Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Let the Fast Food CEO's Try to Survive on Their Worker's Wages!

A truly depressing story from PBS thoroughly illustrates the absolute struggle of one fast-food working mother of seven who tries to get by on $8 an hour. An excerpt:
"Over the past several months, activists and some fast-food workers, including Shenita, have been organizing for higher wages. They point out that, like Shenita, almost 40 percent of all fast-food workers are 25 or older, and more than 25 percent are raising children. It's not just teenagers flipping burgers part-time."
And what is the response of many commenters on the story? Generally one of two things:

  • It is not the responsibility of companies to pay a living wage.
  • Don't have kids if you can't afford them.

So there you have it. The ideas that the whole reason people work is so they can afford to live unassisted is lost on many people, as is the idea that it's wrong-headed that only rich people should have kids. Any wonder the problems aren't being addressed, let alone solved?

Voltaire got it right: "The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Labor Day! American Wages Are Flatter & Lower Than a Decade Ago in Spite of Increased Productivity!

The International Business Times has noted that American workers' wages are flat and in some cases, lower over the last 13 years, in spite of increased productivity. Not to mention that more than 1 in 5 Americans have zero or negative net worth.  

It's not like the reasons are a secret. The cause of the problem is articulated perfectly by Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute:
"Policy makers should be viewing broad-based wage growth and the quality of jobs as the lens through which they view economic policy. Right now, economic policy is focused on promoting high consumption and low prices, which lead economic growth to be dependent on cyclical asset bubbles and precipitous accumulation of personal debt."
Critics argue that higher wages for workers means inflation and a higher cost of living, but as you can see from the Times article:
"Groups like the CATO Institute say that the key to economic prosperity is to freeze or eliminate the federal minimum wage rather than increase it -- because they claim higher wages leads poorer people to lose their jobs as companies seek to offset payroll rises. But if stagnant and lower wages are the key to economic prosperity, then the U.S. economy has had more than a decade to prove that.
It hasn’t."
So on this Labor Day, take a look at the short animation fact presentation from the EPI, and understand why all those fast-food workers are striking. And think about what YOU will do this upcoming year to improve your economic standing in a system completely rigged against you.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hopeful Farm Part 2: Organic Produce Donated to Local Food Banks

In 2012 when I moved back to Oregon, I lived on a farm and had grown organic produce and donated most of it to local food banks. Then, due to job loss, I had to leave the farm and live in my car. 

Back in December, 2012, when it was 22 degrees outside (and inside my car, since I had no heat), the last thing I was thinking about was farming. But time and circumstances were fortunate to me, and the place I moved to after I secured a job was...on a farm!

My generous Kickstarter backers had given me enough of a boost to make it happen; you can read about the preliminaries here: http://www.carliving.org/2013/01/hopeful-farm-2013-all-produce-to-be.html

People come to look at the vegetable garden and are amazed. It was a lot of work only in the sense of the setup/layout--once you have everything structured and arranged, it's easy to maintain each year thereafter if you keep the same setup. I do not have any agricultural training or any kind of green thumb. You literally mulch and compost, put the plants in the ground and water them, and Nature takes over without your help.

Here are some before and after photos:

From the start, expenses HAD to be kept to a shoestring. I could not afford fertilizer, and refused to use bug spray, so I mulched and composted weekly. I was lucky, because the property owner is a landscaper by trade, so he always brought in an endless supply of leaves and grass clippings. This eliminated the need for weeding, as I would never garden if I had to spend any serious amount of time weeding. I think I maybe pulled one weed a week out of the garden, and that was because I was bored. Usually I just dumped more mulch on top of the very few weeds I did see, and that took care of the problem.

The most fortunate part of all was that the property is not only on a well, but it also has flood irrigation rights. This project would have been IMPOSSIBLE if I had to rely on city water, as the cost would have been prohibitive.

