof over your heads. Your parents worked hard, but never had more than the $50 a night it cost to live in a long-term hotel room. It happens. I’ve seen it. So then, let’s say we apply a little math to that situation and $50 x 30 days (a month’s worth) = $1,500 a month in “rent.” That’s a hell of a lot of money in rent for a shabby hotel room, isn’t it? But people grow up in that situation all over the country. Mom and Dad pay it out, day after day, because when you’re paying $1,500 a month for a hotel roof over your head it’s impossible to scrape together first month’s and last month’s rent plus a security deposit to rent a real apartment. So you remain homeless, as a kid. You don’t eat well because of the money thing, too, but also you don’t have a kitchen or a table for cooking and eating. You probably eat mac and cheese out of a styrofoam cup a lot of nights. It’s hard to study because, again, there’s no table to spread your books on. Plus Mom and Dad might have other more important things on their minds – like can we afford this shitty room again tomorrow, or am I gonna get fired because the car broke down and work is too far to walk? So checking homework and maybe just having an engaging conversation is too much to ask for. Maybe Dad died of diabetes complications because there was no money for the doctor or to treat it or to buy healthy foods.

So you have a family of children who grew up in a situation that was so difficult to climb out of that they were unable to do it. Then, some dude with a job and a house and plenty of food and his own bedroom with clean sheets and warm blankets on the bed and probably a flat screen TV in there; he comes along and says, “Why you mad, bro?”

Would you want to punch him?

I might. Because we are only human. Love and hate are equal sides of the same coin, aren’t they? What matters is what we do with them.

That’s why we admire Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. isn’t it? Because he saw the importance of rising above. He knew in his heart that even those kids who grow up in abject poverty need to have a dream. We all deserve a one. Every one of us.