By Ann- Marie Adams
Remember those ‘Hey Mon’ skits on the 1990s comedy show, In Living Color?
Keenen Ivory Wayans and others created a sketch that is now etched in our collective memory: a hard-working Jamaican family where each member had more than two jobs. The over-the-top skit was hilarious.
Recently, I watched those skits again. Minutes into a 4-minute skit, I stopped laughing. That’s because I realized the family had mostly minimum-wage jobs: valet, bus boy, waiter, cook, waitress, hostess, deliveryman, laundry woman among others. Indeed, the harsh reality emerged through the laughter: they had to work multiple jobs because one low-paying job couldn’t pay the bills for a family of four. It was a luxury for most immigrants and other working-class Americans to have just one job. In 2014, many more Americans are faced with the same—and some would argue a more acute—scenario.
On March 5, President Barack Obama will visit New Britain to push the Democrats’ plan to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. Several New England governors, namely Connecticut’s Dannel P. Malloy, Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick, Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee and Vermont’s Peter Shumlin will gather to discuss “the importance of raising the minimum wage and giving a hardworking Americans the raise they deserve,” according to a White House press release.
They event will be held at Central Connecticut State University’s William Detrick Gymnasium in New Britain, where the president will deliver his remarks.
Republicans balked at the idea of increasing the minimum wage, saying it would cause job cutbacks. That twisted logic is interesting—to say the least. According to their argument, the federal government can’t afford to raise the minimum wage because businesses would prefer to have their employees figure out a way to live on less than $400 a week as they work 40 hours or more to barely survive in the richest country on earth.
This may be obvious to some of us already on earth; but I feel that it is necessary for someone to tell these people that the proposed $10.10 an hour, which amounts to about $404 a week, still wouldn’t be able to pay an individual’s rent and light bill in a city such as Hartford, where a decent one-bedroom apartment is about $850. The current minimum wage in Connecticut is $8.50. So many struggling full-time workers sometimes opt for a food bank or welfare to get by in this economy.
I’m not quite sure why Republicans in Congress decided to take a hard stance on the minimum wage—since they abhor the idea of increasing the welfare rolls. Recently, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal opined during a governor’s association meeting at the White House that Obama “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender on the economy by focusing on raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25.”
I’m still trying to figure out what the heck that means. I don’t think Americans and the world can take any more idiocy before spring.
Most Americans have now tuned out the politically tinged bickering leading up to the 2014 election because we want to hear sensible discussions about how this country will address problems faced by a third of the country’s 316 million people. About 30 percent of the U.S. population lives below or barely above the poverty line, which is mainly caused by structural inequality. According the reports, 55 percent of minimum wage earners are women. And about 20 percent are over 60.
Some people no longer have the option of having more than one job like Wayans illustrated in the 1990s comedy sketch. The country is still emerging from the Great Recession, which produced a sizable number of unemployed and long-termed unemployed people—still looking for just one job. If they do get a minimum wage job, they should at least be able to pay thier rent and light bill.
For those who want to use up airtime to defend the current federal or state minimum wages below $10, I say this: Let’s leave the nonsense out of this debate. Or get a clue.
Dr. Ann-Marie Adams is the founder and editor of The Hartford Guardian. Follow her at @annmarieadams.
Photo courtesy of dailykos.com