Social Activism

social activism2

As my time at DePauw comes to a close and I look back upon my time here, I think about how much I have grown as a person. I have discovered and grappled with aspects of myself and my identity that I would have never considered before college. Now, as a more aware individual, I look to the future and think of what I want to do with my life to bring these understandings to the forefront. One of the biggest helps in bringing me to my current position has been working at the Compton Center.

The Compton Center for Peace and Justice is a space where people can come together to plan events and discussions to bring together and empower the community for social change. This work is all about social activism, which we can see through Amherst College’s definition of the phrase, “Social activism is an intentional action with the goal of bringing about social change. If you feel strongly about a cause and are working towards a change, you could be considered an activist. An activist is anyone who is fighting for change in society.” I feel as though I am an activist, though I too struggle at times to feel as though I am really doing all that I should to help bring change to the world and often realize that I have much to learn in terms of effective ways to bring about change.

What is important though is that I am trying. I believe that inside of everyone there is an activist, a person who sees injustice or wrongdoing in the world and longs to do something about it. For me, joining the Compton Center was my way of saying, “I’m fed up of sitting idly by as oppression and discrimination exists. It is time to stop being passive and start acting.” As a Compton Intern I have been able to publicly address issues that matter to me, like cultural misunderstandings and conflict, classism, and the minimum wage. One of my favorite moments as an intern was after my minimum wage event, when a friend of mine approached me and thanked me for having the event, sharing my experiences, and bringing to light the issues of classism because she was in a position that had never been exposed to such points of view and that she was interested in learning more. Realizing that I effectively influenced even just one person’s understanding of the struggles of lower class people made me feel proud and empowered.

As I look ahead to my future and begin thinking about what career I would like to pursue, I realize that my time in the Compton Center has influenced what kind of company I would like to work for and what kind of work I would like to do. No longer is it an option for me to take any old job. Now I know that the type of company I work for matters a great deal to me. Is the company’s aim humanitarian and worthwhile? Is their productivity based on green practices, working towards a sustainable future? Are their standards ethical, and do they respect human dignity and equality? Do they promote a healthy work/life balance, encourage their employees to act morally, and allow for engagement and criticism?

Now that I have experienced social activist work, I cannot imagine my life without it. I would have to be very cynical and to have completely given up hope in humanity to stop trying to make positive change in the world. Without people working and fighting for peace and justice, how else can we improve the lives and experiences of generations to come? We would not be where we are today without the work of social activists fighting for rights like equal employment opportunities, women’s suffrage, and desegregation. Likewise, the work we do today will have a huge impact on the lives of those to come.

Let us all try to do the work that is necessary to improve our communities, our society, and the world.

Listening and Talking

In the last few weeks, for various reasons ranging from the Day of Dialogue, to the election, and to simple day to day interactions, me and some people that I know have been dealing with a very serious dilemma. How do we talk constructively with others about serious issues? And how do we make sure the we are being open to feedback and potential criticisms?

These questions are important for many reasons. For one, I think this topic is something that everyone considers to different degrees. My friends at the Compton Center and I think about it regularly, as we deal with these difficult topics on a day to day basis. But there are people on campus who think about this topic as well, although not as frequently. The Day of Dialogue is one of the rare examples of a time when people on campus have to confront the real and troublesome issues of diversity and inclusion, and for many people the fear of saying something wrong, offending someone, or “being attacked” prevents them from even engaging with these discussions at all.

So how do we learn to communicate better with each other about topics such as racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, religion, and all the other difficult topics that need to be addressed if we want to make real changes?

First of all we need to address our own misconceptions about the way people talk to us. In order to feel more comfortable talking, we need to be better listeners. One of the worst things we can fear and think about these discussions is that we are going to be attacked. Yes, people who are in marginalized groups feel angry, frustrated, and upset, and that might be very prevalent in their voice and physical body language as they speak about their struggles and experiences. Yes, the topic they are covering might have to do with the injustices and the oppression held by an identity group to which you belong. Yes, you might say something that might be offensive or taken the wrong way and someone will point it out to you. But this does not mean that they are attacking you.

These are sensitive topics because they are about identity groups, and our identity is exactly how we understand ourselves, so of course we will have strong emotions about them. But we must be willing to hear constructive criticism to our statements and our implicit prejudices. The reality of the matter is that we all have implicit biases and prejudices as a product of being born and raised in this (and any) society. There is no way for us to grow, to have better understanding of the issues, or to know our role in making positive change unless we are willing to be corrected, to see how our actions and thoughts effect others, and learn what we can do to become more aware and empathetic individuals.

This is not an easy skill. It is natural for people to get defensive when people criticize them, even if it is done in the most respectful way. But this is the very reaction we need to address. We need to think before we react, realize when we are feeling defensive and ask ourselves, “Why do I feel this way right now?” Not only will this simple act of reflection help you better understand your own views and feelings, but it is a tool you can turn outwards when speaking with others.

