Saturday, 26 November 2011

What is the Difference Between Slavery and America's Working Poor? - Expanding Wordview

What is the Difference Between Slavery and America's Working Poor?

Posted on September 12, 2011 at 1:00 AM

According to Wikipedia, “Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property and forced to work. Slaves were held against their will, purchased at birth and forced to work. They could not leave, refuse to work or expect any payment for their services.”

   Slavery still exists in one form or another today in many countries and one of the forms is called Debt Bondage. This is where a person works to repay a debt that sometimes will never go away. Human traffickers use this method to keep people in bondage who have to work in sweat factories or prostitution in order to pay for their immigration to a country. When they arrive, they find that they are locked in rooms which they are billed for at an accelerated rate and other necessities such as food, clothing and medicine are done the same way. No matter how hard they work they can never become free of the burden.

My own ancestor, William Voyles, came to this country in debt bondage as an indentured servant at the age of fourteen to pay for his family’s passage to America. Fortunately for him, the cargo ship that he was indentured to had an honest captain and he was eventually released with the debt paid in full. He then went on to enlist in America's War of Independence on July 4, 1776, which is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. If the captain had been dishonest and kept him in debt, he wouldn't have been able to fight in the war, have 11 children and I may have never been born.

In the United States today another type of debt bondage exists in a new form. The poor are slaving away at minimum wage jobs that don’t earn them enough money to buy a home, decent car or attend a college. Because of dwindling education budgets and growing classroom sizes, they are being taught just enough in school so that they will be able to enter the workforce and make money for their “Lords” – the corporation CEOs and stockholders.

There are more than 14 MILLION working poor in the United States today. The top ONE PERCENT of the populations controls 42 percent of the financial wealth. The divide between the rich and the poor is growing and the middle class is shrinking rapidly.

According to Federal Law, a person working full time on minimum wage earns around $7.25 per hour IF the employer has over ten employees or gross revenue of over $100,000. This depends on where they live in the country, but is the Federal Minimum Wage. Employers with less than ten employees are allowed to pay as little as $2.00 per hour if they choose.

In otherwords, a person being paid minimum wage will earn between $346 and $1257 per month gross (before taxes and insurance) or an average of $801.50. This is if they are working forty hours per week every week of the year with no days off. After taxes the take home pay would be closer to $277 to $1006 and that doesn't include deductions for health insurance.

Rent for a one bedroom apartment is a minimum of $500. Add utility services, groceries, commuting to work every day, lunches at work or basic home necessities and there is no money left over to put into savings. There is also no money left over for payments on a dependable car, auto and health insurance or education.

According to studies, the majority of the working poor are single mothers, many whom receive little or no child support. If you deduct the enormous cost of babysitting while they work, diapers and formula for babies, school supplies and fees for the older children and a larger apartment with all of the costs associated with it and the mother would end up owing money to someone every month, whether it be her family, the babysitter or other bills that she couldn't pay.

If the working poor happens to be a married couple with no children, the scenario still isn’t much better. They also have bills, but now have double the food expenses, transportation costs, health issues to deal with, car insurance and upkeep or other expenses. They may be breaking even, but just barely. To add to the strain is the frustration of wanting to start a family, but not being able to afford the costs. No wonder half of the marriages in the United States end in divorce.

The workers who have been able to maintain their credit ratings at a reasonable level will attempt to build their credit for the American dream of one day owning their own home or business, so they will do what others have done and either apply for a credit card or purchase a car on payments. If they are lucky they will be able to pay the credit card balance every month and the car will run like a dream until it’s paid for.

Unfortunately, this is not the typical scenario. Most likely something unexpected will happen to decrease the amount of income such as being hurt at work or having to get a surgical procedure. The car may be a lemon and drop a transmission or throw a rod. Either way, the credit of the individual will be ruined unless they borrow.

Thousands of people are homeless in America because they were hurt at work and lost their homes while waiting on Worker's Comp payments that are increasingly being cut by legislation favoring the corporations instead of the workers. Most working class people are only one paycheck away from homelessness.

Banks will loan the money to those who have the credit and collateral, but most of those who work for at or near minimum wage don't have this. There are PayDay Loan Companies who will loan to them without credit, but they charge anywhere between 50% and 275% interest on the loan. Just like those in debt bondage, they will never be able to pay back the loan without sacrificing on something else. The cycle begins again. They are back at work, but further in debt and praying that things will go smoothly from now on so that they can just get on their feet financially.

