America is reaching historic levels of inequality. We are likely to surpass the divide between rich and poor that characterized the Gilded Age, and what is worse, lawmakers are doubling down on policies that eviscerate the middle class and further enrich the wealthy.
We are getting used to seeing articles that tell us how much someone has to make in order to afford basic housing. The bottom line: there is not a single place in the United States of America where someone working a full-time minimum wage job can afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment.
What about a one-bedroom unit?
You would have to earn $17.14 an hour, on average, to be able to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment without having to spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, a common budgeting standard. Make that $21.21 for a two-bedroom home — nearly three times the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Forget compassion (the GOP certainly has.) Lawmakers with even a cursory understanding of economics ought to look at that mismatch between the minimum wage and a worker’s ability to afford a roof over his head and realize that people making that wage–people who are spending every cent they have on life’s necessities– have no disposable income to spend in the marketplace.
It is demand that drives our economy and creates jobs; if fewer people can afford my consumer goods, I buy less from my suppliers, who then buy less raw material. I need fewer salespeople, and my suppliers need fewer people on the factory floor.
If we needed evidence that today’s Republicans dismiss both arguments– compassionate and economic–Karen Handel recently reminded us. Handel is running against Jon Ossoff in Georgia, in a special election to fill a Congressional seat recently vacated by Tom Price. During a debate, Ossoff was asked about the wage issue, and strongly endorsed raising the minimum wage. Handel responded to the same question by saying, “No, I don’t support a livable wage. I’m a Republican.”
While Handel didn’t have to take a hard line on a “livable wage,” her views are not out of the mainstream for Republicans in a place like Georgia, where opposition to any minimum wage is common. The Republican who held the district for a dozen years before becoming HHS secretary, Tom Price, voted against the increase that raised the minimum wage to where it is today.
If America had an adequate social safety net, the wage issue might be ameliorated somewhat, but very few of the working poor qualify for any sort of benefit. The most glaring omission from that safety net, of course, is healthcare. The Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) is imperfect, but it was a step in the right direction. Most other industrialized countries have some version of national healthcare, or single-payer; such systems not only improve health outcomes significantly, they make an enormous difference to low-wage workers.
When a broken leg can mean the difference between an uninsured person paying the rent or being evicted, the Republicans’ current mean-spirited effort to deprive twenty-three million people of health insurance is incomprehensible.
Equally incomprehensible is Congress’ steadfast refusal to allow government agencies to negotiate prices with Big Pharma, or to allow Americans to purchase drugs manufactured in America from countries that have negotiated for–and achieved–lower prices.
If you are poor in the United States, a broken leg or extended bout of influenza is bad enough, but treatment of a serious illness like cancer is simply unaffordable. Doctors are desperately trying to find ways to keep cancer patients alive without bankrupting even those with better-than modest resources.
A group of prominent cancer doctors is planning a novel assault on high drug costs, using clinical trials to show that many oncology medications could be taken at lower doses or for shorter periods without hurting their effectiveness….
The initiative is the latest response to rising concerns over “financial toxicity,” the economic devastation that can be wrought by the high cost of cancer care. With new oncology therapies routinely debuting at more than $100,000 a year, “lots of people are worried about developing drugs that people can’t get,” said Leonard Saltz of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, who helped organize the new group.
Our lawmakers are very good at protecting the profits of drug companies. They are also good at figuring out how to fund tax cuts for the wealthy–just decimate Medicaid and stop subsidizing health insurance for poor Americans.
What they aren’t so good at is recognizing the human, social and economic consequences of continuing to expand the abyss between the rich and the rest.