We are consumed by this idea that capitalism and our way of life faces certain difficulties along the way, and that we can overcome these obstacles, but the system is broken. Citizens working at minimum wage make an income below the poverty line, they cannot afford to see a doctor, they are instead encouraged to face inflated emergency room costs, their children's schools are underfunded and use outdated materials, and they cannot access the necessary training to improve their lot in life.
Economist Richard Wolff pointed out in an interview with NPR:
"The peak for the minimum wage in terms of its real purchasing power was 1968. It's been basically declining with a couple of ups and downs ever since. So that if you adjust for the current price, the minimum wage was about $10.50 roughly, back in 1968 in terms of what it could buy. And it's $7.25 today in terms of what it can buy. So you've taken the folks at the bottom, the people who work hard, full-time jobs, and you've made their economic condition worse over a 50-year period, while wealth has accumulated at the top."Those in business are afraid to raise this wage because they believe it will hurt the economy (i.e. less companies hiring). The fact of the matter is, when people have more money they spend more money. Outside of the initial effect on business from raising the minimum wage, most experts agree that it would only benefit the working class and economy overall. When more people spend money, business expands, it's just that simple. It hurts the government significantly more to pay for food stamps and welfare because these people cannot support themselves.
People working in restaurants across the country make under three dollars per hour, and many that work graveyard shifts don't make up the difference in tips to achieve minimum wage. These people are supposed to be compensated by their company when this happens, but they often are not.
We live in a country that scoffs at the idea of regulating banks that are using our citizen's money to make risky investments that created the financial crisis we are currently in. These bankers have purchased politicians and made damn sure that they will not face consequences for their actions. It is now to the point where a counterculture movement like Occupy the SEC feels the need to sue federal agencies for their inability to put a law into place that would: "limit the ability of banks to gamble with the average person's checking account, or with public money offered by the Federal Reserve," a law which passed three years ago and has not fully gone into effect yet.
JP Morgan lost $6 billion just last year from a risky trading situation call the "London Whale."
The people that are elected to represent us are unable to accomplish basic goals amongst the bickering. The fiscal cliff was built by their frail hands to encourage them to act, and they were unable to do so for the benefit of the citizens they are paid to represent. The first budget cuts from this sequester are $83 billion. That's the same amount of money the government funneled into its largest banks this year alone.
Massachusetts has what is considered the best education departments in the United States, but it also has some the largest income gaps. Reuters reported last year:
"The achievement gap between rich and poor students on standardized tests is 30 to 40 percent wider than it was a quarter-century ago... [and] income inequality risks becoming more entrenched."Rich schools are sending nearly twice as many of their students to colleges and universities. These poorer schools are not able to adequately prepare their students for the competitive market they will face after high school. Teachers in these school are often not adequately trained for their jobs. What is our country's response? Work harder, you can do anything you set your mind to.
We have gone from a land of opportunity to a country that turns a blind eye to struggling families, ignores bad business practices, and justifies this by holding onto a long lost dream of being a place where people can accomplish anything if they just work hard. Well, 15 million Americans receiving the federal minimum wage are working hard as we speak and they're making a wage that will not support them. It's pretty hard to say you're a country of opportunity when that much of your country is making the minimum, and the minimum doesn't even cover those citizen's minimum needs.