Columnist: Don’t blame the poor for their poverty
Early last month I was startled by a column titled: “We shouldn’t eliminate income inequality.”
It should be obvious to all that in a free society personal incomes will not be equal, but will depend on both each individual’s innate ability, incentive and work ethic (which to a large extent are determined by heredity and family upbringing), and his or her access to education.
This tells us that the circumstances of our birth will greatly influence our success in life. If you are born into a well-educated, financially secure family, you will probably inherit good genes, and will adopt by example and training the importance of developing a strong incentive and work ethic. You will also have the advantage of adequate nourishment and proper nutrition, which are critical to brain development in the early years of life. And finally, you will be ensured that your family’s income will be sufficient to provide you with a college education.
On the other hand, if you have the misfortune to be born into poverty, you will most likely be denied most, if not all, of those advantages.
Millions of children are being raised by single mothers barely able to cover the rising costs of food, shelter and health care on 78 percent of the income men in comparable jobs are being paid. The chances of these children receiving a college education are slim to none unless they take on the burden of an enormous debt it will take them decades to pay off, leaving them in no position to fund a college education for their children. This leads to a perpetual lower class with very little chance of digging its way out of succeeding generations mired in poverty.
In the past century, well-paying jobs in manufacturing were available that did not require a college education, but for which a high school diploma was adequate preparation. Between 1910 and 1930, the country responded by providing a free high school education for all, which had not previously been available.
Today, many of those jobs that provided a way out of poverty for millions of families are no longer available due to automation and globalization. Between now and 2030, our country must respond again, this time making a free college education available for all.
This will enhance the opportunities for successful careers for our young people, just as the GI Bill did for the veterans returning to civilian life after Word War II. Our country also will benefit from producing the large number of people with the education and skills needed to keep up with all the other counties in the world that are providing free college education, and are passing us up.
For the past 30 years, American workers have been working harder than ever, but have not been rewarded with the fruits of their labor. Those running our corporations and businesses — the top 10 percent — have kept for themselves nearly all of the profits produced from the increased productivity of their workers, resulting in a massive upward redistribution of income.
While the incomes of the top 10 percent have escalated enormously, the average real annual income of their employees has declined by several thousand dollars from what it was in 1985. No wonder our economy is stagnating.
It is an economic fact that putting more money into the pockets of tens of millions of working families boosts the economy far more than adding to the already-full pockets of the wealthy. Working families will spend most of any increase in their incomes on goods and services, whereas the wealthy will use theirs merely to increase their wealth.
Finally a word about increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next few years, which will be just above the poverty level at that time. It is a sad commentary on the capitalist system if we cannot pay a full-time worker a living wage. It is high time that we, the taxpayers, stop subsidizing corporations who are underpaying their employees, by way of federal earned income credit payments, which make up the difference between a living wage and what corporations pay their workers.
Hal Sundin’s As I See It column appears on the first Thursday of each month.
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