I think originally, when I was just a kid, I was really enthusiastic and entrepreneurial. I went door to door in my neighborhood selling everything from turtles to all occasion cards to roadside emergency kits (made at J.A. Junior achievement), I had paper routes mowed lawns, anything I could think of.
I believe that a big part of what’s motivated me to do this work is not just a sense of fairness and injustice, but also my own experience of what it’s like to be a low wage worker, and losing that and ending up with a poverty level retirement.
I’ve done lots of low paying jobs from temp work to teacher’s helper at a preschool, and at work from the fields to the factories. I’ve done retail work and food service, small businesses, and driving jobs from school bus to semis. And so after 50 years of low wages and the deterioration of the social safety system, by which I mean things like employer sponsored retirement plans, and cuts in support programs, I’m now trying to survive on $807 a month.
When I lost my job in 2009, through no fault of my own, I had to fight against lies and unfair attitudes to get the unemployment insurance I had paid into my whole life. I finally received it, and for a year and a half tried to find work, some jobs paying less than half of what I’d been making. But when UI ran out and I still had no job prospects, I found myself in a pretty scary place where I heard people on the right talking about how people didn’t deserve extensions, how we were just lazy. As a matter of fact anyone who needed help of any kind were called takers, and I was definitely one of those!
However, I did have one option left and that was to take Social Security retirement, which I did. But because I took it two years earlier than planned, the benefit amount was seriously reduced. So I have a first hand experience of the relationship between low wages and poverty level retirement. You might say I’m a classic “one legged stool person.”
Thank God for Food support, Medicare and Medicaid, which I consider fundamental parts of a civilized society, without which I’d be in a world of hurt.
You know, I’ve always been glad to pay my fair share. Even when I was on UI, I paid 15% in taxes out of every check. I believe supporting our public institutions is what we should do as good Citizens. Together we accomplish things we couldn’t do alone like building schools and infrastructure and creating a basic foundation, like Social Security that benefit all of us as a society. It seems to me that in a rich society like ours if everyone were paying into the system maybe folks like me could retire with a little more comfort and dignity. I believe if CEO’s making $9000 an hour and corporations hiding trillions of dollars in off shore tax havens paid into the system like the rest of us and by simply lifting the cap on contributions and increasing a special minimum benefit for low wage workers living below the poverty level, we could have a society where no one, who has worked their whole life, would have to retire in poverty.
I still believe we can do better in America; so all people can share in the promise of our founders who claimed the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for All.