Check out the above graphic. A week only has 168 hours total, including sleep time and weekends. Let’s say that the average person needs a bare minimum average of 6 hours of sleep each night, that would subtract 42 hours so 168 – 42= 126 waking hours available to work. Many times poor people have transportation issues because transportation is expensive to own, keep up, and the alternatives – busing, biking , and walking – take a lot longer, and sometimes aren’t possible/won’t get you to work in time. In the case of busing, you rely on a system beyond your control to get you to work on time – a sketchy situation. In the case of biking and walking, the distance traveled may have a real impact on the energy available to do work. In this country it has been a running “joke” that Mexican immigrants live in substandard housing with lots of people sharing one apartment. This arrangement is obviously for financial reasons, and more and more Americans are experiencing the reasons why first hand. A single parent making minimum wage needs to move to Puerto Rico if they want to come closest to working a regular 40 work week – then they’d only need to put in an additional fifteen hours on top of their full time job.
By the way, who raises the kids while the parents are gone? Should they use substandard babysitters that may be making the child’s world more ignorant and dangerous than before? Should we leave the responsibility to the many screens available via tv, computer, video games? How about allowing the kids to raise themselves? These are all options currently happening. Is it really a wonder why our kids enter the school systems totally unprepared to learn?
This country punishes poor people. The lower they are on the economic scale, the less of a bootstrap is available to them, to pull themselves up by. The bulk of the most physically demanding and dangerous labor is saved for those of us that work minimum wage, their weak social positioning makes them very easy to abuse and exploit, and health (or any other type of) insurance is a pipe dream. They live in the unhealthiest locations and are often not a part of the community because they are so desperately trying to make ends meet, are tired and culturally ashamed that they are not doing better. And yes, alcohol and drug abuse are easy “vacations” from a miserable existence, so they often play a role in complicating matters further.
This from the Population Reference Bureau:
Researchers have identified the rise in single-parent families (especially mother-child families) as a major factor driving the long-term increase in child poverty in the United States. The effects of growing up in single-parent households have been shown to go beyond economics, increasing the risk of children dropping out of school, disconnecting from the labor force, and becoming teen parents. Although many children growing up in single-parent families succeed, others will face significant challenges in making the transition to adulthood. Children in lower-income, single-parent families face the most significant barriers to success in school and the work force.2
Let’s say you’re a single parent – more than a quarter of American kids live in a single parent household (mostly female headed) (data from 2007 NYT article) – and you work in Colorado. For starters you are working an 85 hour work week. Going back to our 126 hours available of waking hours in one week, we can say 126 waking hours – 85 working hours = 41 available hours. Let’s assume that you are fortunate and can get to work in 30 minutes, that would equate to an hour a day of just getting back and forth (no stop offs to the grocery store, gas station, or coffee shop), so subtract another 7 hours, 41 – 7= 34 available hours. Of course you will still need to take care of every need for you and your family within that 34 hours, which means shopping, gardening, preparing (or paying for) 21 meals, let’s say you make quick (usually more unhealthy) meals, and their shopping, prep, and clean up average only about 1 hour each, so the equation is down to 34-21= 13. For your week you get 13/7 or 1.85 hours of “free time” each day which is the time you also have to shower, use the restroom, run errands, go to church, interact with friends, hug your children, read with your children, help your children with homework, take naps, meditate, see the doctor, visit family, smell flowers, see the sun, walk your dog, or go for a hike.
This rat race is fixed! There is no cheese!
The above scenario – and mind you, that the above example is taken from a state where it is even possible to work enough for a two bedroom apartment- is a recipe for (possibly violent) revolution. Working this much just to barely cover the most basic necessities makes people stop trying, stop caring, get angry, get depressed, run away, get violent, and/or give up. We all know that if you can only get minimum wage work, the expense of moving to a state with better circumstances is out of reach without going into debt – and there isn’t a state to go to for a decent work week. People that want to work, have pride in their work, and with excellent brains are being put in situations that are inhumane. Living on top of one another, no access to health care, difficult transportation, cruel employers, and exploitation happen because of an employment system that rewards one type of labor exponentially higher than another (equally important and difficult) type. Why would anyone but those on top want to perpetuate this system?
The only reason it stands is through fear of falling on even more desperate times. At some point this crisis will trigger “fight or flight” among multitudes – it already has with the Occupy movement. Those that are reaping the benefits of this economical system will at some point, see how the workers, the poor, the unwashed masses of society are quite necessary to support a lavish lifestyle on the inside and out. Right now it is up to them to figure out if they are willing to share in the prosperity more fairly or they may find themselves being forced to in a less pleasant situation.
We are animals at our base, human animals. All work and no play not only makes us dull, but crazy. Studies have shown that when we do not allow a bit of down time to be ourselves, to be human, to indulge in what gives us joy – we literally go insane. We need a living wage as minimum wage to restore prosperity, hope, and joy in this country.
To check out another post on this topic click “Get a Job” …and Other Cruel Jokes.