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Veterans Deserve Housing

Homeless Veterans National Disgrace

Fox News featured Richard R. Troxell, founder of House the Homeless, this morning to discuss the deadly battle awaiting returning veterans: homelessness. Richard discussed the situation and the solution — implementing a Universal Living Wage. If you agree, please “like” us on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed.

 

 

 

—– TRANSCRIPT —–

FOX NEWS: How do so many veterans end up homeless?

Richard Troxell: There are 850,000 homeless veterans. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars have produced 240,000 homeless vets. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 28% of the homeless are vets. That means that more than one-fourth (1/4) of people experiencing homelessness are veterans.

Vets go from the battlefield to the neighborhood overnight. But they come with serious issues of depression and what we call PTSD and Shell Shock. They are traumatized, and they face serious employment challenges.

FOX NEWS: What are the employment challenges for returning vets?

Richard Troxell: Some have transferable skills — electronic techs, corpsmen, and supply men, but they are not readily transferable. These jobs require civilian training, job certification, and time.

However, the vast majority of these veterans were soldiers in the field. They were grunts — foot soldiers. They have no transferable skills.

Their only options are minimum-wage jobs. What they need are Living Wage Jobs.

FOX NEWS: What is the ULW?

Richard Troxell: Well, according to the last several U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Reports, a 40-hour-a-week minimum-wage worker cannot get into and keep basic housing anywhere in the country. The current Federal Minimum Wage is $7.25 per hour, or about $14,000 per year.

We have learned that we are a nation of 1,000 economies about the size of counties, and that it doesn’t cost the same to live in Washington, D.C., as it does to live in Hoboken, NJ, or Dallas, TX. So to simply raise the Federal Minimum Wage to, say, $10.00 an hour would not end homelessness for anyone in our big cities, and it would destroy small businesses throughout rural America.

So, taking all that into account, we’ve devised a single national formula based on existing government guidelines that ensures that a person working 40 hours a week will be able to minimally afford the basics:  food, clothing, and shelter.  (Whenever that work is done throughout the U.S.)

FOX NEWS: Why is the ULW good for Veterans?

Richard Troxell: I recently read where 6,460 soldiers have died in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. I’ve read that that number is matched by the combined suicides of those wars. Shocking!

The veterans are coming back to jobs that won’t even allow them to pay their bills. They feel disgusted and unappreciated. They fought for their country and now, even with a full-time job, they can’t afford to put a roof over their heads, let alone start a family.

And the situation is no different for 10.5 million other minimum-wage workers. Shouldn’t that elder-care worker or the cafeteria worker serving our child in the cafeteria deserve to make ends meet? The ULW will do that.

FOX NEWS: How is the ULW good for business?

Richard Troxell: According to the SBA website:

  • 64% of all small businesses fail by the end of their fourth year
  • 90% fail by the end of the fifth year

In looking at a number of the business plans, we find that while manufacturing, development, advertising, storage, and transportation are all given their due, the minimum-wage employee is not. At $7.25 per hour, they are destabilized and therefore destabilize the entire business process.

Also, Henry Ford (the car guy) learned this when he found that even with his creation of the Assembly Line, he was losing well-trained workers to other businesses that paid more. It was not until he decided to pay a Living Wage was he able to gain “market share.”

Retraining costs: Even McDonald’s is recognizing the significance of retraining costs. McDonald’s changed out its cash registers and made them “picture registers” instead of numerical registers when it realized how much that could save on retraining costs. Having stabilized workers will result in the same benefit.

FOX NEWS: How could the ULV boost the economy?

Richard Troxell: By putting the difference between the Federal Minimum Wage and the Universal Living Wage into the pockets of the veterans and the other 10.5 million minimum-wage workers, the housing market, and construction industry, both locally and nationally, will be dramatically benefited.

Also, historically, 98% of all income increases to the Federal Minimum Wage have been spent right back into the economy. Again, this will significantly bolster the economy as it is 90% consumer-based.

FOX NEWS: How does the ULW benefit taxpayers?

Richard Troxell: It is obvious that businesses benefit from the labor of the worker. However, until our businesses pay “Living Wages” — the minimum amount to afford basic food, clothing, and shelter — we, the taxpayers, will continue to suffer as long as we are required to pay for excess food stamps, TANF, welfare, and earned income credits.

Finally, paying Living Wages is the Christian and moral thing to do. Conservatively, this will end economic homelessness for over one million minimum-wage workers, including our veterans. And it will prevent economic homelessness for all 10.5 million minimum-wage workers.

Hug and kiss a returning veteran, then give them a Living Wage Job.

Image by The Library of Congress, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Breathing While Homeless Still a Crime

Brer Rabbit's HomeHouse the Homeless would prefer to highlight successful programs, and honor the individuals and organizations that do so much to help people experiencing homelessness in America. But some things can’t be ignored, including the extralegal invention of many new “crimes” such as DWB, which can mean Driving While Black or Driving While Brown, but, either way, it means trouble. This example of dark humor became a meme adaptable to many situations, like the ever-growing crime of Breathing While Homeless.

