The Government Shutdown Screws Over the Poor

While I touched on the government shutdown in last week’s post, I felt that it was really important this week to dedicate a full post to the government shutdown. The task of dedicating a post to the shutdown, admittedly, was tremendously difficult because there are just so many injustices surrounding the whole debacle. There are environmental consequences of trash piling up in parks. There are national security consequences, as organizations responsible for our safety and security aren’t being paid (with all the stress, decrease in morale, and subsequent compromising of national security which comes along with the shutdown).[1] There are a lot of individuals and groups who get hurt by the shutdown.

When studying the shutdown a little more, it became quite obvious who I should focus on for this post: the poor. Why? Because if we’re honest with ourselves, those who are screwed over the most by this shutdown are the poor, whether we like to admit it or not.

For starters, government workers who are struggling to make ends meet already may find themselves without a home. This USA Today article from Christmas Day featured many a government worker (or many a government worker’s families) expressing anxiety about a potential inability to pay for basic living expenses. One of these workers even expressed anxiety about potential eviction if the government doesn’t open and back pay doesn’t kick in quickly. Members of Congress and the President will continue to get paid, but some poor government workers may end up homeless if this shutdown continues. The government shutdown screws over poor government workers who are living from paycheck to paycheck.

Additionally, tax refunds may be delayed as a result of the government shutdown.[2] The reason for this is that, as long as the government is shut down, tax refunds will not be issued at all. For people who are well off, these refunds may not be a big deal. But for people who are poor and who are living from paycheck to paycheck, it is a huge deal and it may be the difference between being able to afford the basics and not being able to afford the basics. The government shutdown screws over poor people for whom a tax refund may make a difference.

Finally, many food benefits are in danger as a result of the government shutdown, and additional food benefits will be endangered if the government shutdown drags on. For example, WIC, which is a nutrition program to help food-stressed and at-risk women and children, has already run out of funding, and it is left to local and state governments to cover for what the federal government can’t do. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which is a food program for low-income senior citizens, has suffered the same fate as WIC. If the shutdown drags on to the end of January, funding will run out for food stamps. If the shutdown drags into February, funding will run out for various child nutrition programs; this will endanger school breakfast, school lunch, summer food service, and other special programs.[3] The government shutdown royally screws over poor, food-stressed families.

Some people may not be affected severely by the government shutdown. But millions are already being severely affected by the shutdown, and the consequences will become significantly more dire for those affected the longer this shutdown goes. Most of all, though, it’s the poor who are getting screwed over the most by the incompetence in Washington, D.C.


[1] And to think that this shutdown was in the name of a “national security” issue—in other words, a border wall. Ironic, isn’t it?

[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/government-shutdown-delay-irs-tax-filing-and-refund-brings-chaos-just-before-tax-filing-season/

[3] https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2018/12/29/usda-updates-available-functions-during-lapse-funding

America’s Failure to Support Troops…Economically

“Support our troops.” People in the United States frequently hear and see this phrase in a variety of settings: on cars, from politicians, and from friends posting on social media, to name a few.

And I agree. We should support our troops. While my personal opinion is that we should avoid war except in the most extreme of circumstances (example: if our own nation is attacked, like with Pearl Harbor), people who risk their own lives on behalf of the entire country should be supported. Since people in the military serve our country, our country should in return serve our military veterans. It’s the least we can do in the United States.

And yet, economically, we don’t support our troops.

There are numerous damning statistics on this fact. As of 2014, 25% of military families sought some sort of assistance with food.[1] There are about 40,000 homeless veterans, and that number actually rose between 2016 and 2017.[2] There were nearly 1.5 million veterans in the United States living below the poverty line as of 2012.[3]

And we haven’t even gotten to wages, which are abysmal. For example, a starting salary for someone starting in the U.S. Army as an enlisted soldier, according to the Houston Chronicle, is $1,491 a month ($17,892 a year). While that number goes up after several years of experience, an enlisted soldier with several years of experience can still earn under $30,000 a year.[4] Some of these salaries are below the minimum wage of some states, and they are certainly not living wages.

These are just a few statistics that show how this nation literally does not put its money where its mouth is. This nation talks a big game about supporting troops, yet fails to do so by paying living wages to troops and making sure that veterans aren’t homeless or in poverty. Shame on the United States for not giving back to people who have given so much to this country. Many of our troops have risked their lives to protect this country, and yet the government is risking the livelihoods of troops and their families through providing many of them with inadequate pay. This country does not truly support its troops.