When you are having a difficult conversation and someone is getting upset or is trying to give constructive feedback, take a moment of reflection or a moment of seeing the situation from their point of view. I see this as a humanizing technique that can help us realize that the person with whom we are interacting with is a human being with feelings, experiences, and and struggles of their own. Just because we may not have struggled with the same issues they have struggled with, does that really invalidate their experiences? Just because we have never personally dealt with the discrimination they have felt, does that really mean it does not exist?

I think these realizations show the second most important thing that we can realize as communicators, which is that there are an infinite number of human experiences that are possible, and while there may be overlaps in feeling and similarities in these experiences, at the end each is unique because the person who experienced them is their own combination of different circumstances, moments, and thought processes. If we can realize that our own experience is just one out of the many, then maybe we can learn to be more open, accepting, and empathetic to others when talking about sensitive issues.

I know that this is a difficult thing to do, and that it will not even work in all cases. There are simply too many people in the world who have not realized the need to talk about issues, many who do not even recognize that there are issues, and others who are so focused in their own experiences that they cannot even begin to fathom what life is like for others not like them. I sincerely hope and like to believe that when you are empathetic, respectful, and engaging with others, that they will do the same for you, but I am not naive enough to think that this will be how every single one of these conversations plays out.

This brings me to the last important point that we must realize, not to be better communications, but to maintain our own sanity in an often discouraging and depressing world. We cannot teach everyone. We cannot change everyone. We cannot force anyone into realization. There will be times that we may try to engage in constructive dialogue with a person who does not want to hear it, who will deny our feelings and experiences, and who will become defensive and even hostile. In these situations we must be able to walk away and know that it is not our fault for not being able to reach them. Otherwise we will feel defeated every time someone chooses to live in ignorance rather than be open to difference and change.

I know that these conversations are almost never easy, but neither is anything else in life that is worth doing. Becoming a better listener and a more aware speaker will help make these conversations more productive, but they will still remain difficult. In the end, when you leave these conversations you bring with you an understanding about yourself, about others, and about the world that you did not have before. These are the conversations that will have the most impact on who you are and how you see and choose to act in the world. I urge us all to engage in them more often and with open arms and hearts.

Day of Dialogue 2.0

Well, that was a pleasant surprise. Maybe not getting my hope too high paid off, because I was actually quite pleased with how the Day of Dialogue went yesterday. Let me explain, because I still do have some worries and I know that not everyone agreed with me.

I’ll start at the beginning of the day, with the keynote speaker, Dr. Jamie Washington. Dr. Washington brought an energy and an engagement that was largely absent at last year’s event. Not only was he funny and lively, but he got us to get up and interact with one another, a tactic that I felt helped wake us up and also helped us break the ice of the day to come. He also was very clear and easy to relate to in his message. The way he described the issues of privilege, diversity, and inclusion made even me, a person who does engage in these issues and conversations on a regular basis, think about the topics in new ways. I know from talking with other students and seeing some responses to his talk on a Moodle forum for one of my classes that his talk helped many students who don’t usually think about these issues understand them.

I particularly liked his left hand/right hand analogy when discussing privilege. Many people often hesitate to enter into these conversations because they feel worried that they will be attacked as an oppressor, when in most cases people are unaware of the issues and their role in continuing oppression. He described it as the world being built for people who are right handed. Desks, scissors, sports equipment, cars, the list goes on, these are all things built to accommodate right handed people. Left handed people have to deal with problems in their daily lives that right handed people do not have to even think about. And there is where the privilege lies. It is not that right handed people are actively going around trying to dominate left handed people, merely that they live in a world that is built for them and they do not need to daily address the inconveniences of not automatically fitting in.

And this is how it is for each identity. Everyone has multiple identities, and in each there are times when a person is in the dominant group and other times when they are in the marginalized group. The aim of discussions like those held yesterday are to start to change those hierarchies from one above the other into both groups being equal, and eventually intertwined.

I also liked the way he talked about the institution’s efforts in teaching DePauw about diversity and inclusion. I had definitely been a critic of the day, thinking that DePauw was taking the easy way out by only having these discussions on one day of the year. But DePauw is trying, and this day is a sign of that. They are trying to teach us, and in that effort they are not failing us, but those who refuse to come and participate are earning a failing grade on their own. I know that these discussions cannot only happen one day a year, but the school is planning other methods of making these discussions more salient to everyday life at DePauw. Just because these changes haven’t happened yet and I will not be at DePauw to see them enacted does not mean that they are not being planned.

The first break out group that I attended reaffirmed this message to me. Privilege of Oblivion was a great discussion about being an ally, choosing not to remain oblivious of the issues and of different identities, and of standing in solidarity with communities one is not a part of without needing to become their savior. Near the end, one student asked our facilitator a question about how to bring these ideas to our lives after the Day of Dialogue, and our facilitator replied with, “Of course these conversations cannot only happen today. But if these conversations end after today, it is because people are choosing to go back to oblivion rather than continuing the conversation.”

We as DePauw students, faculty, and staff cannot allow these conversations to end and to go back into oblivion, where the issues do not exist or we choose to ignore them. This would continue the ‘business as usual’ mentality, and would deny many people of the importance of their identity. We must continue to be open to new perspectives, listen openly and respectfully, realize that other people’s perspectives are valid and welcome, take risks, and be honest. The Day of Dialogue is not something that can be only one day, that will not make our campus a more inclusive place. Dialogue needs to happen everyday before change can be made. That is not to say that there aren’t other steps that could be taken to address campus climate here, but it is an important and vital part.