Racial profiling assumes guilt based on skin color, and economic profiling assumes guilt based on money. While plenty of guilt can be assigned to the wealthy, being blamed by their economic inferiors does not much wound them.

On the other hand, when guilt is presumptively and automatically assigned to the poor, it can do them an enormous amount of harm. Many housed citizens find it difficult to care about any of this. However, they can be roused to care a lot about what happens to their tax dollars.

In other words, while compassion arguments may or may not work, financial arguments are often convincing. Here’s the financial argument against criminalizing homelessness: It can’t possibly be cost-effective. When people have little or no money, and no way of getting more, there can’t be any profit in fining them for open alcohol containers, obstruction, trespassing, camping, brawling, public urination, disorderly conduct, and minor theft — and then arresting them again for technical violations like drinking while out on bond. And then tossing them in jail for not paying the fines.

Barbara Ehrenreich, who consistently knits facts into compelling prose, reminds us that at least one-third of the states make it possible for someone to be locked up as a debtor. She sketches an astonishing picture:

If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage — a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: ‘sewer service.’

Ehrenreich adds that in most states, anyone who owes child support gets their driving license confiscated, and, in Michigan, the privilege to drive can even be revoked for unpaid parking tickets. Courts impose ridiculous fees that have no hope of ever being collected, but contribute to the judge’s “tough on crime” reputation.

In a lot of jurisdictions across the country, people who owe fines can arrange for a scheduled payment plan — if they’re willing to pay as much as an extra $300 for the favor. Under rules like these, anyone who isn’t homeless already, soon could be.

For people experiencing homelessness, it is so easy to get into legal trouble. Remember this, from last summer? Jonathan Turley wrote:

Now, in Maine, Shaun Fawster, 23, a homeless man has been arrested because a Bangor police officer spotted him using an outside outlet to charge his phones. Fawster was charged last weekend with theft of services… Since the costs of the charge was pennies, it is hard to see how this arrest served justice.

This picture is through a wider lens, encompassing the entire picturesque town of Boulder, Colorado, where, depending on circumstances and variables, an arrest can cost the government between $250 and $1,000. That’s just to put the person into jail, and doesn’t even begin to count the incarceration itself.

Pierrette J. Shields writes about “frequent fliers,” such as the alcoholic homeless woman who was booked into the county jail 112 times in the last 10 years. Just to arrest her has cost at least $8,000.

Homeless people who are jailed are often mentally disabled, or struggling with alcoholism or addiction, or all of the above. A simple, uncomplicated prisoner costs the taxpayers $67 a day, but the ones with problems cost $90 a day to maintain. Cmdr. Bruce Haas is quoted as saying:

In many ways (arrests are) probably their saving grace because when they come to the jail they get medical care and proper diet.

In fact, when it comes to homelessness, jail might not serve as much of a disincentive. Sometimes, it’s like throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch, the place where he was most comfortable and happy.

Pastor Steve Kimes, who works with people experiencing homelessness in Oregon, writes:

Among the chronic homeless, jail is seen as a ‘vacation’. Sure, it limits your freedom. But it also gives you three meals a day, which is more than you’d often eat on the street. You don’t have to walk as much. You are less likely to be threatened by guards than you are by the community or the police outside. You have greater access to a toilet in jail. You have a much greater opportunity for sleep without being harassed… Frankly, in some communities, jail is much to be preferred.

And every now and then you run across an item like this one, from CBS News, about a man in Georgia who first threatened to kill the President, but couldn’t get anyone to lock him up for that:

Lance Brown was hungry and homeless, so he decided to get thrown in jail by hurling a brick through a glass door at the Columbus courthouse building.

Do we need more evidence that our society is sick? Is this the best we can do? America announces to the world a remarkable accomplishment — we have discovered how to end homelessness.  Simply throw everybody in jail!

Reactions?

Source: “The poor: America’s piggy bank,” Salon.com, 05/17/12
Source: “Bangor Police Arrest Homeless Man For Charging Cellphone,” JonathanTurley.org, 06/30/11
Source: “Repeat, low-level offenders costly for Boulder County Jail,Longmont Times-Call, 04/16/12
Source: “Jail or Homelessness?,” PastoralBlog.blogspot.com, 06/28/11
Source: “Hungry homeless man gets arrested intentionally,” CBSNews.com, 05/01/12
Image by matt44053 (Matt Dempsey), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Still Kicking Them When They’re Down

human needsWe have often wondered if some kind of guidebook is being passed around, with a title like Harass the Homeless. The subtitle would be, “Kick ‘Em When They’re Down.” There is no shortage of examples.

Barbara Ehrenreich, who has written extensively on poverty-related issues, has founded a project to track some of the kicks. The Economic Hardship Reporting Project supports innovative investigative journalism on poverty and economic hardship.

