In my first year of university I was taught that the wealthy needed the poor to exist. The thesis was simply the poor were cheap labor who kept costs down and profits up. Some years later I learned about the importance of the middle class and the concept of upward mobility. The basic idea is, an economy is in good shape when there are lots of folks moving out of poverty into the middle class. What that ‘upward mobility’ represents is increased spending which is argued to be fabulous for the economy. The more you earn, the more you spend, so the theory goes.
What has been happening for a number of years now is that upward mobility has slowed down dramatically. The poor remain poor while the rich get richer.
Which is why I wasn’t surprised to see recent research from the the New York State Comptroller showing that Wall Street bonuses are 52% higher than a decade ago. Apparently the average Wall Street bonus is $153,700 a year.
Someone with a calculator and some extra time worked out that if the minimum wage had grown at the same rate as Wall Street bonuses, today it would be $33.51 an hour rather than $7.25 a hour – a figure that hasn’t changed since 2009. Now to be fair, there are many states who have increased the minimum wage beyond the federally recommended level, but none are even close to $33.51.
The reality is today, with the cost of living combined with excessive debt, many folks who have jobs that pay near the minimum wage are effectively working poor. They may have a nice car and live in a reasonable apartment, but they don’t have enough for food or clothing and run the risk of eviction.
My heart is for the poor, but also for the working poor. I see these folks daily through my ministry work with West Houston Assistance Ministries. Many are trapped, constrained from upward mobility by a pragmatic preoccupation with survival.
The key isn’t just providing food and clothing, but in helping them develop the skills and attitude to break free of their constraints by managing their debt and generating more income. This is so they can receive decent health care, provide for their children, care for the elderly and save for retirement.