The seed had been saved from the farm the previous year, or had been bought years prior, and stored in my storage unit over the dreadful, homeless winter. A little (such as the corn) was purchased from Territorial Seed Company here in Oregon. A neighbor gave me a lot of year-old seed packets as well, for things such as spinach and cilantro. I also raided his chicken coop over the winter for chicken manure as well. I did have to purchase a couple of sprinklers and nozzles, as the ones on site were broken or slated for other use.

Most of the farm equipment such as hoses and hand tools were already on site, or had been given to the property owner over the season. At one point, he scored an extra wheelbarrow and metal cart for hauling! A new home was built down the street from the farm, so there was lots of fill dirt for compost, plastic sheeting, buckets and cardboard (weed barrier) free for the hauling. New home construction waste is a gardener's best friend!

So far, over 125 pounds of organic produce from the farm has been donated to local food banks such as ACCESS Medford, Talent Food Bank, and Ashland Emergency Food Bank. Donations included cucumbers, corn, beans, hot peppers, swiss chard, parsley, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, celery, basil, green onions and a few bell peppers. The bulk of the winter squash, giant heirloom tomatoes, regular tomatoes, more hot peppers and most of the bell peppers have not ripened yet, so there's plenty more on the way when they do.

Box of produce and bag of lettuce being prepped for delivery to the Ashland Food Bank

Almost 50 pounds of produce donated to AEFB in a single week! That's prolific!

Everything wasn't a total success though. The bok choy and cauliflower bolted from the July 100+ degree weather, and the Brussels sprouts never happened. I still have some January King cabbage waiting for the first frost in about a month and a half.

Right now, the ground is being prepared with tillage/cover crop radishes for next season. A limited amount of lettuce, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and snow peas will be grown for fall/winter donation until the weather kills them. I would like to work on a coldframe or greenouse to grow for the food banks overwinter, when demand for fresh, organic vegetables is highest.

But even though I'm not homeless anymore, any day I could have to leave again due to a volatile employment situation just like last year, and start all over somewhere else. That's the very real risk when you don't own the place you live. You don't want to invest in greenhouses and infrastructure, only to have to abandon it. 

So for now, I'll see what the fall and winter brings, and work with what I have.

Meanwhile, check out the Plant a Row for the Hungry program from the Garden Writers Association. They were the inspiration behind my first-ever garden in 2005--when the program was little-known and barely 3 years old--and still are today. From their website:

"Since 1995, over 16 million pounds of produce providing over 60 million meals have been donated by American gardeners. All this has been achieved without government subsidy or bureaucratic red tape — just people helping people.
Launched in 1995, Plant A Row is a public service program of the Garden Writers Association and the GWA Foundation. Garden writers are asked to encourage their readers/listeners to plant an extra row of produce each year and donate their surplus to local food banks, soup kitchens and service organizations to help feed America’s hungry.
There are over 84 million households with a yard or garden in the U.S. If every gardener plants one extra row of vegetables and donates their surplus to local food agencies and soup kitchens, a significant impact can be made on reducing hunger."

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Top 5 Car Living Expenses That Will Rapidly Deplete Your Savings

