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We The People

September 3, 2012

White House Fence #15

Here’s what I asked over on Facebook:

Here’s the question I’m pondering: what should we expect for a person working full-time in our society? Should they be able to feed, clothe and house themselves on the money they make? Should they be able to support a child? Pay for medical care? Heat? Lights? Transportation?

Do we have that expectation, or is it a Grapes of Wrath situation where there’s no low too low? Talk to me.

I started thinking about it when I heard that most of the people who get food stamps are working people, whose benefit averages $133 per month.

One of the security guards at my old work was a proud new daddy. His big regret was that he didn’t get to see his son much – after 8 hours as a guard, he went to work for another 6 hours in the kitchen of a chain restaurant, and then on weekends worked two 8-hour days in a warehouse store.

He had zero days off and zero health benefits. He was a hard worker but not well-educated, or, it struck me, as someone capable of benefitting much from higher education (to put it bluntly – he just didn’t seem very bright).

So I wonder about this guy and about people like him. Is it ok that he worked 88 hours a week to make ends meet? What do we do with hard-working but not particularly intellectually capable people? Should a lack of abstract thinking skills keep him working 80+ hours a week his whole life?

His lack of health insurance is bothersome, too. Of course he and his family will need medical care. If his employers don’t offer it, who pays when he or his wife or child gets sick?

I’m really wondering what minimum wage means when it doesn’t cover the minimums of life – food, clothing, shelter. Some politicians want to abandon the minimum wage. Would we be ok with a society where there is no bottom, like China or other countries where people work for pennies an hour?

What do we want? What should we expect? I’m full of questions on this Labor Day. What do you think?

  1. September 3, 2012 09:09

    For the life of me, I don’t understand why there is opposition to universal health care. When it comes to fiscal matters, I am fairly conservative. Even so, I am 100% behind the idea. Mostly because having access to inexpensive or free PREVENTATIVE CARE could save us loads of money in the long-run. What’s cheaper? Us having to pay relatively little money so somebody can go to the doctor and have a little problem fixed? Or having them sit on the little problem because they can’t afford to have it tended to, only to have it turn into a massive problem which costs a ton of money to fix (which we are then forced to pay for), and incapacitates them for the rest of their lives (which we are then forced to pay for)? Yes, there are problems associated with universal health care, but the benefits would seem to outweigh the negatives. Both because it’s fiscally responsible… and it’s the right damn thing to do.

  2. September 3, 2012 19:34

    My daughter and her husband both work two jobs. They have 3 children. They receive $200 a month in food stamps plus they receive a subsidy that helps cover the day care (pre school) for their 3 year old twins. It kills her to accept the help, but without the subsidy it wouldn’t pay for her to work (she receives full medical benefits for herself and partial for the family, medical picks up the difference for the kids with optical and dental). They are exhausted each only getting one day per week off, rarely the same day.

    I help as much as possible, doing their laundry (to save laundromat time and expenses and watching the kids in the evenings and weekends when needed).

    Not everyone on “welfare” is scamming the system and not everyone working is “comfortable”

  3. September 3, 2012 23:06

    I’m with Dave22 – I think universal health care is the way to go. It just doesn’t make sense to tie your health insurance coverage to your job. I understand that we got that way at a time when adding non-monetary compensation was a good way to recruit employees in a sellers job market – but it doesn’t make sense now. Everyone should have the basic coverage to stay healthy, and with an emphasis on preventative care. Every other industrialized nation sees the wisdom of it.

  4. permalink
    September 4, 2012 00:22

    It’s a very interesting question, speaking as someone from a country which, I gather, most Americans don’t want to emulate. You see, where I come from, things like healthcare are free at the point of delivery, whether you are a CEO or unemployed. Why, we even let tourists use our hospitals if they get sick whilst visiting. Whereas from this side of the Atlantic, anyone over 55 with a pre- existing medical condition can’t afford the cost of the medical insurance for a trip to the US, which can be more than the air fare! I admire many things about the USA, but how can any ” developed ” country in the 21st century refuse decent, regular healthcare to so many of its population because they can’t pay?

    Sent from my iPad

  5. September 4, 2012 08:09

    Did you see that Jen Neal wrote on this theme as well this weekend?

    I don’t remember what I said on Facebook. I sure do think that 40 hours a week should cover food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. I think we’re so supremely fucked up it may take us a long way to get to that point. I wonder what would happen if you confronted a conservative with this choice; we’ll be happy to do away with food stamps if, before they go, you ensure that 40 hours per week at the minimum wage will cover food, shelter, clothing and medical care. If you consider how they don’t seem to want to pay for education or food stamps or WIC or anything but they want to control reproductive rights I bet that compromise would kill them. They don’t want to pay for any help but if the choice reduces their control over people I don’t think they’d like that either.

  6. September 4, 2012 10:35

    I recommend reading Nickel and Dimed

    There’s something broken with our economic system when hard working people can’t get by. It’s another idea that someone deserves less than you. Like you’re saying “because you are poor, you don’t deserve a quality of life”. I don’t mean that we all deserve 4 bedroom houses with two cars and diamond rings. But we all deserve to be able to be rewarded for our hard work by being able to spend quality time with the people we love.

  7. aflournoy permalink
    September 8, 2012 00:24

    Groan. I love that you dare to lay out this poor guy’s situation. With any luck, awareness -> acceptance -> action will kick in and our poor broken country will pick itself up and get back to living according to some kind of moral code. Looking forward to meeting you at CA.

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