Why We Should Care About the Very Poor

WhyHunger Executive Director Bill Ayres rebuts Mitt Romney

By Bill Ayres, WhyHunger Executive Director

Mitt Romney is probably sorry he said “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” but the fact is that few politicians even talk about poor people except to blame them. Poverty is a major problem and recently there are shocking numbers to prove the point.

  • 20.4 million people including more than 7 million children and over 1 million seniors are in extreme or deep poverty making under half of their poverty threshold.[3]

This last group is the folks that Romney is talking about. There are safety net programs for individuals and families in this group, but even with the assistance they remain below the poverty level. Some six million of these folks only have SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) formerly called food stamps, as income.[4] Imagine living on half the poverty level and feeding your family, paying your rent and all the other basic expenses for a family or even for a single person.

More than 20 million of our fellow Americans experience this situation every day, and most are in families in which at least one person works but receives very low wages. About 2 million workers in the United States are paid less than the minimum wage and three quarters are not paid the legally required overtime.[5]

Who are these very low wage workers? They are often the people who take care of the people we love the most; our children at daycare centers, our parents and grandparents who live in nursing homes. They are home health care workers and the attendants who take care of us in hospitals. They are also the people who bus our tables, carry our bags from the supermarket, wash our cars or clean our homes and offices. Unless they are in unions they rarely have health insurance or other benefits from their jobs. They are hardly ever really noticed and almost never heard. Mitt Romney is right when he says he does not care about them. They serve him and thousands of politicians in their everyday lives but they don’t vote in great numbers and so to him, they don’t count.

I met a man yesterday whose union represents hundreds of thousands of these formally very poor workers. They all have benefits and wages that are on average thirty percent more than non union workers doing the same jobs. They do not have their wages stolen. They have dignity and they have a voice. Unfortunately, relatively few low wage workers are in unions. Until the last twenty years they were not the prime focus for union organizing and now many state governments are doing everything in their power to prevent them from joining a union.

These are all jobs that can’t be sent overseas. They are American jobs and they should have the protection of American law and unions. The recent success of several unions to organize low wage workers has proven that their better working conditions have not bankrupted the companies that employ them. In fact, there is less job turnover and better performing workers.

Mitt Romney and politicians from both parties should care about the very poor by enforcing laws to prevent wage theft and allow workers to join unions. That is the best way to overcome extreme poverty.


Updated 8/2014

[1] https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p60-245.pdf

[2] //www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p60-248.pdf

[3] https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p60-245.pdf

[4] //www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/us/03foodstamps.html?_r=0

[5] //www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2013.pdf