Nobody listens to the low wage workers of the world… really… nobody. Lately their tactic has been to organize one day strikes to draw attention to their struggle. In recent weeks, employees having been staging one day walk-outs to make their point. What’s their point? Their point is that wages for CEOs in America rose over 16% last year to an average of $15 million/yr. Low wage workers have seen their wages flat line – no raise. Interestingly McDonald’s teamed up with Visa to prove their low wage earners wrong. They produced a budget on which their employees could live. Here’s a look at what they came up with.
The McBudget is causing quite an uproar. Most experts say that it is totally unrealistic, the health insurance cost is probably the most absurd. Stephen Colbert said that the $20 could probably buy you “a tourniquet, a bottle of Night Train and a bite stick.” Sadly more accurate than most of us would like to imagine.
The income side is way too high. It forgets payroll tax and social security, which would reduce total monthly income around $150. It also assumes the ability to hold down two low-wage jobs. With kids, a junky-car and no education to speak of, that is harder than you think.
Expenses are off as well. The McBudget forgets $250 for gasoline, the other $200 for health insurance, $50/mo. for car maintenance, $100 for childcare, $50 for haircuts, and another $150 for groceries that food stamps won’t pay for, clothing, education expenses, and a plan for the fact that low wage workers don’t get paid vacation or sick leave. A little reality changes that $750 “spending money” into at least a $200 shortfall. The EITC and food stamps would help, but it’s not enough.
What’s the right thing to do? If you are at all interested in the subject I suggest you read three quick articles:
How She Lives On Minimum Wage: One McDonald Worker’s Budget
The article is about a Kansas City woman who is trying to make it work. You have to read this, and put yourself in her shoes.
McDonald’s Minimum Wage Budge Ignores Tax Credits, Food Stamps, and Reality
This is an interesting article that shows how through the EITC, most minimum wage families would receive a $3,000 EITC check, and food stamps of around $500 per month. The author points out that Congress is working to de-fund food stamps and the IRS’s attempts to stop identity theft that so often stops the EITC from reaching the right hands. It’s good to get a broader perspective on the issue.
This is an editorial by Leonard Pitts, writing for the Miami Herald. He makes perhaps the finest point of all. The McBudget argument is missing the point. The problem isn’t whether McDonald’s budget is accurate or not. The problem is that it’s incredibly condescending for them to write that budget in the first place. Somebody making $13 dollars a year (McDonald’s CEO), shouldn’t be doling out advice to someone making minimum wage on how to make it work. It’s unseemly. Pitts suggests that the McDonald’s CEO should volunteer to live on minimum wage for six months just to prove it can be done. I think it’s a great idea.
Here’s my take: One of the most destabilizing realities present in our society is income inequality. When the disparity between the very rich and the very poor reaches a tipping point, it serves as an automatic trigger for civil unrest. This is fairly predictable. You think Occupy Wall Street was bad? Wait until next time when those who live in poverty get involved… things could get violent in a hurry. Income disparity is how civil wars/revolutions begin, and it has to be address.
The Christian (not American/or capitalist) point of view is this: you can best tell about the health of a culture by how the most vulnerable among them are doing. Are they thriving and flourishing or languishing and suffering? The fact is that there is a rapidly expanding lower class suffering in our culture, and things are getting worse all the time. The government is trying to help them, but it’s never going to be enough. The only way this turns around is if there is a massive change in values in our society.
Virtue is the key. It is a virtue to be super-wealthy in our society. That has to change.
If super-wealth was considered to be a vice – an impolite way to live, greedy, cruel, merciless… then fewer would aspire to it. If super-wealth gave you social disapproval instead of social approval things would begin to change. The only way our situation can change is if the entire power structure within corporate America began to have a change of heart, a change of values. Executive salaries would have to shrink and low-wage earners would have to make more money. The extremes would both need to come back toward the middle. Not a lot. Just a little.
Raising taxes on the rich won’t solve the problem. Neither will raising the minimum wage – although I think it should go up to at least $10. The reality is that there is no shortcut when it comes to justice. The only thing that can make the world a better place is a change of heart and life. The government can’t solve the problem with higher taxes, tax credits, programs, or incentives. The society as a whole has to get concerned about poverty and the super-rich need to experience a little social disapprobation. Until that happens, things will continue to get worse.