Two Americas

 

By Denise Candea, Charlotte County Dems writer

The Charlotte Sun newspaper recently featured a full-page story about cosmetic Botox. It seems that our COVID-induced “quarantine” has some folks unhappy with their Zoom faces. Since we’re wearing masks in public anyway, this may be the ideal time for secret cosmetic surgery. It’s expensive and not covered by insurance, but no matter – half of America is doing fine, even now. Some, thanks to trillions in massive federal stimulus, are doing even better than they were.

New orders for Ferraris are strong. Private aircraft sales have boomed. Apple stock has climbed 58% this year. Facebook stock is up 65% from its March low. Retail investors are betting that further stimulus will drive the market even higher. 

The scene is the opposite of the other half of America. Nearly thirty million remain unemployed. Small businesses are shuttering. Food pantries can’t keep up with demand. Foreclosures and evictions are looming. We are in a recession that is expected to last a few years.

Trump would like you to believe that the economy was booming before the pandemic, but Wall Street records and low unemployment only paint part of the picture. Almost half of the American workers were struggling to keep their heads above water in Trump’s booming economy, even before the pandemic. They are the employees who earn less than $20/hour. 

In Charlotte County, the cost of living is only slightly lower than the national average, except for the cost of groceries, which is slightly higher. Two of the main average costs: 

A single person making $20/hour and working 40 hours per week might possibly manage. But a single person making $10/hour? Even at 40 hours, there wouldn’t be much left for food, transportation, utilities, health care, and emergencies.

A couple with a child, each making $20/hour might make ends meet. But childcare, plus other work-related costs would entirely wipe out the pay of a $10/hour earner in a two-earner family.

A single-parent family with one child under five, earning $20/hour full-time, would be left with only a few hundred dollars for food, transportation, utilities, health care, and emergencies. Earning less than $20/hour or fewer than 40 hours a week would render economic self-sufficiency mathematically impossible for many in Southwest Florida.

What about social assistance programs to supplement low income? (Assuming it is reasonable for people who work full-time to make so little that they qualify for assistance). Most assistance such as food stamps, HUD Section 8 housing, Medicaid, and Head Start are based on the federal poverty rate for annual income: So no, they do not qualify – they earn too much.

  • Individual $12,784 ($6.14/hour full time – lower than federal minimum wage)
  • 2 people $16,240
  • 3 people $19,985 (this is about what a $10/hour job pays annually)
  • 4 people $25,701

Who are these hourly employees? Sales Associate $ 9; Cashiers $ 9; Certified Nursing Assistant $13; Medical Assistant $14; Dental Assistant $17; Licensed Practical Nurse $20; Local average wage $15.66; US average wage $19.33

The sad fact about lower-wage hourly workers is that they often do not get any typical “benefits”: no health insurance;  no paid leave. In addition, many employers are skirting the Wage and Hour laws by illegally designating their workers as “contracted”; thereby, eliminating the need to contribute the employers’ 50% share of the payroll taxes for Social Security benefits. 

Too many people in our rich country work far too long, and far too hard, for not enough money to pay their bills. A small emergency expense, like bald tires or a broken tooth, can mushroom into an unpaid utility bill, which can affect a credit score that can then make car insurance more expensive. And on and on and on. 

The astonishingly inept response to the coronavirus by our Republican administration has amplified these inequities. Although people of color and women have been disproportionately affected, white working-class men have been hurt too.  As we move forward in our pandemic-affected new normal, we must ensure that new policies shore up working-class families. 

Fortunately, the Biden – Harris ticket has plans to address the gaping disparity between the bottom half and the top half of American society.  Vote Blue. Top to bottom. Donate to a local candidate.

David Jones– State House District 75

Allen Ellison– US House of Representatives Florida 17th District

Katherine Norman– State Senate District 23

Image Credits: Shutterstock
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