Overall, I was pleased about the amount of planning and preparation that went into this year’s Day of Dialogue. The speaker was better, having break out groups with topics and facilitators was more productive (even if some of the discussions were better than others), and the day was majorly better executed than last year. Hopefully future Days of Dialogue will only continue to improve.

Day of Dialogue Thoughts

Next week DePauw will be having its second Day of Dialogue, and with this event coming I can’t help but think about last year’s event. The intentions behind the day are wonderful; wanting to encourage conversations among different groups, promote understanding, address the issues on our campus involving racism, sexism, classism, etc. It was in the execution that the day fell apart for me.

The day started on a hopeful note, the gym very much full of people, though many tired and somewhat resentful of being there. Many looked at their phone screens and others talked to their friends. The talk on micro-aggressions was great, but followed by a sales pitch for a book  rather than any lasting valuable insight. When it was time to break off into discussion groups, the day lost a substantial number of students and the day’s lack of detailed preparation came to light.

With no trained facilitators, the group of randomly mixed students, faculty, and staff awkwardly picked a “leader” and tried to discuss issues. In my group, many students felt uncomfortable sharing, and some were made to feel that they had to speak for their entire group or identity when speaking about their concerns. There was not any deep conversation, we barely even touched the surface issues of the problems. About a year later, that is the most I remember of the event. Feeling awkward and uncomfortable, and angry that more people weren’t there. The fact I don’t remember more says a lot about how much of an impact the day really had: there wasn’t anything really worth remembering.

I hope that this year will be different. I hope that not only will the event be better planned out and facilitated, but that people all over campus (not only those who already care about these issues) will come to the day open and with a real intention to listen and share. I hope that the Day of Dialogue is something that has a real motivation to address and improve our campus climate, and not just an action to check off, being proud of the simple day itself in order to seem like change is being made rather than genuinely reaching for it. That is the sad reality of the event and of many of the issues existing here at DePauw. It seems, at least, that the school puts an image of caring on rather than actually caring. I know there are many devoted and passionate people here who do truly care and want to make a difference. At this moment in time though, it seems like these cumulative measures equate to a whole lot of nothing and a continued reliance on the status-quo.

I am hopeful about this year, as more planning seems to have been done, but I am afraid to get my hopes too high. Once again the event isn’t mandatory, and though I know more professors, sports teams, and Greek houses are requiring students to attend, I am worried people still won’t show up and that those who do will still be disengaged. I think the trained facilitators will be a great help, but I know that one or two conversations is not going to be that much of a wake up call to some people. But at least its a start. I am happy that this is an event that will happen every year. I hope that it continues to grow in success, and continues to encourage dialogue among students. I hope that there will be a way for the school to receive feedback from those who attend about the successes and failures of this event to improve next year. But finally, I hope that DePauw will do something more than one day a year for these discussions. This is a great first step, but there is still a long road ahead. Let’s think of more we can do.

Women’s Rights and Sexism

Sexism and women’s right have been on my mind a lot in the last week, which is fitting because it is still women’s history month. There are times where I do not think about sexism in my life, or where I am too busy to consider all of the injustice against women that still exists in the world. This is not one of those times.

I am sad to say that sexism is still very much alive, not only in the world and in our country, but here at DePauw’s campus. There are many times that small acts and words come up and surprise me with their lack of regard for the messages and the meanings behind them. Take, for example, when I am studying and outside the room I hear guys I know talking about “bitches.” The way they use it does not seem, on their end anyways, to be referring negatively about a group of girls. Instead, they use it in the context of how most people say “guys” to refer to a group of men. Yet they use this term all the time, saying things like “Bitches love it when ….” or “Bitches don’t like it when ….” It is a small thing, but it is still offensive.

And things like that, small micro-aggressions against women, happen very often at DePauw. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, especially those “nice guys” here that seem to think that just because they don’t stand for people outright mistreating women somehow means they are excluded from acting in sexist behaviors. What about when I hear guys yelling to their friends, “You throw like a girl,” or “Don’t be a pussy”? What about the slut shaming I hear, the way guys talk about girls they’ve hooked up with, and the ways girls are treated at fraternities? Some of the nicest guys I know, and some of my best guy friends, have still engaged in sexist behavior at times, often without even realizing it. I’m not trying to attack these people, I’m just trying to point out that even those with the best of intentions still slip up, don’t realize the full extent of their words or actions, and have trouble monitoring themselves at all times.

It is for this reason (and others) that we see groups like I Don’t Give a F*ck About Your Boner forming on campus. For those who don’t know, this is a group of female comedians on campus who do skits about sexism and women’s rights. They are addressing issues on campus and in society in general, even in the simple fact that it is a group of all-female comedians, which shows our society’s lack of such groups in mainstream media. I am not a part of this group, but I love what they are doing. I think this type of discussion on campus, especially engaging them with humor and satire, is overdue. I am excited to see what these strong women do with their new-found medium of expression.

There are many issues regarding sexism and the lack of women’s rights in our country, including unequal pay for the same jobs, over-sexualized and unrealistic depictions of women in the media, slut-shaming, stuck in the past expectations of women’s traditional roles as wives and mothers, the list goes on and on. But I want to engage with an issue here that is more controversial, and one that is related to a recent Compton Center event I attended this week hosted by my friend Megan. That topic is a women’s right to her body.

Megan showed the film No Mas Bebes at her event on Tuesday, a film about the sterilization of Latina women in east Los Angeles in the 70s. Sad to say that sterilization is still something that happens today, but I will come back to that. These Latina women were targeted for sterilization the minute they came into the hospitals to give birth because of their culture, their economic status, and their immigrant status. Stereotypical and prejudiced beliefs on the side of the doctors and staff led these women to lose their right to reproduce. As they were in labor, doctors and nurses would ask the women to sign a form consenting to sterilizing them during C-section surgery. These women often did not speak English, were not explained what it was they were signing, where scared from being in a foreign situation, and were going through the stress of childbirth. They were in no position to understand what it was they were “agreeing” to, and in the cases where is was explained, often misunderstood the translations given, thinking that sterilization meant cleaning, not taking away the ability to reproduce.

While I do not think that asking the mothers if they would like to be sterilized is necessarily a bad thing, I do think the situations in which they were asked, the targeting of poor and minority groups for this procedure, and the lacking of explanation and in some cases forcing of women to go through this procedure is disgusting and violating.

But this is still happening today. Minority and poor women are being targeted for sterilization in prisons. Women are being forced to go through procedures that they do not want. While some women are being getting their right to have children taken away, many women are also getting their right not to have children taken away. Apparently, women aren’t allowed to make a choice for themselves either way.

Increasingly, women are not allowed to decide what to do with their own bodies. We love to think that women are equal in our society, but regardless of the other injustices that happen to women, the fact that we are not even allowed to decide what to do with our body, lives, and futures speaks volumes to the real position of women in society.

I hope that you all are as disgusted with this fact as I am. I hope that you can all see the injustice of women being denied the choices to control their own lives, regardless of your stance on abortion, sterilization, etc. I hope that we can do something about it.

I urge you all to be aware of the way you not only treat women, but also the way you talk, act, and even think about women. I urge you to notice when something is sexist, and to eventually be able to speak out against it. Finally, I urge those who feel strongly about a women’s right to her body and to her own choices are able to help her fight for those choices; in conversation and in legislation.

Socialism: Another Look

In last week’s DePauw (Feb 25th, 2016), an opinion piece was published by a DePauw student titled, “Socialism: The Creed of Ignorance.” This article completely misses the point of what the democratic-socialist movement is trying to accomplish. The writer’s argument relies on points from the opposition’s viewpoint without accurately considering the arguments and the moral perspective of those who are for the cause. I know that the author is entitled to his own opinion, and he has a right to disagree with the messages and the goals inspired by Bernie Sanders and the democratic-socialist movement, but I think that a response is needed in order to show the other side of the story and a perspective that might not otherwise be considered by those who only listen to news that aims to confirm their own bias.

I first of all want to negate the author’s first paragraph, where he attacks the ideals of the movement for not living in “reality.” The goals of the movement, addressing income inequality, creating free public college, universal healthcare, and breaking up the powers of Wall Street and economic greed, come exactly from reality, a very harsh reality indeed. And the solutions given to address these harsh realities are sound, as fiscal policy was used after World War II to help the economy cope after the Great Depression. Just because you do not agree with the options given to address the issues does not mean that they are unrealistic or too idealistic.

We live in a time where productivity and wealth has vastly risen, yet compensation has not been adjusted to match it. The wealthy continue to get tax breaks under the ideas of “trickle down economics” and of the “invisible hand.” Trickle down economics do not and have not worked, and the invisible hand is a myth. Free markets left to pursue their own interests do not lead to the greatest public good, it leads to the system we have now with vast income inequality and greed, where the rich only grow richer and the poor only grow poorer. Most of the wealth generated by our country’s increased productivity goes straight to the top, while the poor suffer and the middle class continues to shrink. All of this happens under arguments like that of “Socialism: The Creed of Ignorance” that say that it is wrong to take away people’s liberty even if it is for the greater good. I understand not wanting government interference and wanting to keep what you worked for, but does the top 1% really need all that wealth they are accumulating? Is it fair to continue to propagate a system that only benefits the few at the expense of many? I do not think so.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, CEO pay is up nearly 1000% since 1978, meaning that all the new wealth in the last 25 years has only gone to the top, leaving the workers behind. Are you trying to tell me that CEOs and upper management in corporations deserve all that money because they worked for it? What about the millions of Americans who work exhausting hours, maybe even two – or three! – jobs just to scrape by? What about all the people who work hard in a system rigged against them, working on minimum wage and still not even covering their basic necessities, like affordable housing and food, not to mention factors like education, transportation, and clothing, things which are often considered luxuries for people at the bottom of our economic hierarchy. Do they not deserve to have a bit of that wealth that they helped to generate? Do they not deserve to have the comforts of a simple life? I didn’t realize that the well-being of millions of people needed to be sacrificed because the top 1% doesn’t want to sacrifice some of their conveniences and luxuries.

Sanders plan to make the top 1% pay for these social expenditures isn’t that crazy. Currently the highest earners in our economy pay less in taxes than the middle and poorest in comparison to the amounts they are earning, even though they have the most money to give – money that they do not need and often do not even use. Currently, the top earning Americans only have to pay 39.6% of their income to taxes, and this is for any American making more than about $400,000. What about the people who make much, much more than that? Shouldn’t they pay a rate that is higher than that to be proportional and fair? This also addresses the question of “what constitutes excessive” because it shows simply by income figures that those who make the most money should be paying a fair price in taxes. According to Business Insider, the average amount of income needed to live comfortably in some of America’s largest cities is about $145,000. I think its fair to say that people who live above the current highest bracket of $400,000 is conservatively excessive.

Yet in a democratic-socialist world, these people would still be the richest citizens! All this would mean is giving a bigger share of their wealth to taxes, which is not “robbing Paul to pay Peter” but expecting citizens, even wealthy citizens, to give their fair share in order to benefit the communities they live in and improve the lives of their fellow Americans. This allows people to still keep a large amount of the wealth they worked for (though whether most of them earned that money by honest means is another question entirely).

Redistributing the wealth would also help our government reduce expenditures elsewhere. If income equality was addressed and a living wage established, government expenditures on programs like welfare would be reduced by at least $7.6 billion a year, and about 1.7 million Americans would no longer need to rely on public assistance programs, according to analysts at the Economic Policy Institute. Giving the poorest Americans money is the easiest way to increase demand, as they are the ones who are most likely to spend their disposable incomes. The rich have more money than they need and do not spend their windfall of wealth. We need trickle up economics rather than trickle down economics.

The top 1% would not be the only ones paying for these solutions by giving their fair share, but so would big corporations such as the Banks on Wall Street. People are tired of bailing out companies just so that the business and the executives can continue to make a profit. It is time that these big corporations paid it forward and paid us back for all the inequalities and suffering they helped create. If anything, asking the wealthy and the powerful to pay for these programs is not “socialists wanting to rob the wealthy” but demanding that the wealthy pay back the money they have been stealing from the people for years, or to keep the analogy, demanding Paul pay back the money he has been stealing from Peter.

Government spending and regulation is needed if we want to see serious improvement in our economy and avoid another deep recession. According to Tom Streithorst of The Los Angeles Review of Books in his article, “Why Conservatives Hate Fiscal Policy,” argues that it is not a desire to improve America or protect liberty that keeps “very serious people” or politicians and the rich/powerful away from fiscal spending like Sanders is planning, but self-interest and a desire to protect their own pocketbooks. Stimulative deficit spending would empower the working class at the expense of the very rich, and that is the real reason why Sander’s plans are being fought so hard against. The rich in America benefit from our current system of monetary policy. That is because their wealth comes from asset prices, and because cutting interest rates raises asset prices, the rich get richer but the wealth doesn’t trickle down to the rest of us. Also, because the rich control the media, it is their opinions that are being fed to us. They do not want to show us how increased spending would create jobs of stimulate growth. They would rather us believe these projects are simply too expensive to be enacted so that they can continue to reap the profits of deficit-cutting. This is a lie. Sander’s programs will benefit Americans and America at large without taking away freedom and liberty but expecting equality and balance.

By using Sander’s democratic socialist plans to increase government spending into schools, roads, and creating jobs, he is providing a chance for money to enter the pockets of the working class. “Their spending increases demand, stimulates sales, profits, investment, and employment…The economy grows, and the rich get richer, just not as fast as the poor and middle class. Fiscal policy stimulates the economy by creating jobs and putting money in the pockets of ordinary workers…Corporate profits would most likely rise. The only losers would be the rentier class and the very rich.”

In the end, I reject the piece “Socialism: A Creed for Ignorance” on both factual and moral grounds. His argument rests on a belief of libertarian ideals of property, ideals that are not morally sound in our day and age. The idea of personal liberty and the right to one’s property is based on John Lockean principles that if someone puts hard work into something, they deserve the products of their labor. However, this idea is dependent upon whether they leave enough resources to let the next person come and have an equal chance to better themselves. The way the rich are acting in our country, they take and take but do not leave enough for the rest of us. Not only do they prevent equal opportunity, but these ideas rest on a very selfish foundation that I do not believe stands for what it means to be a citizen.

The role of a citizen (and of a human being) is to recognize that he or she lives in a community where one must help others and not only look out for one’s own interests. Self-interest is not the only thing that matters in the marketplace (as competition and the rules of the game are also important), and government regulation is needed to protect basic values such as honesty, justice, equality, and integrity. I think it is naive to believe that people and businesses will follow these virtues on their own, as we can see from our current situation: people and business take advantage of this system to benefit themselves while hurting everyone else. Maybe my beliefs are too utilitarian in nature, but I believe in helping others and creating a greater common good rather than just looking out for high earnings for a few.

 

At the heart of the progressive movement is not envy and greed, but compassion, goodwill, equality, and justice. These are not idealistic goals, but attainable through fiscal policy. If that means more government regulation, I am okay with that because I know that it is improving the lives of many, and that without regulation greed grows in the heart of individuals and businesses who will continue to look out for their own interests at the expense of others. Trying to equate socialism with ignorance or greed shows just how little you know about the struggles of everyday people and the vision to create a more equitable society for all. But that’s just my opinion.

 

Classism

In November of last year, only last semester, I hosted an event about classism and living on minimum wage in the U.S. Classism is a very important topic to me, as I have personally felt the effects of it in my life and seen the effects of it in the lives of others. We live in a country with a huge wealth divide, where the top 1% of Americans own 40% of the wealth, and the bottom 90% only own 20% of it. That is ridiculous. There are many Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, like my family, and yet we as a society are taught that class and money is not something we should talk about with others. We are taught that it’s impolite, that it makes us look bad, to be ashamed.

I’m not ashamed of my situation. I’m tired of it.

I am who I am today because of the hardships my family and I have had to go through. I know what it is like to be well-off. When I was a kid my dad had a great job that paid well and that took great care of us. We lived in houses that were too big for us, we traveled, we had good cars and good food. But my parents did not forget what it was like before the good times. We let struggling friends and family live in our house. We shared our food and our home with others. I remember the warmth and the love in our home, a feeling that comes with comfort and with sharing.

When my parents got divorced our family began the slow decline into poverty. The struggles of the divorce took a tole on my parents, and my dad lost his job. Now with two unemployed parents, cancer was the icing on the cake to drain our finances and savings. Within a few years, my family was evicted, got our car repossessed, had to move in with family, and declared bankruptcy. While things are better now, we still continue to struggle.

My families hardships happened at a critical age for me. I was 10 years old when my parents separated, 12 when my dad got cancer, and 15 when they declared bankruptcy. High school was a very difficult time for me, as I began to really understand the differences to my peers that came from lack of money. Friends always wanted to go out to eat, go do fun activities, and take expensive trips. I never had the money to do that all the time. I was getting free lunches and textbooks from the school because of our situation. I got my own job, because I couldn’t ask my parents for money to go out, they didn’t have any to spare. I couldn’t go to all the fun activities, because my family shared a car and couldn’t afford for me to have my own. I felt different than my friends. Less carefree. Less oblivious to life’s difficulties. Less privileged.

Now, I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining too much. Because though it sucked, I lived through it. I am glad that I dealt with those experiences because I am a better person because of it. I feel more prepared to handle my own finances, to understand that sometimes good, hardworking people will have to struggle to make ends meet.

But I share these stories because there are many people who have gone through these experiences and who are still going through these experiences here at DePauw. We are struggling, and don’t feel like we can talk about it on a predominately well-off campus. We can’t afford to go to fancy dinners, we can’t afford to go on expensive spring break vacations, we can’t even afford to be at this expensive school.

It is important to share these experiences. I know it is often not the fault of well-off students to know to be sensitive regarding financial conversations and situations, because that is not a concern they have had to worry about,and because our society teaches us that talking about money is rude. I disagree. Learning about the income inequality is vital in order to begin addressing it.

After my living on minimum wage event last semester, I had a friend come up to me and thank me for not only sharing the specific statistics and figures about income inequality and the struggles of the most economically disadvantaged, but she also thanked me for telling my own personal story of struggle because it really showed her a perspective she never really got the chance to see before, and from a person who is close to home. If my friend didn’t realize the extent of the issues, how many other people still don’t realize that this is a problem, even in the lives of the people closest to them?

I want to share some of the most important figures from my event last semester. I took these facts and figures from a variety of sources, which I list at the end. These facts are startling, proves the full extent of the issues, and are unacceptable for the future. I hope that after reading these figures you remember the struggles of others and the realities behind classim, because there are a lot of misconceptions, which lead to invalid facts and stereotyping.

 

 

Facts:

The minimum wage is meant to be a living wage. These days, it’s anything but a living wage. Someone working full-time at the federal minimum earns an annual paycheck of just $15,080 – below the poverty line for even a family of two. For the minimum-wage earner with a family of four, a full-time paycheck falls almost $9,000 below the poverty line, which is $23,850. Even a $10.10/hour full-time job – an annual $21,008 – falls short.

If the minimum wage had kept pace with average wages—i.e., if minimum-wage workers’ paychecks had expanded at the same rate as average workers’—it would be about $10.50 today. If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity—i.e., the economy’s overall capacity to generate income—it would be almost $18.75 today. Finally, if the minimum wage had increased at the same rate as wages of the top 1.0 percent, it would be over $28 per hour.

According to the CBO, based on Census Bureau data, 88% of minimum wage earners are adults 20 or older; 55% are women. For these adults and their families, proper housing is unaffordable, as a February 2015 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (based on federal data) shows: A minimum-wage earner would need to work, on average, 2.6 full-time jobs to rent a decent two-bedroom apartment for less than 30% of her or his income. All of this helps explain why so many minimum-wage workers are also on some kind of public assistance.

Who’s Affected

Raising the minimum wage is a women’s issue. While increasing the minimum wage would have a sizable impact on both men and women, it would disproportionately affect women. Women comprise 49.4 percent of U.S. workers, yet 56.0 percent of workers who would be affected by a potential minimum-wage increase

88.3 percent of workers who would be affected by increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 are at least 20 years old. In every state, more than three-fourths of workers who would be affected are at least 20 years old.

Increasing the minimum wage would substantially benefit both minority and non-minority workers. 54.1 percent of workers who would be affected are non-Hispanic white workers. Nearly a quarter (24.6 percent) are Hispanic, 14.1 percent are black, and 7.1 percent are Asian or of another race or ethnicity. As one would expect given the country’s diverse social and cultural makeup, the racial and ethnic composition of workers affected by increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 varies considerably by state.

Data on educational attainment of those who would be affected by a minimum-wage increase further dispel the misconception of minimum-wage workers as high school students. In fact, nationally just 21.3 percent of those who would be affected have less than a high school degree, while fully 43.8 percent have some college education, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Among those who would be affected by increasing the minimum wage to $10.10, only 14.2 percent are part-time workers (defined as those who work less than 20 hours per week). More than half (54.5 percent) work full time (35 or more hours per week), while 31.3 percent work mid-time, between 20 and 34 hours per week.

Family income

The family income of those who would be affected by a minimum-wage increase is generally low to moderate. As shown in Figure J, 70.0 percent of affected families have a total family income of less than $60,000, and nearly a quarter (23.2 percent) have total family income of less than $20,000. Among all U.S. families, the median family income in 2011 was $61,455 (according to data from the American Community Survey). Those who would be affected by increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 are vital contributors to their families’ earnings. Nationally, the average affected worker earns half (49.9 percent) of his or her family’s total income.

Pay and Hours

At 40 hours per week, a full-time worker at $7.25 per hour makes $290 per week in gross pay (before taxes and other payroll deductions). That annual pay of $15,080 puts an individual above the poverty line by $3,310. Add just one dependent (a non-working spouse or a child), and that worker falls into the federal classification for poverty. This does not account for the fact that many workers (especially the majority in the fast food industry) cannot get a full-time schedule. Many have to make due with 25 hours or less a week.

Pay is not the only problem with minimum wage jobs, either. Many don’t offer full-time hours, even when workers want them. And new shift-scheduling software which is cost-efficient for the employer (booking employees only at highest traffic times) can be hell for the employee. Ever-changing and on-call schedules, split shifts and the dreaded “clopening” (closing up the store at night and having to report early the next morning for opening) make it hard to take a second job or attend college classes or arrange for child care. Minimum-wage employees are also vulnerable to so-called wage theft, reducing their pay even further, a spate of recent lawsuits has revealed: everything from no overtime pay and erased time cards, to off-the-clock time employees are forced to spend checking schedules or going through lengthy security bag-checks.

Housing

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, if a family needs to rent just a modest two-bedroom apartment anywhere in America, the lowest compatible wage would be $12.95 in Arkansas. An overview of this report shows that in 2015, the two-bedroom national housing hourly wage requirement is to earn at least $19.35 per hour and to not spend more than 30 percent of that income on the rent. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford other basic livelihood necessities! The report also shows that in no state can a minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent by working a standard 40-hour work week without paying more than 30 percent of their income.

The median household income in the US is $50,502. This is some extremely useful data given that it is exploring over 114 million US households.  If you want to know how most Americans are living this is a good figure to base your assumptions.  $50,000 does not go a long way in our economy today given the cost of food, energy, housing, education, and healthcare.

Food

People living off the current federal minimum wage sometimes can’t pay for food. According to the National Center for Childhood Poverty, some 22 percent of American children live below the poverty level of $23,550 a year for a family of four. However, research shows that to cover basic expenses, a family of four needs at least $44,700 a year, nearly twice the poverty level. When considering this, approximately 45 percent of children live in low income families. Such high levels of children living in poverty or low income families is frankly hard to explain in such a wealthy country.

A Department of Labor study concluded that if the minimum wage had been raised to only $8.20 — less than a full dollar — in 2013, it would have enabled 7 million Americans to no longer face food insecurity. And if it was raised to $10.10 in 2015, 12 million Americans would no longer have to worry about feeding themselves and their families at nutritionally sufficient levels.

Government Expenditures

Raising the minimum wage to even $10.10 would reduce government expenditures on current income-support programs by at least $7.6 billion per year, according to analyst David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute. “Essentially, low-wage employers are being subsidized by the taxpayer. Prices are going up, but paychecks are not, and taxpayers are making up the difference.”

Low income working families make up 60% of those receiving food stamps and 47% on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), according to a 2014 report “Local Minimum Wage Laws: Impacts on Workers, Families and Businesses” from University of California, Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE). The authors conclude that enrollment in public assistance programs coincides with the federal poverty level and that increasing the minimum wage reduces public assistance program participation. They suggest that a “10 percent increase in minimum wage reduces food stamp program enrollment by between 2.4 and 3.2 percent, and reduces program expenditures by 1.9 percent.” Currently, public assistance for the lowest wage earners totals billions of dollars.

On top of all of this, because the minimum wage is currently so low, many workers earning the minimum wage receive public assistance from the federal government in order to support themselves and their families. Therefore, according to the Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage by just a few dollars would cause 1.7 million Americans to no longer rely on public assistance and “reduce government expenditures on current income-support programs by $7.6 billion per year”.

American taxpayers should not be picking up the tab on providing Medicaid and food stamps to fellow Americans because the wealthiest corporations are intentionally paying their employees so little.

Reactions to Opposition Opinions

Some business and conservative groups – the National Retail Federation, National Federation of Independent Business, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), to name a few – oppose any increase to the minimum wage, calling it a job killer and anti-job tax. They argue that it will force businesses to hire fewer people, cut back on their growth plans, or raise their prices (which would lower demand and therefore be bad for the economy).

Many conservatives and some economists say that raising the cost of employing workers results in fewer workers. “What happens when you take away the first couple of rungs on the economic ladder, you make it harder for people to get on,” John A. Boehner, the House speaker, has said. Mr. Krueger disagrees. His work with David Card of the University of California, Berkeley (later replicated by others) demonstrated in a real-life experiment that raising the minimum wage did not result in businesses shedding workers, perhaps in part because it helped reduce turnover.

According to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), small businesses do not have the resources to absorb an increase in the minimum wage since most earnings go back into a small company. As a result, they argue, hiring and promoting employees will slow down substantially in that sector. However, the United States Department of Labor reviewed 64 studies on the effects of minimum wage increases and unemployment, finding no correlation between the two. The studies suggest that an increase in the minimum wage decreases employee turnover along with the expenses associated with hiring and training new workers.

Over the last 15 years, a growing body of economic research has studied the impact of the minimum wage. Economists no longer see job losses as the inevitable result of raising the minimum wage. And research backs up New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg’s statement in 2012: “Raising the minimum wage will put much-needed cash in the pockets of more than 1.2 million New Yorkers, who will spend those extra dollars in local stores.”

In fact, throughout the nation, a minimum-wage increase under current labor market conditions would create jobs. Like unemployment insurance benefits or tax breaks for low- and middle-income workers, raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of working families when they need it most, thereby augmenting their spending power. Economists generally recognize that low-wage workers are more likely than any other income group to spend any extra earnings immediately on previously unaffordable basic needs or services.

Raising the minimum wage means shifting profits from an entity (the employer) that is much less likely to spend immediately to one (the low-wage worker) that is more likely to spend immediately. Thus, increasing the minimum wage stimulates demand for goods and services, leading employers in the broader economy to bring on new staff to keep up with this increased demand. The effects of low wages can be viewed as a ripple effect throughout the economic and social spheres. As wages decrease, there is a consequential decrease in real purchasing power and workers are inclined to take on more work in order to subsist. Nearly 40 percent of hourly-paid workers are now working over 40 hours a week. A family struggling to subsist on a lower income will also have greater difficulty adequately caring for its children.

Distribution of Wealth

Meanwhile, CEO pay is up nearly 1000 percent since 1978 — a figure that is double the stock market growth over the same period. In other words, all of the new wealth created in the last 25 years or so has gone straight to the top one percent, leaving most workers behind. Despite the fact that productivity has risen, wages have not risen with them. Which means that all the new growth and revenue is going straight to the top.

Consequences

This can include struggles such as putting away savings toward higher education, feeding the children a healthy diet, having the leisure time and money to accompany a child during play or take them to extracurricular activities, and being unable to clothe or house them adequately — all important factors in the future outcomes of children. These negative consequences on child outcomes create a cyclical effect, and children born in poverty are more likely to continue to be poor. In short, the effects of a non-living wage are not only felt by individuals who receive it, but by all sectors of society.

Wanting Change

The broad American public supports an increase, polls show. A November 2013 Gallup poll found that more than three-quarters of Americans favored a hike in the minimum wage to $9 an hour. By January 2015, when Hart Research did a nationwide survey, 75% of Americans supported raising the federal minimum wage to $12.50 per hour by 2020, with even a majority of Republicans (53%) favoring it. The poll further showed that 63% of those surveyed favored hiking the minimum to $15 by 2020.

 

Works Cited

Can A Family Survive On The U.S. Minimum Wage? (WMT,COST,TCS,GPS) http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/022615/can-family-survive-us-minimum-wage.asp#ixzz3qSPmCFtu

How Minimum Wage Impacts Unemployment http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/013015/how-minimum-wage-impacts-unemployment.asp#ixzz3qSSQ7Py7

http://www.moneycrashers.com/living-on-minimum-wage-possible/

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/06/15/business/living-on-minimum-wage.html

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/nation-now/2015/10/16/hear-stories-people-living-minimum-wage/73525412/

http://feelthebern.org/bernie-sanders-on-minimum-wage/

http://www.mybudget360.com/how-much-do-americans-earn-what-is-the-average-us-income/

http://www.epi.org/publication/bp357-federal-minimum-wage-increase/