Posts Tagged ‘Working poor’

Bernie grew up poor, Hillary didn’t: It matters

February 18, 2016

The cartoonist and writer Ted Rall, author of a new biography of Bernie Sanders, wrote a good article about how the political differences between Sanders and Hillary Clinton can be explained by the fact that Sanders grew up poor whereas Clinton didn’t.

One of the differences between people who grow up poor vs. people who grow up middle class is that the latter on average are better able to delay gratification in anticipation of future gains.

Bernie0.tedrallMiddle class moralists like to say this is because poor people lack strength of character.  I say the difference is that is hard to take the long-range view when you’re not sure week-to-week whether you will have food on the table or be able to pay the rent.

Psychological tests show that middle-class children on average are more likely than poor children to refrain from eating a marshmallow if they are promised a second marshmallow in return.

Middle class moralists say this is because middle class families have better moral values.  I say the difference is that it is easier to delay gratification if your life experience is that people keep promises and that nobody will snatch away what you have.

Bernie Sanders grew up in a home in which his parents lived paycheck to paycheck and never could be certain of the future even on a month-by-month basis.

Hillary Clinton never experienced anything like this.  She and her husband said they exited the White House $10 million in debt, but there never was any danger they would have to live on Ramen noodles or live in a homeless shelter.

So Sanders is passionate about immediate and drastic reforms of the economic system, and Clinton tells working people and the unemployed to be realistic and settle for tiny incremental improvements.


For Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Politics Is Personal by Ted Rall via Counterpunch.

Police killings and no-account black people

May 8, 2015

Conservatives such as David Brooks claim that the real problem of poor black people in cities such as Baltimore is not poverty, unemployment or police abuse, but bad moral character.

Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray

It is too bad that Freddie Gray died in custody of Baltimore police, but he would have been a loser no matter what, Brooks argued in a recent New York Times column.

Now it is true that there are Americans who are so completely demoralized that they couldn’t thrive even in a high-wage, full-employment economy.  I don’t know how many such people there are.  The way to find out is to create a high-wage, full-employment economy and see what happens.

My concern is with the obstacles faced by poor people who are doing everything humanly possible to get out of poverty.

I’m thinking of people who work full-time at minimum wage, some at multiple jobs, and still are in poverty.  I’m thinking of working people who don’t get paid sick days, can’t afford child care and have no transportation to work.

Not all are black and not all are in big cities, although black people in poor city neighborhoods are targets of abuse by virtue of living where they do.


Supply, demand and minimum wage

February 24, 2014

One of the big arguments against raising the minimum wage is based on an over-simple understanding of the law of supply and demand  — that if employers have to pay higher wages, they’ll hire fewer workers.

If that were true, then the long-term decline in the minimum wage and in median workers’ wages (adjusted for inflation, which you should always do) would have resulted in full employment.  Obviously this hasn’t happened.

A rational employer will hire as many workers as necessary for the profitable operation of the business, and no more.  The law of supply and demand sets limits.  The employer will not pay so much that he can’t operate profitably, nor so little that nobody will work for him.  But, as is shown by the difference between Costco and Walmart, there is a broad range between those two limits.

Suppose I have a franchise to operate a McDonald’s restaurant.  I would not raise wages to the point where higher costs forced me to charge more for a hamburger than the Burger King restaurant across the street.  But if the minimum wage was raised for both of us, we could pay higher wages and still be on a level playing field.

In theory, minimum wage could be raised to the point where I charged more for hamburger than people were willing to pay.  But there is no evidence that this has ever happened with minimum wage in the United States.

One economist, for example, compared employment in adjoining counties of adjoining states with different state minimum wages.  There was no evidence of any difference in unemployment rates or job availability.

A higher minimum wage could have a positive effect on employment.  If low-wage workers have more money to spend, there is a greater demand for goods and services, and could result in new hiring.


Jenn’s Words: “Living in poverty is like being punched in the face over and over and over on a daily basis. “

February 24, 2014

Hat tip for this to Mike the Mad Biologist.

Why I don’t look down on poor people

July 11, 2013

I’ve never been poor.   I’ve never been in fear of poverty.   I’ve never been laid off or fired from a job.  I’ve never been unemployed.  If I had been a drug addict or an alcoholic, if I had dropped out of high school before graduating, if I had a criminal record, if I had messed up in my work (more than I actually did), if … a lot of other things … I almost certainly would be poor.

I attribute my relative success in life to making good choices of (1) the year I was born, 1936, and (2) my mother and father, who were both committed to giving me better opportunities than they ever had in life.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

During my life I have known poor people (including some who thought of themselves as middle class) who had as good or better work ethic as I did, who were are careful or more careful about making economic decisions as I was, and still were poor.  I’ve known people who made a bad decision early in life, such as getting pregnant by a no-good father, and spent years with the consequences of that.

As U.S. wages decline, as more and more people are forced into low-paying temporary jobs, I don’t see how you can argue that increase poverty is mainly due a decline in moral character.


Yes, there is such a thing as a culture of poverty.  Yes, there are neighborhoods and communities where young people grow up with no concept of bettering their condition through education or hard work. If you take drugs, have children out of wedlock, drop out of school and see no point in thinking about the future, you will be poor no matter what.

Even so, it was a lot less hard to overcome these attitudes back in the 1950s and 1960s when the United States had a high-wage, full-employment economy, and the payoff of education and a good work ethic was obvious and immediate.   It is hard to sell the value of a college education when so many college graduates are tending bar and serving fast food.


Who should receive your charity?

December 21, 2010

A wise friend of mine ignores charitable solicitations that come in the mail.  Instead he gives exceptionally large tips to waiters and waitresses, hotel room cleaners and other hard-working poor people.

He says this has the advantage that his entire gift goes to the person to whom it is intended, without anything going to some organization’s administrative overhead or fund-raising expenses.  It also respects the dignity of the person receiving the money.  They don’t have to feel like objects of charity.

My wise friend gives generously to certain kinds of beggars – not the ones who come to you with some improbable tale of woe, but those who sell pencils or knickknacks, play a musical instrument or otherwise do something in return for what they receive.

When you stop and think about it, panhandling is hard work for low pay.  It does not contribute much to society, but it is more useful and less well-compensated than, say, being a hedge fund manager.