“I have a master’s degree, 16 years of experience, work two extra jobs and donate blood plasma to pay the bills. I’m a teacher in America.” We also think that it is just the uneducated that are ‘poor’ but that is also not the case if you believe this aforementioned statement.
In very many instances, a job can be a lifesaver for an individual…it can take them OFF of food stamps, it can take them OFF of Medical Assistance, it can give them enough money to find somewhere to live without the confines of government assistance, it can help them with their self esteem and help give them a ‘purpose’…what many jobs can’t do is guarantee that the individual will have enough money to pay all of their bills including, but not limited to, car/transportation/health care (yes, after Medical Assistance, costs can increase exponentially)/child care/utilities…along with the housing and food.
The New York Times recently had an article (9/11/18) about a young woman who worked for a home health care agency part time. The basic premise of the article was how work does not necessarily mean one will not be poor. This woman took care of her ailing father (a crack addict most of his adult life) and her three (3) children, also. Working for Bayada was a paid ($12) position but the home health care that she gave her father was not. There were periods of her life that she could not work outside the home at all due to the fact that she could not afford to pay for child care; once her children became older, she was able to work and not be limited by the need for child care. The bottom line in her story is/was that she was working…taking care of others through Bayada (Home Health Care Agency) and taking care of an ailing parent…while also taking care of her children…attempting to insure that they spend time in a library rather than out on the streets…insuring that her children attend school every day, do the assigned homework, eat properly, get enough sleep…so that, someday, they may have careers and earn enough money to comfortably survive in the place we call ‘America’.
There are some in politics that feel that the ‘right to choose’ is wrong but they also don’t want to pay for that woman to make the ‘choice’ they want her to make…so, instead of insuring that the ‘mother’s’ in this country have the means to raise a family with guaranteed time off (with pay) and guaranteed child care, many ‘mother’s’ have to fend for themselves. It is a vicious cycle and very hard to move above the ‘ceiling’.
Vanessa (the young woman in the New York Times article), until she was offered subsidized housing, would live with her mother (estranged from her crack addict father), who would often ask her to leave and take the children for they made too much noise…Vanessa would go to a Red Roof Inn or another ‘shelter’ that was possibly offered by one of the non-profits who help single mothers. In the morning, she would go back to her mother’s house and get the children ready for school. When things are going well for Vanessa, she is earning about $1200/month. An hourly rate of $10/hour for certain clients and $14/hour for others.
With the Dow Jones Industrial average over 26,000 and unemployment holding steady at 3.9%, it is not a question of ‘Can I get a job?’, it is ‘What kind of job can I get?’, ‘Will it help me and my family?’…American workers have increased productivity over 77% in the last 40 years, however, wages have only increased 12%. If wages were to stay level with productivity, the minimum wage in this country would be well over $20/hour. It is as if the non-skilled American worker has been excluded from the profits that they have helped generate…
The decline of the American unions has been a big reason that this disparity exists. The unions fought for, and won, many concessions from the American manufacturing/industrial and service sectors. Unfortunately, the decline of the unions has had a negative impact on the unskilled or lower skilled American worker. There really is nothing that raises someone out of poverty than a good/well paying job. 30% of the American work force earns less than $12/hour…this will not raise anyone out of poverty!
The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes ‘working poor’ as someone below the poverty line that spent more than half the year working or looking for work. In 2016, over 7.6 million individuals in this category…most over the age of 35…very few between the ages of 16/19…which is the age one thinks of when we think of someone working for ‘less’. These individuals are adults, many parents, who answer our customer service lines, wipe down hotel showers and toilets, take food orders and bussing tables, eviscerating chickens at meat-processing plants, minding children at 24-hour day care centers, picking berries, emptying trash cans, stacking grocery shelves at midnight, driving taxis and Ubers, smoothing hot asphalt on freeways, teaching community-college students as adjunct professors and, yes, bagging groceries and scooping ice cream in paper hats…can you think of more? I can…many more.
I truly believe that everyone that can should work…for many reasons. Working is good for the soul…I’ve written that many, many times over the years since I’ve had this BLOG. However, the practicalities of ‘work’ need to be weighed against the ‘cost’ of work.
I’ve recently begun to do some work for the world’s largest retailer…I’ve spoken to a number of employees…many of them making less than the notated $12/hour. Some of these individuals are college graduates with former professions such as teaching, nursing, medical assistants, etc. They are all now working for Walmart…and, yes, depending on the number of hours that they work, they do receive benefits…nothing great but they are available. Most of them are living with another family member or friend…no one that I’ve met can afford to live alone…almost all with families are on government assistance in some manner unless they have a significant other that works…almost all of them work hard…stacking shelves, cashiering, cleaning floors, preparing foods, etc. I respect them and what they do…all have a story to tell and almost all have had an issue that brought them to this point in their lives…as someone told me a while ago…no one grows up dreaming of being a car salesperson or of stacking a dairy shelf…dreams seem to be bigger than what these individuals are doing with their lives…however, they keep on working and doing and I applaud their efforts…I wish we could do more for them but life has, somehow, gotten in their way and they are making the best with what is available to them.
Wouldn't it be something if we could all run our own businesses and steal trust fund taxes whenever we felt like it and juggle the unemployment numbers so to have our employees collect unemployment while paying them 'under the table' with less coming out of our pockets and more coming from the government? Or, just not pay our employer obligated taxes so that we could go on that family trip to the Caribbean or finish building our weekend 'beach' house? It is illegal but employers protect themselves far more than the average worker realizes...even an employer such as Walmart learned a lesson the hard way....
If you have any questions on ‘living wages’, please contact Rosanne Bennett at 484-718-3427 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m sure there are those of you who believe that everyone in any downtown metropolitan area who is a person of color is sitting back waiting for the welfare train…this isn’t true. Some of those individuals are struggling far more than they should to insure that their children have a better life than they have.