If they lose their job because of the injury or being off of work too long and try to find new employment their credit history will most likely be run by the potential employer which will show that they owe money. This will keep them looking for a job longer while the bills continue to pile up. It will be difficult to find employment in the better companies or advance up the corporate ladder with a bad credit rating. Also, their car insurance cost may increase.

This is a cycle of American debt bondage that will never end and both employers and legislatures are aware of it. As long as the poor can be forced to take the jobs that no one else wants, then they can be controlled and that’s what it’s all about. Money is power and power corrupts. If the poor are given higher education, better housing and more pay, then they cannot be controlled by Corporate America.

Politicians for the most part vote not to make the country better, but in order to be re-elected. The corporations pay more for lobbyists to tell our representatives how to vote than they do in taxes. In fact, they contribute to the politicians in order to keep their taxes from being raised. They play on the fears and religious of the working class in order to keep being voted in.

Why would businesses feel that they need to control their workers? Because better educated and more secure employees will demand safer working environments, better pay and to be treated respectfully. This is why the unions were created and this is why the Tea Party in every state is feverishly chipping away at collective bargaining rights, pension plans and unions as a whole. The more employees band together, the more businesses will pay lobbyists to convince legislators to take away their rights.

Take the Right to Work legislation for example. Right to Work is touted in advertisements as bringing freedom to employees to work without interference of unions and to not feel pressured to join unions. Unfortunately, Right to Work is used as an excuse to hire during the busy seasons and fire indiscriminately during the slow times. Supervisors are given training on how to squash employees who try to form unions in the workplace and the Right to Work law gives them the ability to use virtually any reason to terminate any employee.

So, what is the difference between being the working poor in this type of debt bondage to corporations and slavery? The working poor are not kidnapped, are not bred like animals and their children are not sold into slavery. This is the CHIEF DIFFERENCE. This type of life would have been heartwrenching. It is almost inconceivable to imagine a child being ripped from your arms to be sold. It is equally heartwrenching, however to watch your loved one suffer and die because you couldn't afford a doctor visit that would have caught a disease before it progressed or because you can't afford life saving medical treatment that others take for granted, including our Political Representatives.

The working poor aren’t being held against their will. They are free to move around the country at as they wish. The problem is that they can’t afford to go anywhere. Either their cars are falling apart or the gas is outrageous. There’s no choice, but to stay home and dream about what life could be.

The poor can refuse to work and they will be paid for their services. They have no choice but to work at whatever physically exhausting job they can find, however, if they want to survive. Even with this they are only able to purchase the basic necessities of life. They, unlike the slaves, are able to choose where they live, but because of their low incomes and bad credit ratings the choices are limited and usually unsafe. Just like the slaves they do not share in the luxurious lifestyles of the wealthy elite.

So, maybe the working poor are not slaves, but they are bound to work for basic necessities without any other choice. They can’t afford good medical care and are forced watch their loved ones die for lack of needed treatments or early diagnosis. They are shown disrespect by their employers for the most part and have to work even when sick, elderly or disabled.

The biggest thing to remember is that unless we make drastic changes in the United States the working poor have no future. They will keep working and dying and being replaced by a new generation of the working poor, their children, while the corporate CEOs and wealthy are sipping champagne on their yachts and sailing to the Riviera on the money they amassed from paying only minimum wage, cutting Social Security and Medicare, not approving healthcare coverage for all and taking advantage of those who are held in this form of debt bondage.

When you vote for President this election, stop listening to the corporate funded propaganda in the advertisements and speeches and think hard about how the ideas presented by these politicians will affect you not just now, but when you retire or when your children join the workforce. Will the money that you’ve paid in taxes all of your life come back to help you in retirement or will they be given back to the rich in the form of tax breaks so that they can continue living lavish lifestyles while you sit in a nursing home being tended to by another minimum wage employee with a basic education?

Vote wisely.

Note: This article is not about the fortunate few who are able to attend college with the help of family or friends or who receive Food Stamp and Welfare benefits. They are about the full time employee earning minimum wage who is totally dependent upon their own earnings.