Today is Labor Day, a time to commemorate the successes of trade and labor organizations that created eight-hour work days and other working conditions that the U.S. accept as status quo. The day has been celebrated 132 years, first in New York City and then becoming a federal holiday 120 years ago. At one time, labor unions raised the standard of living in the United States and supported political democracy.
Two years ago, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tried to shift the celebration to the people who build businesses and “earned their own success”—maybe like the Koch brothers who actually inherited the foundation of their empire. Cantor’s speech repeated his aim “to keeping taxes low … and ensure a thriving economy for the future.” Cantor is gone, voted out by an unhappy constituency, but his legacy of austerity from low taxes on the wealthy still takes a big hit on the nation’s economy.
The House “take from the poor and give to the rich” guru Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has a new brand of snake oil in his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea. During his recent interview on NPR, the heavily Koch brothers-supported “public radio,” he demonstrated his need to display a fake “attitude adjustment” toward wooing a broader audience for his presidential run. Trying to convince voters that he has mellowed, he has developed a plan that would combine 11 benefit programs and give the money to the states in an effort to “reintegrate people into our communities.”
In the past, Ryan has described people in the U.S. as either “makers,” taxpayers, or “takers,” people receiving government benefits. He never seemed to grasp the fact that some people fit into both categories at the same time. Now he describes his maker/taker categories as a “sort of a callous generalization … disparaging people where I really didn’t mean to do that.” Asked about whether the GOP thought about poverty the wrong way, he blamed the Democrats equally with the Republicans. Then he launched into explaining that after spending time with religious social services groups, he’s decided that “the federal government should not be dictating the front lines in the war on poverty.” Ryan’s position is that religion should be running government benefits.
His other prong of reducing poverty is “accountability.” That means hiring lots of people to follow poor people around to make sure that they live up to their “contracts.”
Ryan claims that he wants “a culture of inclusion” because “we have marginalized the poor in many ways.” Unfortunately for him, he marginalized them last March in his accusation that poverty comes from“the culture of the inner city.” Accused of racism, he claimed that he was only talking about the “work ethic … to try and reinvigorate and reintegrate people in work.” His “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” statement might have been more convincing if he hadn’t cited Charles Murray as an expert–the man who purports that blacks are, as a population, less genetically less intelligent whites and the problem of poverty exists because “a lot of poor people are born lazy.”
In keeping with Ryan’s and the GOP’s arrogant assumption that they understand the reasons for poverty—i.e., the “culture of the inner city,” Ryan ignored the following:
- Stagnant and declining wages from bad policy decisions including the attack on unions and the failure of the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.
- Lack of balance for workers in managing both work and parenting.
- Disparities of wages for whites and minorities.
- Weak retirement security, partly through the failed 401(k) system.
A major reason for poverty is the low minimum wage. One in four—25 percent—of workers earn less than $10 per hour. More than one-third of workers making less than $10.50 are at least 40 years old, more than half work full-time, and the average minimum-wage worker earns half of his or her family’s total income.
The percentage of low-wage workers with at least some college education is 43.2 percent, 71 percent higher than 35 years ago. An increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 would cost $35 billion, and the economy would grow by about $22 billion, creating roughly 85,000 new jobs. Raising the minimum wage in just Los Angeles would create more than 50,000 jobs. Washington, the state with the highest statewide minimum wage, also has the highest percentage of annual job growth. Doubling the minimum wage at McDonalds would take many employees off public benefits but cost people only between $.14 and $.68 for a Big Mac. Taxpayers would save $4.6 billion a year in just food stamps if Walmart increased its wages to $12 per hour. Shoppers would pay only one percent more–$10.01 for an item now costing $10.
Two-thirds of all minimum wage workers are not employed by small businesses, and three out of five small business owners favor raising the minimum wage. The demise of unions raised corporate profits but failed to create jobs.
One of Ryan’s solutions to getting out of poverty is marriage, but married parents with children are 56 percent more likely to live in poverty than married adults without children. Another is education. Seventy percent of adults living below the poverty line have a high school diploma, and almost half of them have some college or a bachelor’s degree.
Ryan also claimed on Face the Nation that last year’s government shutdown was “flawed from beginning to end … a suicide mission.” Bob Schieffer didn’t give Ryan a pass the way that the NPR’s Steve Inskeep did in the interview about poverty.
When Schieffer asked Ryan why he didn’t say that last October, the Congressman replied, “Because I want party unity.” If the GOP decides to shut down the government this month to get their own way, Ryan will need to decide whether he cares more about his “party unity” or his country. GOP leaders are threatening another shutdown without a “clean” (aka no Democrat requests) funding bill and a short-term (aka kick-the-can-down-the-road) reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. Funding ends on September 30, 10 Congressional “working” days from now.
In neighboring Michigan, income tax records show that multi-millionaire and senate candidate, Terry Lynn Land, paid only 3 percent income tax last year as compared to her opponent, Rep. Gary Peters, who paid 18 or 19 percent during the past three years. She claimed she made $90,000 last year but donated $3 million to her campaign. Land is another candidate who wants to take from the poor and give to the rich.
Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) is upset with his Democratic opponent, Brad Ashford, for proposing a 10-percent cut in congressional salaries. Terry complained that Congress hasn’t had a COLA since 2008 and that he already gives 10 percent of his salary to charities. Back in March 2013, Terry joined fellow Republicans to unanimously vote against an increase of the federal minimum wage. He was also one of those criticized during the 2013 GOP government shutdown because he wouldn’t give up his $174,000 salary. His reason: “I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has laid out the GOP agenda up front and center in his speech at Americans For Prosperity’s “Defending the American Dream Summit” in Dallas and denying the poor.
- “Number one, no amnesty.”
- “[Repeal] every word of ObamaCare.”
- “We ought to bomb [ISIS fighters] back to the stone age.”
- “[Focus on] defending constitutional rights,” with a list of social issues including gun control, education, birth control and privacy
Jesse Benton, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) former campaign manager, spent Labor Day looking for a new job. He quickly resigned after the scandal broke about his involvement in bribing an Iowa legislator to switch from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul during their presidential campaigns. Benton said he loved both Kentucky and McConnell who “is a friend, a mentor and a great man this commonwealth desperately needs.” Benton’s love for McConnell is newfound because last year a recording surfaced in which Benton said he was “holding my nose” working for the Senate minority leader’s campaign to benefit Rand Paul in 2016.