Today I want to share a topic that is rather close to me, Poverty. I choose to write about this because I am one of the 46 Million people who live under the poverty line here in America.
With the 2012 election season now in full bloom this is the best time to bring this issue to the forefront of our politics. Before I get into the politics and policy aspects of this, I want to share some of my personal story.
As a Michigan resident, I knew for a long time that we were the car making capital of the country. Detroit was the motor city, home of the big three. So much of our local economy was based on manufacturing, mostly car parts, but there were other industries too.
My first job out of high school was at Electrolux building refrigerators, my father worked his way up the ladder, from the factory to the office. From hourly to salary. No I didn't get any special treatment, nor did I want any. I worked as hard as any other person there. I was a temp for the summer, and ended up not getting asked to come back the next summer, (though I already had another job elsewhere) so it didn't bother me.
My next job was at a union shop making truck parts, hitches and bumpers for the big automakers. I worked there a good few years making good money, but health problems related from the smoke ended that as I was fired for too many health related absences, they no longer accepted doctors notes from numerous visits related to breathing trouble. I was also in school then and when I lost my job I had to drop out and now I still have the bill to pay for that.
A couple of minimum wage jobs later I found myself in a non union plastic injection molding plant working for $10 an hour.
What does my work history have to do with poverty?
Quite a bit actually.
Not because I had been part of the working poor, I made enough money in those jobs by myself to stay just over the poverty line, but because those jobs have become less and less available now. Electrolux moved to Mexico, leaving 3,000 people without work, the bumper shop went bankrupt and was bought out by a foreign corporation who closed at least one the two shops in the area, and everywhere else factory jobs have reduced pay and benefits for workers, often relying on temp services that pay minimum wage up to $8.25 an hour for the same work I was paid $10/hr for years earlier.
Not to mention my last job laid me off after I was hurt during work hours, I was making around $9 building pontoon boats. I like many there got the job through a temp agency. After being hurt, and laid off, I realized the only chance I had for a better future was to try college again.
So I here I am, a college student, racking up debt, living with my wife on $12,000/yr with $93 a month in food stamps, sure I could be eligible for more, but I would have to drop school.
Like many using the safety net to get by, I worked for a living, paid into the system, have had some hard luck and health problems that have forced me to retrain and retool, not to mention take on massive debt, and turn down further assistance in order to be successful in the future.
Yet according to the GOP people like me who are poor are simply lazy, we just want our welfare checks so we don't have to work.
This leads me to a very excellent encounter that happened last night when I had the opportunity to speak to Tanya Wells on Facebook. For any of you #Uppers fans out there, you may have seen the wonderful segment in which she shares her story about going from $100k a/year to just $18k due to the recession. After seeing her story I noticed that we find ourselves in similar situations, having to depend on student loans, and food assistance while going to school and having to turn down other programs so we can continue training in an effort to get good middle class jobs when we graduate.
We also felt the same demonization from the political class, from being called lazy on twitter and on other social media, or that we should just try harder to find work, despite the fact that its hard to even get a call back from prospective employers. (My last interview was a couple weeks ago, damned if I didn't try to impress him with examples of my work.)
We also spoke about getting the rest of us poor people to band together to fight for the benefits that sustain hardworking people like us who are trying to get that training to get back in the job market. That involves voting, and becoming more involved in matters of policy, as well as fighting back against the rhetoric of being called welfare queens, lazy, & people who don't want to work but stay home, smoke pot and collect handouts from the government. Nothing could be further from the truth. I maintain honors in my classes and Mr. Wells, Tanya's husband is maintaining a 3.98 GPA!
It's these things people need to know.
So earlier I mentioned I would get into the policy aspect of poverty.
Well for starters the Romney/Ryan plan for the budget calls for cutting 62% of the funding for services that help people like me and Mrs. Wells, that includes food stamps, pell grants, and Medicaid. Not to balance the budget mind you, but for tax cuts for people like Romney. In fact Romney would benefit immensely from his own tax plan as he would only a pay a 0.82% tax rate.
So while the poor people like me, would bear the brunt of massive austerity, Romney would become that much richer. How does this happen?
Because people ignore the poor, we do not have money to contribute to superPACs, we do not have connections. It's also much easier to blame the poor for being poor, because people don't like to think they can become poor. People like to think "Hey I work hard, I won't lose my job if I keep working hard, those poor people didn't work hard enough so that's why they're poor, that wont be me." It's easier to demonize people than to fix the system, easier to be selfish than to to pay it forward and help those who need it.
Also take into account that because of Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich, many think the poor are just welfare queens, taking your hard earned money because they don't want to work.
This rhetoric works, it makes us turn on each other, while they shift more and more money to the top from everyone else, squeezing the middle class which makes them blame the poor even more. It's genius really, making the middle class and the poor fight while robbing us both to enrich the top.
This is why we need to stop fighting each other, and start protecting each other by ensuring safety net programs and encourage college training, and vocational schools so the poor can move up to the middle class, and the people who fall from the middle class can climb right back up. We can do this, we can afford it. After all we apparently can afford to subsidize oil companies that are the most profitable industry in the world right?
We also have to realize that we can all end up like Tanya and I, and only then will we elect those who will try to save the safety net for everyone.