However, we, as individuals, could raise our voices on this issue. We, as individuals, could contact our representatives in the House and Senate and ask them to make sure that all members of the military earn a living wage. Oh, and it would help if this problem gained national attention.


[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/in-plain-sight/hungry-heroes-25-percent-military-families-seek-food-aid-n180236

[2] https://www.npr.org/2017/12/06/568755985/the-number-of-homeless-veterans-rises

[3] https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/specialreports/veteran_poverty_trends.pdf

[4] http://work.chron.com/salaries-us-army-soldiers-6496.html

Why the “Bootstraps” Narrative of Economic Mobility is Problematic

“I pulled myself up by my bootsraps and that’s how I got to where I am today.”

To which I would say, “Congratulations on your success! I’m happy for you!”

While I do not begrudge people who succeed through their hard work (nor should others), I’m also concerned that this “bootstraps” narrative is also harmful to many people who don’t achieve what American society defines as success, on the grounds that they “didn’t pull by the bootstraps at all/hard enough.” And at that, I’m concerned enough that it’s worth dedicating a blog post to this.

One problem is that the idea of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” creates a wrongful impression that we do, or we can, succeed all by ourselves without any help from others. But the fact is that, while some people accomplish great things without much help, that happens rarely. I say that because, somewhere along the way, many of us get help from academic or athletic scholarships, an employer who believed in us when we struggled to believe in ourselves, a mentor, a wealthy family member or friend, or someone else—or a combination of some of these. Of the people I know, both personally and in the public arena, I can’t recall a single person who succeeded without another person helping them or believing in them.

Furthermore, to say “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” creates the impression that people who don’t succeed (or achieve society’s definition of success) are automatically lazy, underachievers, or have some other negative characteristic. While I’m sure there are people who don’t succeed because of their own wrongdoings, many others struggle because of characteristics outside their control. For example, I’ve known people to experience struggles because of tragic events in their life or the lives of people they’re closest to, various ailments, unjust events, or other things. Sometimes there are life circumstances that keep people from being able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or have no bootstraps at all.

Finally, the “bootstraps” narrative does not acknowledge that there are flaws in our society which keep people from doing exactly that. From the mountains of college debt that keep some younger adults from being able to pull themselves up, to various forms of institutional racism which keep some groups of people weighed down (some of which I mention in various posts in my current institutional racism series), some people lack the “bootstraps” to pull on.

Ultimately, the “bootstraps” narrative of success, as nice as it sounds, does not do justice to either the people who help us succeed or those among us who don’t succeed for reasons outside of their control.

Why We Should Give Tipped Workers Good Tips

Every so often, a family member (usually my mom or me) is out with a friend, and the family member argues with the friend about how much of a tip to give when we’re at a restaurant. My mom and I argue for a high tip, while our friends sometimes argue for a significantly lower tip or no tip at all, regardless of the quality of service.

After seeing what minimum wages are for tipped employees in every state, I feel both vindicated and saddened. I feel vindicated that my stance on this topic is such that the higher tips mean higher wages for workers, but also saddened that these workers earn poor wages without tips.

Actually, the term “poor wages” would be a disgraceful understatement of how some tipped workers are paid before tips. Given that numerous states have a minimum wage for tipped workers at an utterly shameful $2.13 an hour, it’s the tips of consumers that could have a major impact on the economic well-being of people. So for consumers in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina, you all had better give generous tips if you feel that $2.13 is too low of a wage for people to earn.

While I just directed my last sentence at the consumers of six states where tipped workers only earn $2.13 an hour before tips, consumers from the other U.S. states and territories aren’t off the hook. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

I say this because many tipped workers earn below a living wage. The MIT Living Wage Calculator says that the living wage in the United States is $15.12 per hour for a family of four.[1] Waiters and waitresses (a form of tipped work) could earn a wage around or above the 75th percentile without having a living wage (national living wage is $15.12 per hour while the 75th percentile pay for a waiter/waitress is $13.30 per hour).[2] If we want our tipped workers to earn living wages, we need to give them generous tips.

