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Breathe Underwater

The Impossibility of Surviving American Poverty

Photo by Nate Nessman on Unsplash

I was having my morning cup of coffee, and scrolling semi-mindlessly through Facebook when I came upon this article. I read it, read it again, and then made a sarcastic status update about how in other news water is wet.

I then went about my scrolling, but something kept nagging at me, so I went back and read it a third time. Upon this third reading I have identified the four main things that really bother me about this Washington Post story, but before I get into those, I should say. I am from Washington DC originally, and WAPO has been my daily paper for as long as I can remember being alive, I pay for a subscription to come all the way out here at least for the Sunday paper, and I also pay for a WAPO subscription so I can read as many articles as I want. That does not mean that I don't, upon occasion, think they are being obtuse. I mention it because, I am sure that there will be people who will say that I am just picking on a liberal paper. To this I will direct you to my communism tattoo, and all my communist and socialist writings. My problem with this article isn't that it is liberal, it is that it is not liberal enough.

The second thing that I would like to mention before I crack into this, is that I have complicated and often controversial opinions about someone deciding to end their life. I do not think that it is anybody's business to stop people from ending their lives. I hate the term "committed suicide" in fact I hate the term "suicide." What I am not saying here, is that everyone should shuffle loose this mortal coil. What I am saying here is that, I don't think anyone has the right to tell you that you can't. 

Okay, enough preamble, let's talk about the four things.

1. The racist implication is that this needs to be addressed now because it is affecting white people.

Literally the first sentence is that the percentage of people who are taking their own lives has gone up by 35 percent, because of the increase in self-conclusion among white people. What this means is that when the death toll only affected people who aren't white, we were all sort of fine with this. I fucking hate this. And again, they aren't even talking about the most impoverished among us.

They are trying to address how to fix this for "working class Americans," which roughly translates to whites only, we are fine keeping all communities of color below the poverty line. Raising the minimum wage for hourly workers won't help people who are paid per diem, or per piece, like migrant farm workers for example. It also probably won't help people in the service industry, who make what is referred to as a "tipping wage." 

Now here in Seattle, the Tipping wage is still like $9, but nationally the minimum tipping wage is $2.13 per hour. When we talk about the minimum wage, we need to talk about more than just fast food restaurants and retail stores.  We need to be talking about agriculture, and labor jobs too. As well as entry level office work. If I had a nickle for every job posting I have seen where they want a minimum of a Bachelor's Degree in the HIGHLY specialized field for a job that pays $13 dollars an hour by being exactly four miles outside of Seattle City Limits, I could retire right now. 

2. The term "less educated" puts a class barrier where there shouldn't be one.

Most minimum wage workers I know are educated. They have degrees in vital fields, and do vital roles. I think that we need to step back from the imaginary land in which all minimum wage workers are high school kids, and listless adults, in fast food and retail. You know who else makes minimum wage? Call center employees, warehouse employees, social workers, manufacturing, textiles, and first responders, and teachers. The American Military also makes less than minimum wage as the pay for a E4 soldier with no special provisions is $2000 a month, and they are on the job 24/7, 365. What that means is that at $24000 a year they make $2.73 an hour. And truthfully the average American soldier, has it better than the average civilian, if they are unmarried and without children as their meals, lodging, medical, and dental care are all provided. They are often substandard, but that is a conversation from a different day. 

We need to, as a society, wake up to the reality of the situation. The minimum wage has not increased since 2009. What you could buy with $7.25 an hour 10 years ago, you would need nearly $9 to buy the same thing with today. The fact that the minimum wage should be raised, and a realization that a societal shift in how we view compensation needs to occur should not require a death toll. But somewhere along the line, we forgot that we are all in this together, and the selfish mentality has prevailed, and Americans culturally want to impose suffering on others, even if they are also suffering.

3. The number of deaths per race are correlated directly to the pay gap.

Looking at this info graphic, why is this conversation centered on white people and not Native Americans? The pay gap between races has directly correlated to the numbers of deaths that are common among impoverished. Truthfully, I think this also has to do with a societal issue as well. Where colonialism rules, all others must adhere, but now because of the pressure to have all the shiny things, and to drive all the shiny cars, and to have a house in an economy so restrictive, even the most privileged among us are now feeling the strain. I am not saying that there have never been white people in poverty mind you, only that white poverty and black poverty, or indigenous poverty are DRASTICALLY different. We need to talk about more than just the minimum wage, and earned income tax credit. We need to talk about residual colonial policies that force ceilings down upon excellence. We need to talk about the way the law punishes poverty, and the way that it punishes white poverty and poverty in communities of color differently. The minimum wage is a good start, but as per usual the centrist-left will take one step in the right direction, and ignore the entire marathon left to run, while patting themselves on the back for taking the step.

4. The ownership of 'The Washington Post' matters in this conversation.

The Washington Post is owned by Amazon. I will try to restrain my need to go on an "Amazon is the devil rant" here, because truthfully all in Seattle could go on that rant, even their employees. To have this conversation coming from a paper owned by our Malevolent Overlord Jeff Bezos, while ignoring the facts that Amazon, and companies like Amazon could eradicate the need for the minimum wage with the radical idea that paying people fairly ends up being profitable for the company in the end, is not lost on me, and I am sure not lost on many readers. 

Last year Amazon made headlines by making sure that all their employees got at a minimum $15 dollars an hour. Sounds heroic right? WRONG! That "raise" actually ended up costing most Amazon employees dearly. While Amazon was being praised in the media, for its generosity, it quietly restructured compensation, removing all benefits from the warehouse employees, and removing stock incentives from all hourly employees. Meaning if you were a customer service representative, working at Amazon, you're total compensation package dropped about $5000-$10000 a year, without any increase at all. Amazon's complete shut down of all Union conversations has also been a problem, as there is no way for collective bargaining. There are enough people desperate for a job, and Amazon hires too aggressively, and designs attrition after four years with the company, anyway if you are below a certain level, that none of its individual employees have any real value. So for this article, about how paying people more would prevent suicide, coming from a company who in the 2.5 years that I worked for them, saw six people jump from it's buildings to their death, rather than face another day there, is not only ironic, it is depressingly indicative of their ability to ignore their responsibility in creating this mess.

I will leave this off with this post I made in 2016, while still working for Amazon, about the death of a houseless man outside of my building. A monolith of new construction in Seattle, costing millions of dollars. Please excuse my less than eloquent language, and ableism inherent in my drug and alcohol remark. I am not perfect, and even in three years have evolved substantially when it comes to empathy.