Outrage of the Week: unemployment benefits, SNAP, minimum wage
I'm going to wrap up, last thing for today, with our other regular feature. This is the Outrage of the Week.
The thing is, though, it's not a single outrage; it's a sort of a compilation of outrages that lead to a single conclusion, something I've actually talked about before and I'm sure will again - but let's just say this week it's kind of like a perfect storm of evidence.
Just recently again, again, again, the Senate was unable to pass an extension of federal unemployment benefits. This last time they said at least five Republicans needed to vote for it in order to get through the filibuster. Only four did and the bill failed 58-40.
And even if the Senate eventually does somehow manage to pass this extension of unemployment benefits, Republican leaders in the House haven't even talked about bringing it up for a vote.
And all of this is happening at a time when there are still a record number of Americans who are long-term unemployed. Right now, 3.9 million Americans have been unemployed for six months or longer. Now, there's a little down from the peak of 4.1 million, but still these kinds of numbers are unprecedented in our history.
And things about this bill - here's something about this bill, about the most recent version of this extension of unemployment benefits: The right-wingers in the Senate have been saying all along that their deal was that they wanted this bill to be paid for, they wanted the cost here to be covered by some sort of cost reduction or extra income there.
It was paid for. They didn't care. They filibustered it anyway.
The GOPpers said they wanted to be able to offer amendments to the bill. They were given the opportunity to offer amendments to the bill. They didn't care.
Right now, something like 1.7 million jobless Americans have lost all of their extended benefits; they have been six weeks without any of these benefits and this again is at a time when you're facing record numbers of unemployed, of long-term long-term unemployed.
That's just one thing. That's just point one. You want to get to point two, okay. This one just - I'm sorry, I find this so incredibly offensive I find it hard to talk about it.
It's food stamps, or SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A House-Senate conference report just cut a little more than eight billion dollars over the next ten years from the SNAP program at a time when hunger is still an issue, at a time when the child poverty in this country is one of the highest in the entire industrialized world, when hunger is still a major issue, we're cutting up an incredibly successful program. The food stamp program has been one of the most successful federal programs: It has clearly, dramatically, measurably, reduced hunger in the United States and probably that's one of the reasons that these right-wingers are against it: Because it works, and the only thing they hate more than government spending which looks to benefit somebody other than themselves is federal spending that actually works at benefiting somebody other than themselves.
Now admittedly, this eight billion dollar cut was a lot less than the right-wingers wanted; the House Republicans, they voted for a 39 billion dollar cut. But let's not forget that the Senate Democrats also wanted to cut it and so the argument - again, at a time when again hunger is still real, unemployment is still real, millions. tens of millions of people are struggling, child poverty remains high, poverty remains high - they were arguing not over whether or not to cut food stamps but over how much to cut food stamps and we're supposed to accept and even be happy with this cut on the grounds it wasn't deeper.
Meanwhile, the conservatives are grousing over the farm bill of which SNAP, which is an Agriculture Department program, is part, the republicans are grousing that in this bill that snap got cut too little and farm commodity supports got cut too much.
The cut in food stamps could mean as much as a ninety dollar a month cut in a in benefits for some 850,000 of our poorest citizens. And remember, this is on top of the five billion dollar cut in the program that took place back on November 1st which was the fault of Obama and the Democrats because they borrowed money from the stimulus program that was supposed to pay for this and they never put it back. That was their fault.
But then on top of this, the right-wingers want to add insult to injury: They want to cut the food stamps and then to turn around and slap those who still have them. A dozen right-wingers in the House have introduced a bill to say that people who use the federal food stamp program would have to show a photo ID when they buy their food.
The basis for this, they said, is that a recent Government Accountability Office report found that 2.2 billion dollars in food stamps were improperly handed out back in 2009 which of course is benefits issued and so has nothing to do with a photo ID to use them - but the thing is, they know, they know, they have to know that a lot of these poor people don't have photo ID's and so wouldn't be able to use a the benefits even if they got them.
And just like with voting, what do they say? They say it's "to protect the integrity of the program."
"To protect the integrity of the program." Just like the lies they spread about voters and their mythological voter fraud in order to justify their voter ID laws that would cut out so many poor people from being able to vote.
"It's about the integrity the program." No, it's about you wanting to cut people off from any supports and leave them adrift.
And then here's the one on top, the third point for this like perfect storm of outrageousness and this may be the worst because I just can't understand why this is an issue - although actually I do I'll get to that in a minute.
It's the minimum wage.
Two recent polls - a Quinnipiac poll and a Pew Research Center USA poll - both say voters want the minimum wage increased. Democrats do, independents do, even a majority of Republicans, self-identified Republicans, say they support an increase in the minimum wage and still it is not happening.
The federal minimum wage today is $7.25 an hour. If it had just kept pace with inflation since 1991, it would be over $12 an hour. If it has kept pace with worker gains in productivity since 1968, when the minimum wage was at its peak purchasing power, it would now be nearly $22 dollars an hour.
The fact is, right now, some 3.6 million people in this country are working at or below the minimum wage. That's roughly equal to the population of Los Angeles. And what's more, millions more have their pay actually tied in some way to the minimum wage, so if you raise the minimum wage you don't just benefit those 3.6 million people, you actually benefit nearly 28 million workers who would have a better life and a better chance to advance themselves.
And this nonsense that raising the minimum wage kills jobs? It doesn't. In fact there was just recently a letter signed by 600 economists who said that no, it doesn't, it does not kill jobs.
Instead, the proposal now to raise the minimum wage to just $10.10 an hour - which is still less than it should be - but raising it to just $10.10 an hour would reduce the number of people living in poverty by over four and a-half million.
So why isn't it happening? I'll tell you why. Because one other thing it is, is a stealth taxpayer subsidy to the fast-food and restaurant industry because these McWorkers, as they've come to be called, they are paid safety net benefits out of taxpayer funds, they get benefits like food stamps and other things because they don't make enough at their jobs to live on. Not raising the minimum wage is the equivalent of a $7 billion annual subsidy for this industry. That's why it's not happening: to protect profits.
It's all about, driven by, expressive of, the utter, complete, rank, selfishness justified by self-serving fantasies about the moral and ethical shortcomings have those lower in the economic scale than you. The belief that hungry people are crooks. That unemployed people are lazy. That low-wage workers have no ambition. That poor people have no work ethic.
It is just justifications of selfishness and greed and I'm going to talk more about this next week, about the sickness, the true sickness, of what I call classism, the contempt for the poor and the conviction that those who are poorer than you are fundamentally inferior to you. More on this soon.