When I bring up these points, some people say that it’s not fair for us, the consumers, to compensate for the fact that tipped workers are given poor wages. While I agree that it’s not fair, the injustice of giving tipped workers a little extra compensation pales in comparison to the injustice that would happen if we all gave low tips, or no tips at all. Even if certain employers don’t pay the kinds of wages they should, it doesn’t excuse us from paying the kinds of tips we should. The ultimate injustice with tipped workers is that the people who serve us would earn so little money that they couldn’t serve themselves and their families.

It’s our choice. Do we want humane and living wages for our tipped workers? If so, it’s time for us, the consumers, to step up our games. And yes, that means I’m going to continue paying my 20%+ tips.


[1] I should note that this is the national average. The living wage varies widely between states (and even municipalities within states) depending on factors such as cost-of-living. For example, the living wage in New York City for one adult and one child is $30.86 per hour while the living wage for two adults and two children in Boise, Idaho is $15.68 per hour. Source: http://livingwage.mit.edu/articles/19-new-data-calculating-the-living-wage-for-u-s-states-counties-and-metro-areas

[2] Source: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes353031.htm

Waste Disposal: Where Ableism, Economic Injustice, and Environmental Injustice Meet Up

I have a bit of a Birth household confession to make: we have a growing amount of miscellaneous waste in my house. Among the products still lying about include a circa 2006 computer and its assorted parts, and light bulbs with mercury.

Fellow environmentalists are probably already judging me, and really my entire household, after my making this statement. But before you all judge me, please hear me out…

The problem my family faces, and the problem that many families face in New York and in other areas, is the relative lack of accessibility to places that handle certain types of waste.

For example, in my hometown of New York City, there are only five places (one for each borough) that handle waste such as latex paint, passenger car tires, and motor oil filters, among other things. To make matters worse, none of these so-called “Special Waste Drop-Off Sites” are centrally located, so you might have to dedicate an entire morning or afternoon to just dropping off your waste if you’re in the wrong part of New York City.

New York is not alone in having this problem. Seattle has only three such facilities in its entire city. Omaha, Nebraska has one option (a “Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility”) for two entire counties. And Fremont County, Wyoming has only a few e-waste disposal areas in a land mass close to the size of New Hampshire.

The lack of accessibility to places that handle various types of waste is a major problem. This is a problem of ableism, economic injustice, and environmental injustice.

This is an issue of ableism because these policies assume that people can travel to waste-disposal facilities, and in many cases travel by car. If you are homebound, wheelchair-bound, or unable to drive, the waste-disposal policies of many municipalities prevent many people from disposing of their toxic waste.

This is also an issue of economic injustice because the policy of minimizing the number of waste disposal sites assumes that people have the freedom in their work schedules to potentially spend a couple hours to dispose of their materials. In a world where an increasing number of people need to work multiple jobs in order to keep rooves over their heads and food on their tables, this is an unsound assumption, and an assumption which results in many people being unable to dispose of their waste because their work schedules don’t allow them to do that.

Finally, this is an issue of environmental injustice because these policies make it difficult to impossible for many families to do the environmentally friendly thing—to take materials to a place that can properly handle them. When a municipality forces someone to travel several miles to dispose of tires or batteries, that town, county, or city is making it extremely difficult for people to properly dispose of their materials. If a place like New York City truly cared about the environment, the municipality would make it as easy as possible, not as hard as possible, to dispose of these materials properly.

For all of my complaining about the ableism, economic injustice, and environmental injustice of how assorted waste often gets handled, I also think it’s worth acknowledging that there is a better way to handle this issue.

This better way can be found in San Francisco. In that city, most substances can be dealt with by calling for a free home pick-up. A few other materials (old and expired medicines and needles) have numerous drop-off locations throughout that city. In fact, residents are only forced to travel a distance if they have unlabeled or unknown toxic waste or other hazardous substances. While I don’t know how this type of program works in practice, San Francisco’s way of handling waste, for the most part, theoretically keeps homebound people from travelling when they’re not able to travel, keeps people with busy lives from having to take hours out of their lives to travel to a facility, and makes it easy for residents to do the environmentally just thing.

Hopefully, other municipalities will follow San Francisco’s lead in making it easy for residents to deal with assorted waste. Until such a time as this happens, many waste-disposal programs are ableist, economically unjust, and environmentally unjust.

IMAG0512
This is one of several pieces of e-waste that I have in my house. This ancient printer is one such piece of e-waste and is harder to get rid of than some readers might think.