Where did this idea come from— that if you raise the minimum wage, there’ll be an economic disaster? That if you give poor people money they’ll just hoard it, that the money just disappears into a black hole and everybody stops hiring and unemployment soars because it’s too expensive to hire people…?
You know what happens when you give poor people a bigger cash flow?
Suddenly we’re not living paycheck to paycheck. We don’t have to choose between paying the electric bill and the groceries, we can actually cover both. Suddenly we’re not nervously eyeballing the first of the month, because covering rent is no big deal.
We get that funny noise in the car engine fixed even if it’s several hundred dollars, instead of just putting up with the knocking and driving to work with our teeth gritted and fingers crossed every day waiting for the car to just up and die (and then end up spending several thousand on a new used car— being poor can actually be very expensive). We get the house’s leaky windows patched up and hey, the heating bill just went down, look at that. We’re less tempted to rack up debt on credit cards buying— not luxuries, but essential things like food or medicine.
We’ll pay for nannies and babysitters for our kids so we can show up to work that job flipping your burgers. We’ll pay for after-school programs and extracurricular activities so our kids are happy, socialized, and well-rounded.
We’ll funnel that money into more books, movie tickets, weekend getaways, art supplies, a hobby vegetable garden, community involvement, whatever— things that enrich our lives and take away the stress of the working day, because we’re no longer sinking all our time and energy into two or three jobs just to scrape up enough to make the most meager of ends meet. We’ll buy gifts for our loved ones on holidays. We’ll go out to eat more, shop for clothes more— patronizing the businesses that hire minimum wage workers. (How ‘bout that.)
We might put some money in a savings account, yes, but eventually spend it— on major purchases like college or a house, or spend it when retirement rolls around. But by and large all that extra money gets fed right back into the local economy— by workers who are more likely to be happy, less likely to be stressed and exhausted.
I’m not saying having more income will magically fix all problems min-wage workers have. But it will take care of the biggest ones, and enable us to take care of many more.
And you can be damn sure if you give us more income the one thing we won’t be doing with it is hiding it in a mattress and never spending it.
Rich people do that.
You will be stupid. You will worry your parents. You will question your own choices, your relationships, your jobs, your friends, where you live, what you studied in college, that you went to college at all… If that happens, you’re doing it right.
It reminds me of the “bike to work” movement. That is also portrayed as white, but in my city more than half of the people on bike are not white. I was once talking to a white activist who was photographing “bike commuters” and had only pictures of white people with the occasional “Black professional” I asked her why she didn’t photograph the delivery people, construction workers etc. … ie. the Black and [Latin@] and Asian people… and she mumbled something about trying to “improve the image of biking” then admitted that she didn’t really see them as part of the “green movement” since they “probably have no choice” –
I was so mad I wanted to quit working on the project she and I were collaborating on.
So, in the same way when people in a poor neighborhood grow food in their yards … it’s just being poor– but when white people do it they are saving the earth or something.