The fact that you're living in your car means you're already on thin ice and on the brink financially. One major financial blow and you're practically done for. These are the top 5 expenses that can push you over the edge. If you're fortunate enough to be able to plan for them before you begin car living, it's to your considerable advantage.
  1. Gas and car insurance. Unfortunately, gas is creeping very close to $4 a gallon in the U.S. for the forseeable future. Car insurance, luckily, can be paid monthly in small amounts, or in advance for a discount. Remember, if your car gets towed because you don't have insurance, you're homeless and on the streets.
  2. Laundromats. If you can find a friend or family member who is willing to let you do your laundry for free, you'll save the $5-$10 weekly cost of trying to keep things clean. Try to purchase laundry supplies from dollar stores, or buy them on sale in stores rather than at the laundromat, where the cost is excessive.
  3. Medical bills or vet bills. Of course anyone can go to the emergency room for something dire, but if you are diabetic or have another chronic condition, medical expenses can eat you alive. Many cities have free clinics where medical needs can be addressed for free or nearly free. The catch is, you have to wait for the scheduled day they serve the public, or make an appointment, prolonging the time until your medical problem can be addressed. If your state has public health insurance, see if you can enroll prior to becoming homeless. Many of them have very long waiting lists, so the sooner you apply, the better.
  4. Equipment. This includes items like heaters in the winter, and solar fans in the summer. Or a decent sleeping bag.
  5. Unforeseen expenses. This is a huge category, that can include car repairs, money for a motel room during extreme weather, or police tickets for speeding, parking or vagrancy.
You'll have enough planned expenses to have to pay for (gym membership, storage), let alone have to scrape up the cash to handle emergencies. Thinking ahead helps a lot, but luck, unfortunately, which you can't control, will also play a major role.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Right to a Living Wage - Follow This Washington D.C. vs. Wal-Mart Saga

Finally! Some city somewhere with the stones to stand up to Wal-Mart! According to the Washington Post, the Washington, D.C., city council has passed a living wage measure called the Large Retailer Accountability Act. 
"D.C. lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill requiring some large retailers to pay their employees a 50 percent premium over the city’s minimum wage, a day after Wal-Mart warned that the law would jeopardize its plans in the city. 
The retail giant had linked the future of at least three planned stores in the District to the proposal. But its ultimatum did not change any legislators’ minds. The 8 to 5 roll call matched the outcome of an earlier vote on the matter, taken before Wal-Mart’s warning.
'The question here is a living wage; it’s not whether Wal-Mart comes or stays,” said council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), a lead backer of the legislation, who added that the city did not need to kowtow to threats. “We’re at a point where we don’t need retailers. Retailers need us.'” 
Details include:
"...Wage and benefit provisions represent a 50 percent premium over the city’s minimum wage of $8.25 [to $12.50/hr]. The requirement would be applicable to retailers with yearly corporate sales of $1 billion or more operating out of spaces of 75,000 square feet or more, with an exception for companies with unionized workforces."
So naturally, the Mayor is being lobbied to veto it at the behest of:
"...Republican Party, the National Retail Federation and the American Antitrust Institute, all of which released letters or statements urging [Mayor] Gray to exercise his veto."
And Wal-Mart, of course, is painting itself as the victim. Doesn't everyone know by now that profits matter more than people being able to make ends meet?:
"Wal-Mart is adamant that it can’t pay a minimum wage of $12.50 but also says that it pays an average retail employee wage of $12.67 nationwide. Also, under the bill, it’s actually a wage rate, which means benefits would be included, and the wage would likely be lower. It seems Wal-Mart didn’t want to set a precedent for jurisdictions nationwide that might consider doing something similar. After all, if this thing metastasized, it could end up costing the company billions in profit."
And of course, the naysayers claim that minimum wage is better than unemployment. Of course, they ALWAYS say stupid things like that, because they don't have to live on minimum wage (like many people do) to survive. That race to the bottom is so complete these days it's sick. This opinion piece on the D.C. Wal-Mart matter shows how truly awful the race for the few crumbs available has become.

Ralph Nader, ever on the side of workers, wrote an excellent commentary on the matter for Huffington Post that demolishes the claims against paying the workers a living wage.

UPDATE 7/16/13 - Lest anyone think I'm just bashing Wal-Mart, here's a sad-but-true article from the Atlantic about how "McDonald's Can't Figure Out How Its Workers Survive On Minimum Wage." It shows a financial planning guide McDonald's made for its workers, in which the company accidentally illustrates precisely how impossible it is to scrape by making minimum wage. The final paragraph of the very brief article is most telling:
"Of course, minimum wage workers aren't really entirely on their own, especially if they have children. There are programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and the earned income tax credit to help them along. But that's sort of the point. When large companies make profits by paying their workers unlivable wages, we end up subsidizing their bottom lines."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sad But True: The Very People Who Benefit from Unions Hate Unions

In the "for me but not for thee" times we live in, where "I got mine--screw you" is the mantra of not the wealthy, but the middle class toward the poor, there are people who hate unions while reaping the very benefits of them. The public employees who have generous benefits contractors and private sector workers can only dream of, are all too quick and happy to tell you how corrupt, greedy and unnecessary unions are.

