Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Nobody Should be Poor in the USA…Period

The federal minimum wage hasn’t gone up in nearly 10 years. Yet with a stroke of his pen, Jeff Bezos of Amazon raised the wages of hundreds of thousands of the company’s lowest paid workers.

In an age of extreme income inequality, this is leap in the right direction. It’s also a stark reminder of how far we as a nation are from caring for our most vulnerable people.

Consider the story of Vanessa Solivan, an East Trenton mother of three struggling in and out of homelessness. Vanessa is “working homeless,” an increasingly common phenomenon as the gap between wages and cost of living grows wider.

In the richest country in the world, millions of families shouldn’t have to struggle every day to get by while wealth concentrates into fewer and fewer hands at the top.

Workers’ fates shouldn’t be at the whims of billionaire CEOs — that’s why the minimum wage was introduced in the first place. Yet today’s federal minimum wage of $7.25 is less than the cost of living of every major city in the country.

Vanessa shared her story with Matthew Desmond in a recent New York Times feature story titled, “Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not.” Desmond, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted, and a Princeton sociologist, shows that working is no longer an antidote to poverty.

Vanessa holds down a job as a home health care aid for 20-30 hours a week while juggling her parenting and childcare duties, and also managing her own health. For her efforts, Vanessa earns about $1,200 in a good month. Last year she made just $10,446.81.

Desmond relays Vanessa’s constant struggle to feed, clothe, and house her family, navigating the byzantine patchwork of public programs designed to help her, but not too much.

Despite tax credits that increased her income by $5,000, she remained well below the poverty line. And when did find herself with a little more money than usual, like when her daughter qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance, other cuts were often made — in that case her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds were slashed.

Vanessa’s story is far from unique. The average income for the bottom half of wage earners is just $16,000, according to economist Thomas Piketty.

Despite major increases in productivity, the buying power of average hourly wages hasn’t gone up in four decades. Meanwhile, rents continue ticking upward, and more Americans join the ranks of the “working homeless.”

Given such poverty, one might logically assume the United States is poor. Quite the contrary. If we split the nation’s combined wealth equally among households, the country has enough money for every family to have nearly $800,000.

So where’s all that money?

Consider Bezos, the founder of Amazon. He’s the wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth around $165 billion. For context, that means he has enough money to spend $20 every second, every day — for the next 261 years.

One way Bezos got so rich is that until recently, he paid his workers the lowest rate he could legally get away with. He left many to depend on public assistance programs for food, housing, and other essentials. So too did the Waltons of Wal-Mart, who also built their riches on the backs of low-wage workers.

If companies pay workers less than it costs those workers to live, it’s their billionaire owners who benefit the most from government subsidies. Why on earth would we subsidize billionaires in an age of extreme inequality?

The time is past due to end poverty. Dramatically raising the minimum wage is just one step. Also needed are a host of other interventions to help all of us live dignified lives.

As Desmond points out, it’s no longer enough to say any “Nobody who works should be poor.” Nobody in America should be poor, period.

More articles by:

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS-dc.org).

October 18, 2018
Vern Loomis
The Boofing of America
October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail