Welfare, as it relates to the security of a population, is said to be the provision of a minimal level of well-being and social support for all citizens, and in the United States Constitution it is mentioned as “general welfare of the people” in the Preamble and the Taxing and Spending Clause. The Constitution grants power to the government to enact laws to promote the general welfare of the people, and in America it is the basis for legislation promoting the health, safety, and well-being of the people. It is a sad fact of life, but because of the evil inherent in some people, particularly the rich and powerful, there are times when this government has had to enact laws and regulations to protect the general welfare of the people and each time Republicans opposed protecting the people to defend the rich and powerful.
Up until 1938, there were no general welfare protections for working Americans, and that year President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a bill to Congress along with a message declaring that America should provide its workforce with “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” The aptly named Fair Labor Standards Act was Roosevelt’s idea of fairness that established the minimum wage and was based on a popular notion that “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” That sentiment was popular before 1938 and is still a prevalent sentiment today, but since government serves the greed of the wealthy, Americans are destined for poverty.
Today, because the wealthy wield absolute veto power over the government’s obligation to provide for the people’s general welfare and protect the labor force, the people must fend for themselves for protection from predatory capitalists paying substantially less than a living wage. The result has been workers at less-than-living wage jobs have begun protesting against poverty wages and demanding “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” in a reiteration of Roosevelt’s idea of fairness in the workplace. The idea of fairness has never really caught on in America, but there is no greater indicator of this nation’s gross inequity than income inequality heavily favoring the rich.
In recent research compiled by the New York times, it was revealed that if the “federal minimum wage had kept pace with the earnings of the richest one-percent of income earners,” the hourly minimum wage would be $22.62 and would lift tens-of-millions of Americans out of poverty. The $22.62 figure is based on the richest one-percent’s earning rate that increased 212% over the past 20 years, and is in stark contrast to the $7.25 per hour minimum that is lower than poverty wages in 1982. The outrage is that employee productivity has more than doubled since then, and it increased by 25% from 2000 to 2012 alone. The NYT report cited that if minimum wage kept pace with worker productivity, the minimum wage would have been $21.72 last year, but instead workers have watched their earnings decline as their productivity increased.
A few months ago President Obama supported a minimum wage of $10 an hour that would lift 3.8 million Americans out of poverty, and some Democrats have introduced legislation to raise the wage floor to keep pace with inflation, but the richest Americans vetoed wage hike discussions through their legislative arm the Republican Party. As usual, Republicans who are wont to claim they speak for all Americans say the people oppose higher wages, but poll after poll after survey of Americans, even Republicans, show overwhelming majorities support raising the minimum wage. Republicans have been at the forefront of legislative obstruction and inaction that resulted in inflation-adjusted minimum wage declines in both absolute and relative terms. All the while, the richest one-percent celebrated a 212% earnings increase because Republicans protect their general welfare at the expense of the workforce.
One family in the richest one percent, the Walton family (Walmart), holds more wealth than the bottom 40% of the population combined and are well aware that their 1.3 million employees are struggling to survive. To keep them in poverty but still able to work, they have left it to the taxpayers to provide $9,000 annually in food stamp and Medicaid costs for each of their underpaid employees. The nation’s largest fast food chain, McDonalds, provided their workers with a budget based on “McMinimum” wages that left no money each month for extravagances such as food or heating; they do however offer their workers assistance to apply for food stamps and Medicaid.
The income inequality in America is unprecedented, and besides creating a hungry and sick population mired in poverty, it contributes to the nation’s debt and economic malaise. If millions of poverty wage workers’ had kept pace with the one percent that saw their earnings increase by 212%, their buying power would boost the economy and the nation’s revenue from taxes. It would also drastically reduce the necessity of government assistance in the form of food stamps and healthcare for 47.8 million Americans drowning in poverty. Unfortunately for American workers, their fortunes will never change because their government’s ability to promote all the people’s general welfare was neutered by Republicans in 1982; about the time wages began declining.
It is no small coincidence that the government’s power to promote the people’s general welfare coincided with Ronald Reagan’s assertion that government is inherently evil and the source of the people’s problems. Once Reagan convinced Americans that government regulations prevented them from thriving economically, Republicans began their deregulatory frenzy that continues unabated today. It is also no coincidence that as the one-percent has increased their wealth, Republicans increased their assault on workers, wages, unions, overtime pay, and recently, unemployment benefits that all contribute to the economic plight of most American workers in GOP’s class war.
Republicans began plotting their war on workers after FDR enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act, and their 75 year campaign to return America to 1937 is nearing fruition. Instead of raising the minimum wage, Republicans proposed eliminating it altogether with valuable assistance from the Koch brothers and their legislative template machine ALEC. Eliminate minimum wages, abolish child labor laws, end overtime pay and the 40-hour work week, eviscerate workplace safety regulations, and end unemployment benefits are all part of a plan to enrich the one-percent’s wealth at the expense of the labor force.
The conservative class war is nearly at its pitiful end, and government at the mercy of the rich is powerless to protect the people or promote their general welfare. The result will be precisely what Charles and David Koch promised the one-percent at a 2010 millionaire strategy meeting if they each handed over at least a million dollars to complete their vision for a transformed America. Their vision was unrestricted prosperity for the “wealthy class” while keeping the poor productive and content. The poor may not be content, but they are producing unrestricted prosperity for the rich and they will never see better wages.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.