“And woe to you, King Jehoiakim, for you are building your great palace with forced labor. By not paying wages you are building injustice into its walls and oppression into its doorframes and ceilings.” (Jeremiah 22:13)
As much as possible, I try to steer away from politics on my blog but, if my tagline is truly, well, true, then sometimes getting political is a must. If we are to heal as a people. And, if I’m being totally, brutally honest, Ivanka Trump just hit a nerve with me. A big nerve.
Ivanka stated: “I don’t think most Americans, in their heart, want to be given something. People want to work for what they get” (Reints; politicalobserver.com).
Yes, there is a lot of truth in that statement. We are a strong, courageous and proud motley of people who would rather work for what we get/what we have than to receive hand-outs. There is a certain pride in being able to pay for your cost of living. It is a pride that allows you to lift your head up and look people squarely in the eye. It is a pride that allows you to open the doors wide–to your home, and to your heart–because this is the home and life you have created (or, rather, that He has provided you the means to create). When that pride is missing because of a job loss, an illness or injury, or simply inadequate wages, suddenly the signs of neglect are everywhere. Homes start to show signs of neglect, disrepair, unkempt, over-grown. Clothing is much mended and threadbare because the means to purchase “new,” even in a thrift store, isn’t there. Faces take on a tired, drawn look. Dark circles and/or bags form under the eyes. Tempers flare. And people withdraw. Invites to dinner/outings with family or friends are declined because they don’t feel they have anything to contribute, or can’t afford to pay their way to an event. People start to feel like a mooch (uh-oh, here they come again, Martha, pretend we’re not home). And, in the case of illness or injury, if there aren’t any outward signs of it (i.e. brace, cast, etc), people even start to sneer that maybe this person does not want to work. Or hint that they brought it on themselves.
The end result?
Even suicide (No, I’m not, but I can certainly understand at this point why people feel so hopeless in the face of such conditions and, PS, I have a therapist; a lot of people are too ashamed to even seek help when they need it. Keep that one in mind the next time the temptation to judge another’s situation arises)
So, while I can agree with Ms. Trump for her acknowledgement of human pride in wanting to work for what you get, she’s missing the biggest piece of the equation. What if you’re working–and working hard, not a slacker in the least–and yet, your wages are too low to pay for even your most basic necessities?
Let’s crunch some numbers here:
Minimum wage sits at $7.25 per hour. It has been $7.25 per hour since 2009 (Reint; politcalobserver; Miller; Amadeo; Numbeo). If you can find a full-time job (because, despite Trump Sr.’s avowal, they aren’t as prolific as he’d like us to think; voice of experience) at $7.25 an hour, your gross pay after 40 hours of work is $290.00. Multiply that times 4 weeks in a month and you get a gross income of $1160.00 per month. Working overtime, say 50, or even 60 hours per week, would drive that up exponentially. But most employers don’t want to pay overtime. It may be because they cannot afford to pay the time-and-a-half required for overtime but, either way, most workers are not getting it. So they take a second, or a third job, working a total of 50 ($362.50 wk/$1450.00 mo) or 60 ($435.00 wk/$1740.00 mo) hours each week, traveling back and forth between those 2-3 minimum wage jobs, become over-tired, get sick–or injure–easily because they’re rundown, and cost their respective employers more money in sick/PTO (paid time off, if provided).
Granted, the above numbers are a single income household like my own. So, if you have a partner, maybe we can double this. And, if it’s just you and your partner, maybe you don’t have to work that second or third job. What if you have children? The average cost of daycare in 2018 was $211.00 WEEKLY(!!??!) (Care.com). That’s almost a full week’s wages for one partner at that minimum wage, 40-hour gig. Some will willingly pay it because that extra $79 left over in that check might be a week’s grocery shopping. But that’s the cost for ONE child; multiply for 2, 3, or 4. If you’re a single parent, and you only have that minimum wage, 40-hour-gig, do you see the problem? How is anyone supposed to hold their head up high under those odds? How can you expect to work for what you have when you can barely provide the most basic of necessities?
Now let’s look at housing costs in America (I would love to see a freeze on housing costs…):
The average median price (2018) for a one bedroom apartment in America is between $991.62 and $1266.40 (Miller). The prices vary depending upon location with the higher prices reflecting those homes closer to the heart of the city and all the amenities that affords. If you’re living in the suburbs, or the country, the lower rental price is balanced against the higher cost of transportation, usually an automobile, because bus services can be quite sketchy, especially in rural areas (again, voice of experience). A 3-bedroom apartment can range from $1601.58 to $2058.96, same variance reflected. The single parent does not even make enough to cover a month’s rent in the city, and less than $200 more living outside of the city’s heart. Again, these are gross wages; this is not what these people are taking home. And this single person may not qualify for government assistance at these wages, even if they can swallow that pride to apply for them. The U.S. Poverty Line used as a guideline by Social Services, etc. is as follows (Miller):
Family size: 1 person $12,140 annually gross income (AGI) Family size: 2 people $16,910 AGI
Family size: 4 people $25,750 AGI
$1160 per month at the minimum wage of $7.25 times 12 months is $13,920. If this is a couple, both earning $13,920 a year, even if there are children involved, they do not qualify at all because their combined wages are $27,840 annually. Without children, it may not be an issue. But, with children, they’re also likely to be forced into that bigger, more expensive apartment, as well as have daycare expenses to pay. Unless they opt to nix any quality family time to work separate shifts, or take on extra side gigs.
With mortgages, it is even more varied. Most people scraping by on a minimum wage position, even a full-time position, can never get approval to own a home of their own. However, if, like yours truly, they had a better paying job before the economic crash of, roughly, a decade ago, and still own a home, they may be paying for a mortgage instead of rent. The average cost of a mortgage is “$1030 a month, according to the latest American Housing Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau” (Pritchard). This is reflective of a fixed rate amortizing in taxes and insurance costs; principal and interest alone averages $853 per month.
The Green New Deal, which may become a topic here for a while, wants to provide “a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security” (Reints). It isn’t proposing that we simply hand people a new job; it is proposing that the job market overall should provide wages that a body can live on. We’re not talking about that random deadbeat who doesn’t want to work; we’re talking about millions of Americans right now who are working–and trying to “secure a job” that really will provide that “upward mobility” Ivanka talks about–and yet they cannot move upwards because they can’t afford to feed their children. Or even themselves. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is correct in stating that “a living wage isn’t a gift, it’s a right” (or it should be) and workers often are not paid for “the value they create” in their company (Reints; Sullivan).
And, sadly, far too many employers are aware of all of these numbers. If you don’t like it, you can always leave. I encountered that attitude a decade ago when I was still working a corporate position that barely provided for my needs and they refused to give wage increases the last three years’ running.
You expect some struggle. Hardships happen. Hopefully, grace will pull you through. And some careful budgeting, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and a local food pantry who doesn’t care about guidelines. You pray for miracles. And a community that cares. You endure the sneers that maybe you don’t know how to balance a budget, or that you’ve brought your hardships on yourself. You have statistics thrown at you that, even with an increase in minimum wage, people will spend that extra money instead of saving, investing and/or getting out of debt. Yes, maybe there’s some truth to that one, too. Oftentimes, people pay off a mountain of debt and go right back out, get another credit card…and run it back up again. More likely, increasing the minimum wage to a level that affords most families the ability to move upwards, will amount to them buying their own groceries, paying their utilities and paying off at least a portion of their debt. In short, it’ll place the 12.3% of Americans living below poverty guidelines (Miller) above those poverty levels and take them out of the welfare system. Heck, it might even stimulate the economy as they move out of poverty and, possibly, into home ownership. At the very least, they might be able to take in a movie, or go to a doctor when they’re sick. Because now they can afford the co-payment.
Ivanka hit a hot spot. I don’t begrudge her the advantages she’s had in life. It’s simply the way things are that some are born into privilege, while others struggle indefinitely. However, while she has the right on our American pride of wanting to work for what we need/have, and to grow wherever we are placed, she needs a lesson in reality for the other 99% in this country who don’t earn enough–no matter how hard they work for it–even to keep a roof overhead. If she, and others in that top 1%, were to switch places with even the so-called middle class, they’d crumple into a fetal position. And, knowing that, is a reason for us 99% to raise our heads high after all.
Now, if only our wages reflected that pride we take in ourselves, in our work, and in our lives. Yup…I know about the sin of pride. I suspect, with my reason fall, injury, and impending foreclosure, He’s working on that sin in me. But that’s another post for another day…
May God bless you & keep you!
Amadeo, Kimberly. “Living Wage and How It Compares to the Minimum Wage: How Much Do You Need to Live in America.” The Balance. Web. https://www.thebalance.com/living-wage-3305771
Miller, G. E. “What is the U.S. Poverty Level Line and Could You Live Below It?” 20 Something Finance. Web. https://20somethingfinance.com/what-is-the-united-states-poverty-line
Numbeo. “Cost of Living – U.S.” Web. https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/country_result.jsp?country=United+States
politicsobserver. “Ivanka Trump, Peasant-Whisperer, Does Not Believe Americans Want a Living Wage.” US Politics. Web. https://uspolitics.10ztalk.com/2019/02/27/ivanka-trump-peasant-whisperer-does-not-believe-americans-want-a-living-wage
Pritchard, Justin. “What is the Average Monthly Mortgage Payment?” The Balance. Web. https://www.thebalance.com/average-monthly-mortgage-payment-4154282
Reints, Renae. “Ivanka Trump: Most Americans Want Upwards Mobility, Not Guaranteed Minimum Wage.” Fortune. Web. afortune.comp/2019/02/26/ivanka-trump-minimum-wage