Recently, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey vetoed a bill that would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour. The Governor said he wants the minimum wage to increase in three stages such that it would bring the rate to $8.00 an hour in three years.
It is understandable how the Governor came to veto the bill; Christie and other politicians are so out of touch with the reality of living on minimum wage that they just don’t get it. Many minimum wage workers often work at two or three jobs to support themselves and their families.
New Jersey residents pay a state income tax, a gas tax, sales tax and the federal income tax in addition to Social Security and Medicaid taxes. When a person making $7.25 an hour receives his or her payroll check, all but the gas and sales taxes are deducted from that check. In New Jersey that adds up to almost 40%, which leaves the worker with around $4.35 an hour or for a 40-hour week that worker brings home roughly $175 a week.
Chris Christie – when he was a public prosecutor - earned a salary well in excess of $100K a year. At that rate he most likely collected a net salary in the vicinity of over $1000 a week – a decent take-home pay for a public lawyer.
Politicians like Christie are so removed from the day to day struggles of the working poor to the point that their input into the process to determine wages works against the people who live on low wages; the politicians’ lives are immune to the trials and tribulations of most Americans. Yes, some politicians care and they express sympathy for our most vulnerable, but living the life of a $7.25/hour worker is apparently beyond their capacity to grasp.
A look at our national leaders is a look at the wealthy and the über-wealthy; there are no poor members of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet or the White House. Some come from meager beginnings but overwhelming majority come from upper-middle class or wealthy backgrounds. While there is nothing wrong with that, what is disturbing is the lack of empathy. Why? Because they just do not know, they are so far removed; they have no prior knowledge or their personal knowledge is so distant that they cannot make a sympathetic connection.
The working poor, who make $7.25 an hour, are not in the line of sight of some Americans. They become ‘shadow people’ living nearly invisible lives. They are the men and women who hand us a paper at the newsstand, or fill our cup of coffee at the local diner. They are just like you, me and other Americans who are working their asses off trying to live the American dream – a dream that has been sold by politician after politician like snake oil salesmen since the beginning of the 20th century.
There comes a time when the dream has to turn into reality and many Americans not only feel left behind, they feel forgotten by those same politicians who are responsible for the economic condition of the country. The answer to some of our country’s economic difficulties stems from the amount of money spent on the evils of poverty; the costs of crime and medical care are the major byproducts of poverty. If you look at the 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, which is more than any other country, you will see very few men, women or children from middle class families. The majority of people in prison were poor from the time of their birth, and the families they left behind will find it very difficult in today’s society to free themselves from the cycle of poverty.
The working poor and the children they try to love, care for and supervise are victims of a failed government that cannot protect our least able. It is estimated that 46.2 million people are living in poverty while corporations feast on the greatest expansion of profits since before the recession.
Teenage pregnancy, childhood obesity, truancy and a brimming juvenile court system are all outcomes of mothers and fathers all across America who are forced to work multiple jobs to survive. In many cases, parents are torn between leaving their children unattended and putting enough food on the table.
It is not just time for a rise in the minimum wage, to a standard that a parent can support a family, it is time politicians start listening to the millions of people who live in the shadows of the American dream.