In the wake of questionable comments by Representative Paul Ryan (Republican-Wisconsin) regarding inner city poverty and joblessness, can we ever have a meaningful (or literate) dialogue on the subject of a minimum wage? Is the thought of a minimum wage hike so offensive to Congress that they can’t even consider allowing the poor to earn a wage of more than $58.00 per day? Following its negative vote in the House in March, the Senate added insult to injury and declined (at the end of April) to even vote on the matter.
Paul Ryan’s recent remarks implying that inner city men aren’t working because they don’t want to work is so offensive that he isn’t even close to raising his consciousness to a sufficient level to communicate with the average worker. Does Congress actually believe that $7.25 per hour (or $58.00 for an eight-hour day) is a livable wage? That’s less than $300.00 per week (assuming you can get 40 hours per week, which is doubtful; and then, of course, part time work excludes you from benefits, so you have to pay for medical insurance too). That level of income is okay if you are a teenager who lives with Mom and Dad, but not for a single mother with children or a father trying to support a family. Why is the prospect of minimum wage-earners making $80.00 a day so unpalatable to members of Congress? As President Obama noted, “They said no to helping millions work their way out of poverty …” (Lowery) Even more insulting is that they didn’t even say no, they just refused to entertain the idea.
Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan
Paul Ryan’s budget, which he released early in April, cuts practically every program now available to the underprivileged and disenfranchised. As Representative Alan Grayson of Florida stated, “Hypothetically, if you wanted to distill every form of right-wing economic lunacy into a 100-page document, then hypothetically, it would be the Ryan Budget.” Why then, has Congress continued to take this budget seriously and refused to address any meaningful legislation to raise the minimum wage for the neediest citizens of this country? In an effort to subvert Congress’s inability to act on the minimum wage, some states have chosen to raise it on their own – like Hawaii, Connecticut and Maryland.
Ryan’s proposed budget cuts would slash anti-poverty programs. He proposes repealing the new health care laws, cutting Medicaid, making drastic changes to Medicare, gutting the food stamp program, cutting Pell Grant funding and ending interest-free student loans. So, basically, let’s not just make the poor poorer, but let’s also cut any funding that would help them “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” by pursuing an education. It’s as if the Ryan budget were proposed to tell Americans we’re not even going to give you a fighting chance to get out of the hole. But the “job creators” just love him. “Job creators” is how he refers to big corporations. Those are the guys he wants to reward with tax cuts.
Ryan’s Ill-Conceived Comments
Paul Ryan seems unable to grasp the realities of life endured by the poor in this country. His recent remarks serve to illustrate just how out of touch with his rhetoric placed him with relation to minorities and the disenfranchised. “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work. There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.” (Ellisberg) Apparently, Ryan took Mitt Romney’s election campaign remark about “the 47%” and decided to run with it. His memory must be very short, because he has obviously forgotten how many votes that remark cost Romney in the 2012 election.
These comments about inner city citizens who don’t work and have no intention of working, and intend for their children and grandchildren not to work display a true lack of empathy for those trapped in the welfare system. This attempt at trying to revive the “Welfare Queen” stigma is not buying political favor with many on either side of the political aisle. The only difference in this most recent smear tactic is that it’s being appled to men instead of women, because the thought of cutting food stamps to lazy, shiftless men will go over better than the concept of taking food out of the mouths of a woman with hungry children. Ryan made a feeble attempt to curry favor by meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) after his remarks were publicized (with questionable results).
And apparently that whole “teach a man to fish” concept went right over Ryan’s head as well, because “rather than making investments in education and our children’s future, the Ryan budget instead proposes billions of dollars in cuts to educational programs, including cuts to early education programs like Head Start, child care, funding for public education, and student loans.” (Lesley) How does Representative Ryan expect to “address poverty” or open up a dialogue about the issue when his budget plan stands to cut 2.2 million Americans from receiving food stamp benefits? Does he expect this “let them eat cake” scenario to somehow aid in eradicating poverty and unemployment? Is it even relevant to Congress that the majority of those affected by these cuts are children? Of course, there could be one reason why Ryan has been posturing about the urban poor, It could be “he was pandering to his racist, radical Far Right base.” (Elisberg)
Does Congress Even Care?
President Obama has urged the American public to “get fired up, get organized, get your voices heard.” (Acosta) But the problem is, a Republican-dominated Congress isn’t paying attention; they not only don’t hear the American public’s calls for action, they’d rather filibuster over the minimum wage than even address the issue. “True budget balancers and fiscal conservatives, who would be looking for both spending cuts and increased revenue, have virtually been driven out of today’s Republican Party.” (McGahey) And Paul Ryan’s budget shows that he is blissfully unconcerned with listening to the American public’s appeal for compromise between the parties. “Ryan’s budget rejects compromise in favor of appealing to hard core Republican values.” (McGahey) Congress calls for Americans to eschew welfare in favor of honest employment, but then makes welfare more attractive by failing to increase the minimum wage for those who do work at low-income jobs. They then deliver a final crushing blow by cutting off funding to any outlet affording a leg-up to those struggling to pull themselves out of poverty, i.e. education grants, interest-free student loans, child care, Medicaid, etc. The American worker is stuck in a cycle that works against the poor family ever being able to break out of the welfare system.
Paul Ryan’s reckless plunge into increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots has the inadvertent result of creating a class of people who have nothing left to lose and eroding the safety net for those Americans who are already hitting rock bottom. And when those poverty-stricken masses finally realize they have nowhere else to go, they’re coming for you, Congress (hopefully to vote a lot of you out of office). Ryan’s message to the CBC is that “We all need to talk.” But the question is, are Congressman Ryan and the rest of Congress even listening?
Acosta, Jim, Sr. White House Correspondent, CNN, “Obama Slams GOP over Minimum Wage Vote,” Apr. 30, 2014,
Elisberg, Robert J., “Lying in Wait, Ready to … Pounce!” Huffington Post, Mar. 18, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-j-elisberg/lying-in-wait-ready-topou_b_4985488.html
Grayson, Alan, U.S. Congressman for Fla., 9th Dist., “The Ryan Budget: How I Spent My Weekend,” Huffington Post, Apr. 8, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-alan-grayson/the-ryan-budget-how-i-spe_b_5110606.html
Lesley, Bruce, Pres. First Focus, “In the Name of Protecting Children, the Poor, and the States, the Ryan Budget Does the Opposite,” Huffington Post, Apr. 8, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-lesley/paul-ryan-budget_b_5107204.html
Lowery, Wesley, “Senate Republicans Block Minimum Wage Increase Bill,” The Washingto Post, Apr. 30, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/04/30/senate-republicans-block-minimum-wage-increase-bill/