Minimum Wage, Income Inequality and Modern Contempt for the Poor

Yesterday the Fortune 500 list for 2014 was released. Not surprisingly, Walmart topped the list as the company with the most revenue. Also not a shock, when the list is rearranged to reflect the best places to work, Walmart doesn’t even crack the top 100. They refuse to pay their employees a living wage or benefits. Local stores have held food drives for their own employees.

Most of the companies who refuse to pay a living wage claim that the reason they aren’t able to do so is that it would kill jobs and that it’s already too expensive to do business in the US because of all the taxes. However, most of these companies don’t pay any income tax and have billions (BILLIONS) of dollars in off-shore accounts because of tax loopholes. But they’re the job creators. At least, that’s what we’re supposed to call them. They get to hold our economy at ransom while their year-on-year profits increase exponentially. Many of their employees are on some sort of assistance because of their low wages, so these companies might actually see fewer taxes if they paid higher wages because their employees could afford basic needs.

The truth is that corporations don’t create jobs. Consumers create jobs. These companies are keeping their employees poor and preventing them from being consumers and therefore not jobs are created.

In addition to refusing to pay a living wage to their workers, these corporations add insult to injury by assisting in creating a negative image of the people who are working in these low-wage jobs. In addition, the right has created a handy little rhyme to describe the people who ask, “Do you want fries with that” and those who literally live under the Golden Arches: Takers and Makers. Cute, right? The people in low-wage jobs who are also in need of government assistance are the Takers, suckling the teat of big government, living the good life on our dime. We’re working hard at making a living while these parasites sit back, relax and chow down on government cheese. Meanwhile the poor Makers just want to create jobs. That’s all they want to do. But those darned Takers. They won’t stop taking!

This is just recycled Reaganomics. Trickle down does now work. You know why? Makers are greedy. They make 266 times their average worker. Sounds less like trickling and more like hoarding. Money is too strong a pull. Greed is at the heart of this economic inequality. In addition to overall inequality, we have the issue of women making less than men by about 20-30%, depending on where you are. This is a problem of inherent sexism in our systems and structures because the system assumes the presence of a male breadwinner, and for whatever reason, that’s only the case in a little less than half of households. Not only is this an economic issue in the present, it’s an economic issue in the future, as Social Security income is based on your pay during your working years. We’re dooming generations of women to poverty in their later years.

Conservative and Progressive politicians alike perpetuate this issue because wherever the money comes from, they’re all paid well to make sure that someone with a lot of money gets their way. Right now, John Roberts and the Supremes are in somebody’s pocket because they recently overturned the cap on campaign donations that only affected 68 donors. SIXTY-EIGHT. Money is speech and those 68 folks are drowning out the average citizens, making our elections essentially bough and paid for by the richest among us. And NONE of the politicians would ever DREAM of ending corporate welfare subsidies. That’s the biggest injustice here. See the picture below. It will piss you off.

My biggest concern is how this perspective has permeated the church. I see fellow Christians posting about the laziness of poor people on social media sites. They might donate to an international cause, or sponsor a child in Africa, but they blame the poor in our country for their station. Wealthy people want to help the poor in theory, but they don’t actually want to get any poor people on them. They’ll write a check, but they don’t actually want to know any of them. Disdain for the poor was one of the primary reasons God sent God’s own people into captivity. Look it up. We’re stepping into dangerous territory when we choose to look at the poor, for whom God had great compassion, with contempt.

Photo from Democratic Underground.

In March, Georgia voters passed a law that required people applying for food stamps to be tested for drugs. This week the USDA told them, ummm…that’s illegal, you can’t do that. Florida tried to do something similar in 2011 but their law required drug testing for people applying for welfare, not food stamps. The idea was that they’d weed out all those “takers” who might be on drugs away from the welfare system. Wanna know what happened? Apparently, the cost for this new drug testing requirement cost taxpayers more than it saved and did nothing to curb the number of people who applied for welfare. Only 108 of the 4,066 people who were tested came up positive. The state ended up with a net loss of $45,780.

PS – my favorite thing about Florida situation was that shortly after the law passed one of the state representatives who was its biggest champions was arrested for cocaine possession. Perhaps Florida should start drug testing their lawmakers?

Georgia’s law is trying to take food out of people’s mouths in case they’re on drugs. Who is on food stamps that this might affect? It seems that 76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits. So Georgia is fine with taking food out of the mouths of children, the elderly and the disabled if the person applying for the benefit is on drugs. Which, most likely they are not because THEY CAN’T AFFORD THEM.

Both of these situations show a contempt for the poor that I find unbelievable. The pathological need for conservatives to criminalize poverty is horrifying. As Christians we should be appalled at this and be doing something about it.

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