The Working Poor: Are We Raising a Generation of Welfare Recipients?

The simple answer is YES! We once enjoyed being the land of opportunity, where hard work and a little initiative and a puff of fairy dust guaranteed anyone could live the dream. It is now an illusion, a fond memory for talking points, but hardly our current reality. Instead, we are now a nation of institutionalized poor, and neither political party is talking about constructive ways to remedy the situation. Each offers a pinch of reform while touting a platform guaranteed to further the national debt and exacerbate the problem.

As of 2016, it was estimated that 7.9% of all working Americans numbered among the working poor (Dade in the USA Today), needing two or three jobs to eke out a living. A low minimum wage ensures they stay that way. And these unfortunate accept that lousy pay, because they know they will receive government aid to sustain them in the form of programs like Food Stamps or Medicaid. This creates an entitlement society, and instead of fostering independence, we are forcing people into governmental dependence.


Investigative journalist, Barbara Ehrenreich, in her landmark book Nickel and Dimed to Death in America, painted a grim picture of insufficient wages and poor coping mechanisms forcing minimum wage workers into a spiral of dependency. Upon entering the vicious cycle of earning less while needing more benefits, few escape into self-sufficiency. This is alarmingly true for many immigrant workers.


A contemporary argument is that increasing minimum wage only increases the cost of living; but is that true? Not necessarily. Could corporations like Walmart afford to increase wages and yet maintain current product prices? In 2016 Walmart employees received $4.2 billion in wage subsidies, despite the fact that Walmart concomitantly recorded a profit of $121.1 billion. This inequity widens the gap between the rich and the poor with a shrinking middle class unable to bridge the divide. The recent minimum wage increase by Target resulted in an influx of job applicants with a stronger pool of talent being offered. It is true that greed or need might result in raising the cost of living slightly, but the overall impact would be low, since companies compete for shoppers by offering the lowest prices. Americans need to let these facts sink in and look for solutions.


In Economic Solutions to Current Social and Political Issues in the U.S. by Werner Neff, one credible idea was a system of regionally adjusted and tiered minimum wage rates in sync with local costs of living. Actuaries feeding the numbers into computers could pop out the rates, and local government could take it from there. The result? A small amount of government bureaucracy for a walloping decrease of those requiring government aid.


And all these solutions need to come from outside traditional political parties, where PAC contributions, self-interest, pet causes and a bloated platform prevent any real progress. Like it or not, President Trump, as an independent, hits many of the right talking points. Whether we want to implement his solutions or not, we do need independent people to devise some commonsense proposals and offer meaningful dialogue.


Then we, the people, need to demand that dialogue. It is time for the silent majority to rise up and stop being silent. If we want to offer our children and grandchildren even a vestige of the America we love to talk about, we need to be wave-makers effecting reform. Now. Let's make the term the working poor a misnomer, shall we? #theworkingpoor #wernerneff

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