How can we get people living in poverty to work for a living?
Republicans in Kansas and Missouri, along with President Donald Trump, say we should take benefits away from them. Take away their health care under Medicaid, take away their welfare, take away their food stamps unless they prove — and prove repeatedly — that they have a job. It’s hard labor and unpleasant, I like to think, even for the elites who make this meanness their own full-time jobs.
Wouldn’t it be easier to pay wages that make people want to work?
Kansas has a terrible record on that score. Republicans in 1988 fixed our state’s minimum wage at $2.65 hourly, the lowest in the nation. Only in 2009 during the Great Recession, when Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius won moderate Republican backing, was that raised to $7.25 — then, and still, the federal minimum.
In purchasing power as measured by the consumer price index, the minimum strangely enough reached its peak at $1.60 hourly in 1968, equal to nearly $12 in 2019 bucks. For today’s lowest paid workers, at $7.25 that’s a loss of nearly $5 an hour. Social Security payments are indexed so we don’t lose ground. We don’t do that for the lowest-paid workers who, by the way, are not welfare cases. These workers sometimes cover two or three jobs just to survive.
Wrestling my way through these figures, in a report by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee I found the single most shocking fact. Start with that 1968 minimum wage of $1.60 hourly and raise it year by year equal to the American worker’s productivity. In 2017 it would have reached $19.33 an hour. As our president has said, the game is rigged. American workers are being robbed.
Among three dozen industrial countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we have the lowest minimum wage as a percentage of the median wage — just 34% compared with 62% in France and 54% in Britain. Among them we also have the second highest percentage of low-wage workers, exceeded only by Latvia. Hooray! We beat out Latvia.
So let the Democratic-controlled House vote to increase the minimum wage rustle up a few moderate Republican votes in the Senate, then ask President Trump to sign the bill. Presto. We get a fair wage for our poorest workers.
The president and his followers have other ideas. First, let’s balloon the national debt with a tax cut far more generous to the rich than the middle class. Then try to kill off wind power and revive coal mining. After that, start a trade war with Mexico, Canada, Europe, China and the rest of Asia. When the trade war damages Republican farmers, pay them off with $28 billion in extra subsidies on top of their usual subsidies.
If we start throwing money away on poor workers’ wages, many Trump fans will say, how can we maintain America’s neat division of privately held wealth? The top 1% get 37% of the money, the next 19% get 52%, leaving just 11% for the 80% on the bottom.
It’s odd how rich folks on the dole are often the ones most bitter about poor folks on the dole. On just one building, Trump won a 40-year tax break that has cost New York City $360 million in forgiven or uncollected taxes on a property that cost only $120 million to build. Since then in New York alone, he’s cashed in on another $885 million in tax breaks, grants and other subsidies.
I hate to say it, but some of the Johnson County developers exploiting tax increment financing for their own strip malls are amateurs compared to our own president.
Contact Charles Hammer at firstname.lastname@example.org