Until we pay the working poor a living wage, they will still need government aid

Mural painted on plywood that is sealing a closed business; the mural says "We Need Change Now"

Boarded Storefront Mural by John Ortiz along 7th between G and H Street, NW. Photo by Elvert Barnes via Flickr.

American politicians of both parties are always finding ways to make the victims of their poor policy decisions into the culprits, when people exercise the best of the rotten choices left to them. It seems that they are always ready to throw the suffering under the bus to gain political favor or as part of some deal in the name of bipartisan compromise. When America experiences some kind of economic crisis, it’s always poor families, women and children last. 

All of a sudden, even when it appears that help is on the way for those who are struggling, the old victim-blaming games are afoot once again. Remember the first stimulus checks of $1,200? Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the payouts should last a person 10 weeks. Ask yourself, what family with every avenue to support itself cut off because of a pandemic can make it on that pittance? God knows if you have teenagers they can eat easily double that in a week.

That one check didn’t do enough to move the misery needle for most individuals or families. So after measuring public opinion, the powers that be decided that another stimulus check was in order to fix ineffective first shot. Lo and behold, after months of back and forth, reluctantly we were given a $600 belated Christmas gift from the outgoing president who made sure to put his name on them. What a crock of shit!

The Biden administration gave out $1,400 per person, which is doing the same thing — only masked with what appears to be more compassion than the last, as it continues to compromise on the cornerstones of its stated mission. The first to go was the effort to obtain a “living wage” of $15 per hour minimum for all Americans. Let me know if that is even still in play, after floating deals that would raise wages to that level over a course of years. In the D.C. area, MIT researchers estimate that a living wage for a single adult is $20.49. Some who cast themselves as champions of the working guy speak so eloquently about this goal, even though it really never allows people who struggle to catch up, let alone get ahead. 

Bond investors, hospitals, universities and airlines got their stimulus all at once, some with more supplements down the road. But not John Q Citizen — we’d get ours in unpredictable installments that don’t allow for the best planning, just enough to maybe put out one the many fires raging in our financial lives. 

Now, some American governors are cutting off federal unemployment aid because they say it’s keeping people from working. Look at it another way: Some people are for the first time in their lives getting paid enough to live on. They’ve simply done the math and it’s become clear to them the system has pimped them out for generations. Now, businesses are saying that if you pay people that kind of money they won’t want to work. Sorry guys, what idiot would? It’s a no-brainer. I can get around $2400 per month on unemployment, or go back to my crappy job when I might bring home half that after taxes. Those payments have educated people about the choices this country makes about who to pay. 

Voices from the dark side also complain that paying a living wage to the unemployed costs too much. But this country borrows to pay for everything. It’s not like every time the Pentagon wants a new toy they just go to Fort Knox and grab some gold. No, we get it from another country, often China. So take out another loan for the people. It’s what working people do all the time — rob Peter to pay Paul. 

Put it this way: We are always giving the working public too little, too late to make a lasting difference. Again this points out the real problem in America, which is the lack of a livable wage. Who in their right mind would stay on unemployment if it paid less than their job? Companies can afford it, even if it means raising prices. Median CEO compensation rose 15% last year, according to the Wall Street Journal. How did they pay for that?  

When is this administration going to stand up to these bullies and stop conducting business as usual? 

Wendell Williams is an artist and vendor with Street Sense Media.

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