I was wrong.
I have no fear, really, in admitting it. It took some time and some major personal reflection to come to this conclusion.
But, I was wrong. And, in the process of BEING wrong I probably hurt some people. Or, at the very least, frustrated the hell out of some folks.
For some time, I strongly believed that with enough grit, determination, scrappy fortitude, and willingness to work very hard, that ANYONE could "make it" in this country. By "make it" I mean live independently, pay their bills, save money, send their kiddos to college....that sort of make it. The basic plateau of adulting.
I did not care if you were white, black, brown, yellow, or red. If you were born into poverty or born into fortune. I did not care if your parents were immigrants. I did not care if you had children already or if you had a learning difference. I didn't care if you were raised in a neighborhood surrounded by terrible violence by a single mother with no education.
I believed in the old platitude that Americans could strap on their work boots, work their tails off, and that's it. That's all they needed.
I was DEAD. WRONG.
Recently, the National Coalition for Low Income Housing released a report that showed there was not a SINGLE STATE in our country where a minimum wage worker could afford a two-bedroom apartment. Not one.
Well, Pudgy you may be thinking, 2-bedroom apartments are BIG. Why do these minimum wage workers need so much damn space?
Or, what the hell are adults doing working minimum wage jobs? Those are for TEENAGERS. Adults need to work adult jobs with their adult degrees that they earned from their adult colleges, right?
That may have been your experience. That may have been your family's experience. But there are a myriad of experiences to be had on our way to adulthood out there and, if you ask a lot of government officials and conservatives out there, just landing a job.....ANY JOB....regardless of what that job pays, is the end goal. You have a job? Good. You're good to go then. Right? What the hell are you doing taking food stamps? Medicaid? Hand outs. YOU. HAVE. A. JOB.
So, I thought I'd lay out some math for some folks. I was hoping that not only would people who agree with me on these points would read and share this post....but that people who feel like "anyone can succeed" in the current economic and employment climate read and share it as well.
I'm going to be talking about my own state, Wisconsin, for the purposes of this content. Mostly because it's where my personal experience is derived from. I feel it's very "middle of the road" as far as economy goes (maybe on the lower cost of living side).
I was a Sociology major, which isn't good for much honestly. It's kind of like being an Art History major or something. Unless you find a VERY SPECIFIC JOB, you're pretty SOL. However, being a Sociology major meant I had to take statistics (I think I've told ya'll this before). I loved statistics. Coming from someone who freaking hates math, this is saying a lot. I liked how it just MADE.SENSE. If the statistics came from a reputable source, you couldn't argue them. There are extenuating factors to influence them, sure. But numbers are numbers.
So here's some numbers.
These come from the US Census Bureau.
The median household income in Wisconsin as of 2016 is $54,610.
The median cost of a home in Wisconsin is relatively low, comparatively speaking, at $177,000.
Our unemployment rate is at a record low (as of April of this year) at 2.9%
So, just by looking at this small snippet of "economic life in Wisconsin", one could say "Hey, we are doing pretty good. If a person watches their spending and doesn't aim TOO high, they could have a house and a fairly decent paying job".
And you would be right.
But there are also other numbers
A study from UW-Milwaukee found Wisconsin, yes...our state, incarcerates more black men than any other state in the country.
Black men are more apt to be given prison time for drug offenses than white men who commit the same offense.
What does this have to do with economics? Take one income earner out of the picture and bam, you've got yourself a one income household left and, if that person is lucky, they're making a bit above poverty wages for their family. Also, according to Wisconsin Works, despite having higher education levels and higher job training completion rates, African-American welfare recipients did not fare better than whites in terms of gaining employment. In addition, black welfare recipients were more likely to be required to take pre-employment tests and drug tests than were their white counterparts (source: pubmed.gov).
We wonder why so many turn to the family structure of a street gang and the quick, "easy" money of drug sales?
If you're behind the 8-ball from the get-go because you happened to be born African-American, happened to be born to a single mother into poverty, your climb to the top, or even to the middle, is going to be fraught with setbacks.
According to a 2013 study, over 90,000 hourly workers in Wisconsin were at or below minimum wage.
How can you be BELOW minimum wage (which is a whopping $7.25 an hour)? Have you ever waited tables? Yeah.
(Tip your waitresses!)
