Right here, right under their noses, 48 million Americans are, as Senator Marco Rubio puts it, “soon-to-haves.” Because nothing says you understand institutional and generational poverty like using corporate-ese to describe it.
Now that Republicans have acknowledged one-fifth of the wealthiest country in the world is impoverished, they’re debating whether this is a viable issue for them.
This doesn’t always work out for the Party of Saying “Reagan.” Notably the Grand Old Party tried to curry favor with religious groups but ended up calling Sandra Fluke a slut, launching the War on Women. In hopes of capturing the Latino vote, they brought out Cuban-American lawmakers to denounce amnesty for undocumented Mexican immigrants… a policy we have for undocumented Cuban immigrants. So Republicans are in need of a nice new signature wedge issue to transform them from the losing Severe Conservatives back into the winning Compassionate Conservatives.
This we-want-to-fix-poverty weather balloon could endear Republicans to people who find them to be the party of Mitt Romney (whom Jon Stewart once described as “the guy who just fired your dad”) and Newt Gingrich (the guy who thinks “child labor laws are stupid!” and then thinks, “I should say that out loud”). The party of assuming working people don’t want insurance but the government is forcing it on them. The party of drug testing welfare recipients. The party of voting to cut food stamps while funding corporate farm subsidies. The party whose party line has been being poor in the U.S. is pretty sweet because poor people have air conditioning and higher rates of obesity.
Poverty tone-deafness coupled with dismissive poor-shaming has been the GOP platform. Or as Congressman Stephen Fincher and other Republicans put it when voting to cut food stamps, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”
But let’s give the GOP the benefit of the doubt. Let’s not just assume this is a cynical attempt to try to appeal to a swath of people they’ve vilified for three decades because they’re now bankrupt of ideas and thin on voting blocs. Let’s not just assume this is an “Extremist Makeover; Poverty Edition.” Let’s assume they’re sincere in their empathy for Americans who have nothing in this land where six people own as much as the bottom 42 percent.
Republicans will use the term “personal responsibility” to tell those with no hope that they’re on their own. That they should have planned better—worked harder—not lived in a flood zone. Had better insurance. Had savings. You get the picture. It’s not the government’s job to save you from yourself. That’s what we pay the police and fire departments for. (Cough.)
And Republicans believe corporations are people. So how about corporations live up to the GOP’s panacea of personal responsibility when it comes to poverty? Republicans are looking for market-based solutions to poverty. Let’s look at poverty’s market-based roots:
Of the 48 million Americans living below the poverty line, 16 million are children and 10.5 million are the working impoverished. Meaning they are not lazy, drug-addicted parasites—they work. The issue is their jobs don’t pay them enough. Corporations employing the working impoverished have decided, as a means of policy, their workers don’t need to earn enough to take care of their families—the government will step up. You want a picture of a Welfare Queen? Get a portrait of any of the Walmart heirs.
In Senator Rubio’s much-hyped War on Poverty cut-and-run speech he floated wage subsidies to tackle poverty. We already do that.
Here’s a better idea: Companies pay their workers enough to live on. Employed yet welfare-dependent is a byproduct of privatizing profit and nationalizing loss.
Marshalls, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods CEOs are paid $21.8 million annually but pay their sales associates less than $8 an hour. Those are poverty wages. Starbucks could take personal responsibility and pay their baristas more than the average $9 an hour. There are others which could make an impact on poverty in America just by giving their Bob Cratchits a much-needed raise: Macy’s, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Sears, Kmart, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Kroger, Target, McDonald’s and the biggest private employer in the country—Walmart.
These American mainstay brands could lift more than 10 million Americans and their dependents out of poverty, but they choose not to.
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far