What I always say to these people is, "Well, if you don't like unions, feel free to work weekends, 20-hour workdays, and for .25 cents an hour, because that's what you'd be doing if it weren't for unions." Vacation, sick leave, and a living wage or higher than living wage are all hallmarks of unions, not employer generosity.

So let's look at those lovely non-union, right-to-work states (mostly Republican strongholds--surprise!):

And now lets look at the amazing benefits of those right-to-work states:

Source: http://educationvotes.nea.org/2013/01/07/right-to-work-rumblings-surface-in-the-states/

Or in harder numbers, the telltalechart.com website has sortable graphs by state (see below). It tells the story succinctly, using the name "Lowroadistan" to show what third-world status the right-to-work states have become:

"And six states have sub-poverty shares at or near a third of their workforces–all of these in the deep south.  I call this group “Lowroadistan.”  Indeed the 10 states with the highest low-wage shares are all “right-to-work” states; and Virginia is the only “right-to-work” state to crack the top 10 in the  over 300 percent category."

Oh, but wait, you say. That's all biased information from left-wing think tanks. Nay so. Here's the data from the U.S. Census Bureau, hardly a bastion of rabid, commie pinkos:

The over-$100K people with Masters degrees in Public Administration (especially who hail from Southern states) are the most belligerent in their contempt of unions. Kick them off their pedestals, and force them to live like their constituents (a.k.a. everybody else), and they'd be singing a far different tune. As Herman Melville once said, "Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why It's Not Your Fault If You End Up Living In Your Car Due To The Economy

The evidence just keeps on mounting that corporations are squeezing their workers into utter penury while they pocket ever-higher profits:

Huffington Post featured a report by the New America Foundation that shows the minimum wage went nowhere as worker productivity skyrocketed:

This means workers did much, much more for so much less.

The brief, 44-page report is an excellent analysis of the problems workers currently face in the U.S. and provides eminently reasonable solutions that of course won't be enacted because of the lack of political will by the policymakers who serve the plutocracy.

Political cynicism aside, the report shows clearly and concisely how the system is designed to keep people in poverty, whether through lack of a living wage, or a broken Unemployment Insurance system, which doesn't pay enough for people to live on while they look for another scarce and low-paying job.

Read the report. It's easily understandable and you will learn a lot quickly.

And speaking of living wages, a study done by the state of New York revealed that raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25/hr to $9/hr would be far from a living wage in New York. And everywhere else, of course.

As you already know from my book and previous blog posts:
"The federal minimum wage hasn't increased since 2009. According to a 2012 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the minimum wage would actually be $21.72 an hour if it kept pace with increases in worker productivity.
The same CEPR study found that if the minimum wage kept up with inflation since it peaked in real value in 1968, it would now be $10.52 per hour."
So stagnant wages, increased cost of living, lack of health care benefits, and slashed and shredded social safety net programs all conspire to keep the poor, well, poor. Or poorer. It's why people are forced to live in their cars, and why things will get worse before they get better because the politicians won't do a damn thing about any of it. Even though, as the New America Report shows, the solutions are simple, economically feasible, and proven (in other countries).

As depressing as it is, keep the faith and continue working toward change. The broken system has taken more than 30 years to rot, and it won't be overhauled and replaced in a day. But the more you educate yourself on the issues and policy changes needed, the more you can inform others— particularly your legislative leaders. Remember: An avalanche always begins with a single snowflake...