These minimum wage workers are typically not given enough hours per paycheck to receive benefits through their employer and are more likely to receive state assistance. This is a money savings for their company, but a giant imposition on the worker.
But, you say, those people shouldn't be working minimum wage jobs, right? They should go to college and get skills to improve their chances at a higher wage.
I used to say this. Go ahead, I'll give you a moment to picture punching me in the face.
To go full time to a technical college in our area to gain a marketable skill is roughly about $4300 a year, or $358.00 a month. You could take out loans and may apply for grants, but then you have the issue of full time college attendance. Where do your kids go and when do you work?
Many schools are now incorporating "learn at your own pace/schedule" online classes, where you can remote in and listen to pre-recorded lectures on your own time, take the tests on your own time, and complete the classes at your own pace.
I, myself, put myself through college while working and having children. It sucked and I was SUPER fortunate I had a husband at the time to watch the kiddo. I was not so super fortunate to be financially literate at the time, which is why we are still paying on what was over $50,000 in student loans.
So, we want people to educate themselves, but at a hefty hefty price that will be hanging around their necks like chains for a very long time.
We are asking these folks to pay gobs of money to gain skills that will likely only afford them a small uptick in wage.
Maybe it's time to look at the wages as a whole. Cost of living is rising astronomically....wages have remained stagnant.
Maybe it's time to consider what it cost to attend college and WHY it's so damn expensive. WHY it's gone up over 110% since many of our parents were college-aged.
I have three children. To send all three to an in-state school with in-state tuition would cost me over $91,000. And that's NOW. My youngest is 2. I'm sure it'll go up quite a bit by then.
So what's your point, Pudgy?
Here's my point.
If you're one of those keyboard warriors sitting on Facebook telling everyone your Horatio Alger trope about how you rose up from nothing to become a resounding success....just.....stop. Shut it.
Yes, we all have stories. I have a story. You have a story. Your story is not THEIR story.
I had parents who stayed married and both worked. I was born white. I am well read and had access to safe neighborhood schools and mentors who fostered my love for the arts and for reading. I grew up healthy. We didn't have a lot of money but we always got by and I never wanted for a THING. I have privileges up the ying-yang and they are part of my story that I never considered as I was waxing poetic about "rising up".
Here's the thing. Are there dirtball jerkface don't-want-to-work losers out there?
Absolutely. They are paraded out daily on the afternoon TV shows.
Are there welfare queens taking advantage of the system?
I'm sure there are, somewhere. But, it's become a bit of an urban myth. Like how everyone knows twins named Lemonjello and Orangejello or whatever (You don't. Trust me. Neither does your uncle's cousin's brother's roommate).
It's not every mom purchasing groceries at Pick N Save and having to use her Snap card. And don't be the asshole who sits there and nit-picks what she has in her basket.
Here's an idea and here's where my eyes started to open and my mind started to change.
All the whining and internet posting about "Anyone can make it, you just don't WANT to and that's what's wrong with America/Millennials/Whatever" probably didn't encourage a SINGLE person to do better. To pick up a book. To register for a class. To seek out a better job. If anything, it just pissed people off.
So, what to do instead?
Maybe gain some knowledge about personal finance and help someone out who needs it. Maybe just a little bit of assistance with budgeting can make a world of difference for a mom who can't quite make it to the end of the month before she gets to the end of the money.
Maybe get involved in lobbying your state government to consider state tuition costs or minimum wage increases. Don't fear that OMGEVERYTHINGWILLBESOEXPENSIVE if the minimum wage goes up a few dollars. Everything already IS OMGSOEXPENSIVE and the minimum wage has barely moved. Time to start bringing them closer in alignment.
Maybe, if you have some time on your hands, volunteer with a food pantry. Donate baby items to Caritas. GET TO KNOW some of these folks and you will find that a lot of them haven't lost the will or the ability to work, they've just lost a bit of HOPE.
Here's the deal, at the end of the day:
There is hope for internet assholes. There IS.
I sought out information, I saw disparity, lack of fairness in the system, and the real numbers.
I was wrong.
I'm hoping I can put myself on the right side of things and help encourage SOMEONE. Anyone.
Do I believe "anyone can make it"? Maybe not in this current economic climate. It's stacked against us in so many ways. But I do believe anyone can gain hope and encouragement. Even online.
And that's a start.