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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Stop shaming the poor

Americans, constantly in search of someone to hate, have landed lately on the poor. States are passing laws that tell poor people what they can and can’t eat and, at the same time, businesses resist raising the minimum wage to a level above where people need help to survive.

The poor are demonized. They are called lazy, useless and moochers. The poor, however, are some of the hardest working of all Americans.

One of the typical arguments by poor shamers is that the poor should get educations so they could get better jobs, but the truth is that the jobs that are done by the poor are absolutely vital to our country. Without them, there would be no country, and there would certainly be no rich people.

1. They built it. The country was literally built on the backs of poor immigrants and slaves. To this day, construction workers are some of the hardest working people in the country, yet their average wage is only $38,000 per year, which includes management. People that maintain the roads driven by the wealthy (and everyone else) are paid only $30,000 per year.

2. They care for our children. The average nanny is paid less than $30,000 per year, usually without benefits.

3. They teach our children. The average teacher makes around $45,000 a year, which might not sound poor, but for that salary, most positions require advanced degrees.

4. They make the world beautiful. It would be difficult to determine the average salary of an artist, but very few of even the most talented artists achieve financial success.

5. They inform and entertain. Writers, actors and filmmakers are just as likely to live in poverty as visual artists.

6. They create. Inventors are often poorly paid for their inventions, if paid they are at all.

7. They are entrepreneurs. Two thirds of startup businesses fail. Many of them fail because they were simply out financed (think the big coffee chain moving on to the same corner as the independent coffee house).

8. They keep our world clean. People that do the dirtiest jobs are notoriously some of the least paid, yet can you imagine a world without people emptying our trash and cleaning our toilets?

9. They keep you alive. Without poor people, produce would rot in the fields. There would be no goods on the shelves. There would be no store clerks to sell them to you. Most Americans would most likely starve.

10. They fight for our country. The average starting salary of enlisted personnel is about $35,000 per year.

11. They save the world. Many of history’s most selfless people live their lives in or near poverty. They join the Peace Corps. They work for or start charitable organizations. For some very well educated people, making a lot of money simply isn’t the priority.

12. They employ people. The majority of private sector employees are employed by small and medium sized businesses. Many of the employers take a very small income.

13. They pay their taxes. Much is made of the statistic that between 40 and 50 percent of people don’t pay federal income tax. That is typically because they are too poor. But even if they don’t pay federal income tax, they pay taxes. They pay Social Security taxes. They pay state taxes. They pay the identical sales tax on food and clothing as their wealthy brethren. They pay identical gasoline taxes as their more fortunate counterparts. Unlike the wealthy, taxes deeply impact the well being of the poor, yet, unlike the wealthy, they are unable to take advantage of the loopholes that were designed to specifically benefit the wealthy.

14. They buy things. Rather than hoard money in off-shore bank accounts, the poor give every penny of their income, even government subsidized income, back into the economy. In fact, every dollar in SNAP benefits puts $1.84 back into the economy, in the form of jobs, taxes, etc. That kind of return on investment would make most hedge fund managers salivate, yet the poor are shamed for it. Without the poor, though, Walmart, our largest private sector employer, wouldn’t exist. No wonder they don’t want to pay people well.

Republicans love to tell us that these jobs don’t deserve good pay. Perhaps it’s time instead to value people for their actual contributions to society instead of shame them because wealthy corporations choose to hoard the money at the top.

Author Wendy Gittleson is one of the luckiest people on the planet. She actually gets to make a living out of two of her greatest passions, writing and politics. When she's not writing, she's hiking with her dogs, riding her bike or cooking a great meal with her friends or loved one. Follow Wendy on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.