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Our Country's Broken Social Compact

August 16, 2001

Our economic system used to be set up so that if people worked full-time jobs, they would earn enough to support themselves.  No more.

Author Barbara Ehrenreich proved that in her new book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.  As she described her findings in a recent article:

I spent a total of three months, in three different cities, attempting to support myself on the wages I could earn as an entry-level worker - as a waitress, a hotel housekeeper, a maid with a housecleaning service, a nursing-home aide and a Wal-Mart floor clerk. I could not make ends meet, not with one job anyway. I averaged $7 an hour, an amount that fell tragically short of my bare-bones expenses - gas, food and, above all, rent. 

If someone is trying to support a family, forget about it.  Even with both parents working.  Even with both parents working more than one job -- which by itself wrecks havoc with the family and one's own personal health.

While Ehrenreich is a saint for doing this research, it's amazing to me that it was even necessary.  No college-level calculus is necessary to figure out that $7/hour doesn't cut it.  It's the deliberately thick-skulled, closed-eye nature of too many Americans that necessitates research like Ehrenreich's.

How have we allowed an economic structure to be created that violates a most basic tenet of the social compact? Again Ehrenreich:

Almost everyone - 94 percent of Americans, according to a 2000 poll conducted by Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based employment research firm - agrees that "people who work full-time should be able to earn enough to keep their families out of poverty." When that proposition no longer holds true, then the social contract, at least as I always understood it, is no longer in force. And it is hard to imagine a more serious abrogation of "America's core moral values" than that.

Revolution, anyone?

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

More on Economic Injustice

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