The way I see it, we have two choices.
We can set up our economic system so that every able-bodied person who wants to work hard can succeed.
Or we can keep wages so low that many full-time workers will need government subsidies to help them pay for things like food, rent and medical care.
What we should not do is take away help from low-wage workers without first fixing the system that makes the help necessary.
I agree with the conservative view that people need to have the gumption to work hard and make their way in the world without depending on the government.
I don’t understand the inability of some to see that we simply have not set up our system to make that possible for millions of workers.
It’s wrong to accuse a mother of just looking for a hand-out if she needs food stamps to feed her children when she already works full time.
On both the national and state level we are seeing moves to cut assistance programs. We are told the recipients shouldn’t be sucking down other people’s money and should be working harder (even if they already have two jobs).
I’d love to see a day when we could cut welfare because everybody who wanted to could get a job with a living wage. I don’t feel any sympathy for those who don’t care to work.
However, the number of parasites who simply will not get off their butts is a small fraction of the number of people who are working very hard but who just don’t earn enough money.
There is, finally, a growing consensus that we need to worry more about the middle class. Even Walmart, the poster child for low wages, has announced plans to pay a bit more. The raises don’t go far enough, but they are a start, and will force other low-wage employers to follow suit to remain competitive. There’s a growing movement to raise the national minimum wage, as well.
We produce plenty of wealth in this country, but we don’t spread it around. Any suggestion that we do “share the wealth” is met with hysterical claims that you want to take one person’s money and give it to another. As a result, our income tax rates on the wealthiest are a tiny fraction of what they’ve been in the past.
You likely don’t believe this, because you’ve been told and told that taxes are way too high. But look it up. It helps explain why our national debt is so high. We pay so little to the lower-level earners that they aren’t paying anything in federal taxes, and we aren’t taxing the high earners as we did in the past, so they aren’t paying much in federal taxes either.
The workers themselves are being told they aren’t worth any more than they are being paid, and that if they cannot survive on a low wage without government help, they’re a bunch of freeloaders.
That isn’t the case.
Would you believe U.S. workers are making an annual median income of $28,000 (according to Social Security) while producing more than $100,000 in goods and services per year (according to the World Bank)?
Don’t these two numbers go a very long way in explaining how we can have high productivity but lots of people unable to support their families without government assistance?
We could turn this around with things like thoughtful changes in the tax code.
Given a choice, I’d rather see businesses pay their workers a fair wage, one that allows workers to pay for food, housing, medical care and taxes.
If we can do that, then sure, bring on the austerity programs. I don’t know any low-income person who wouldn’t prefer to be self-sufficient, and I’m honestly not very concerned about helping the few who feel otherwise.
As a bonus, we could all afford to help pay our share of what it costs to run the government, and thus begin chipping away at the national debt.
But it’s impossible to get the different factions in one party to agree, let alone get both parties to work together. The country will continue to go to hell in a handbasket, but party leaders can have the satisfaction of knowing they didn’t give an inch to the idiots on the other side of the aisle.
Michelle Teheux may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at Twitter.com/michelleteheux. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.
Michelle Teheux: Will we keep heading down the wrong path?
The way I see it, we have two choices.