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The true poverty fight

Aaron DeGagne | Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I would like to respond to Shaaya Ellis’s article, “Minimum wage and the fast food fight” (Oct. 19).
According to 2012 data, more than 16 percent of Americans live below the poverty line, up from 13 percent in 2008. That equates to more than 5 million Americans who are not able to purchase goods the rest of the country takes for granted. This poverty line is set at $11,490 per individual. According to McDonalds’ own employee budget calculator, a full-time employee can only expect to make $13,260 a year. The only way McDonald’s was able to provide a balanced sample budget for their employees was if they included a second job, incorporating an additional 60 hours. Even so, the budget did not include essential items, such as food, gas and heating. Clearly, a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is not enough for many people to live in relative comfort.
Ellis makes the argument that because more than 70 percent of poor households have air conditioning, a microwave, a DVD player and a car, they have “substantial means.” While they can evidently be considered affluent compared to exploited child workers in the Middle East, I would argue poverty is not just limited to a lack of current possessions. Impoverished Americans will never have enough extra money to pay for medical emergencies, put their children through college or save enough for retirement. This drastically reduces the possibility of social mobility, no matter how hard they work.
On that note, I feel compelled to respond to Ellis’s opinion that impoverished individuals can miraculously work hard, acquire new skills and earn a higher income. This opinion blindly ignores the fact that acquiring new skills costs money, which some people simply do not have. In addition, with an unemployment rate of more than 7 percent, it is definitely not a guarantee they would receive compensation for their new skills.
Finally, a disclaimer: I am from Toronto, Canada, where the provincial minimum wage is $10.25, the poverty rate is 9.8 percent and the unemployment rate is identical to that of the United States, 7.3 percent. I am not arguing for or against the politics of my country, only bringing it up as an example of a society with a higher minimum wage, lower poverty rate and similar employment statistics.

Aaron DeGagne
Zahm House
Nov. 19