Business and government alike have discovered that it’s easier and less detectable to take $1 each from 1,000 poor people than it is to take $1,000 from a solvent person.

The only sector of the economic conspiracy against the poor that has had some light shed into its dark corners is the loan industry, which includes both major big-name companies and strip-mall payday loan outfits. Currently, they can get away with charging interest that sometimes adds up to 600% per year. In regard to this and numerous other disgraceful practices, Ehrenreich says:

Before we can ‘do something’ for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.

For examples of what ought to stop or be stopped, see “How scammers keep targeting Michigan’s homeless” by Ted Roelofs, who gives just a few instances in just one American city.

A day laborer puts in a full shift cleaning and renovating an apartment, for an employer who disappears without paying. A man helps paint a house and ends up with only one-fourth of the pay that was promised. Con artists convince homeless people to cash forged checks, or use their personal information to fraudulently get funds meant for students. A meth cook recruits the homeless to go into drugstores and buy ingredients for his illegal enterprise.

Citing Kim Bobo, who wrote Wage Theft in America, the author estimated that through devious practices, employers manage to extract at least $100 billion each year from employees who are helpless to do anything about this, even if they somehow find out about it. Keep that number in mind, it comes up in the next paragraph, as Ehrenreich stacks up some economic facts:

The government distributes about $55 billion a year, for example, through the largest single cash-transfer program for the poor, the Earned Income Tax Credit; at the same time, employers are siphoning off twice that amount, if not more, through wage theft.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, for example, our sole remaining nationwide welfare program, gets only $26 billion a year in state and federal funds. The impression is left of a public sector that’s gone totally schizoid: on the one hand, offering safety-net programs for the poor; on the other, enabling large-scale private sector theft from the very people it is supposedly trying to help.

Many jurisdictions charge defendants for their court costs, and for room and board in the jail. We know a woman whose children were removed from her custody for questionable reasons, and put into foster care. That turned out badly for the kids — one went to juvenile incarceration and the other to some kind of state rehab program. And now the state is sending bills to the biological mother for both.

Ehrenreich mentions a similar mess:

The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009 for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay. Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration.

A homeless person lucky enough to have a vehicle and unlucky enough to be stopped for a traffic infraction could find fines piling on pretty quick, like $214 for failing to notify the DMV of an address change within 10 days. Or $436 for not having the right kind of child seat, or $796 for failing to provide evidence of insurance. Next thing you know, this person doesn’t even have a car.

Governments at every level have discovered the awesome power of fines, and the only thing that can be said for that is, morally it’s a step above stopping citizens at random and taking their cash. But Ehrenreich points out the absurdity: “80%-90% of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent.” This certainly includes people experiencing homelessness. The law creates homelessness every day.

Reactions?

Source: “The poor: America’s piggy bank,” Salon.com, 05/17/12
Source: “How scammers keep targeting Michigan’s homeless,” MLive.com, 10/12/11
Image by jramspott (John Ramspott), used under its Creative Commons license.

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New and Different, the Black Star Co-Op

Toffee Bacon at Austin's Black StarThe excellence of Austin has been remarked upon, again and again, by House the Homeless, and here is another example of why. Not long ago, a writer named Nona Willis Aronowitz enjoyed a meal at the Black Star Co-op, noticed the lack of a tip jar at the bar, and chased down the story behind its absence. It seems this place doesn’t believe in tips, as Aronowitz learned from interviewing co-founder Jeff Young, who is also the establishment’s brewer.

The reporter summed up:

Black Star Co-op, the first cooperatively owned microbrewery-restaurant in the country, offers their ‘worker’s assembly’ a wage of at least $16 a hour. The co-op provides health insurance and bonuses, too. After a yearlong apprenticeship, every worker also has the duties of a manager — they can hire and fire, get access to the books, and make financial decisions.

An employee with bills to pay should not be at the mercy of customers’ whims, with an uncertain, fluctuating income. That’s why the servers here just say no to tips. There isn’t a lavish amount to go around, and nobody’s getting rich. On the other hand, everybody makes a decent amount, as they should, because everyone who works here is responsible for a certain amount of managerial duties. That’s why they call it a co-op.

In Richard R. Troxell’s book Looking Up at the Bottom Line, there is a chapter on the history and the pros and cons of tipping. Sometimes it is very useful to examine customs and traditions that are part of the everyday landscape, and to dissect what they really mean. Richard sums up the perspective of the folks at the Universal Living Wage with these thoughts:

While tipping today is generally intended to show gratitude, some of us believe that tipping should be done away with as it leads to unpredictable budgeting practices which destabilizes our most vulnerable workers and shifts financial responsibility from the employers who benefit from the work, to the restaurant patron.

The Black Star’s own website offers plenty more information about their innovative methods, like the fact that anybody can join, not just the people who work there. “By becoming a member-owner of Black Star Co-op, you’ll have a vote in co-op affairs and you’ll have benefits at the brewpub,” the page says. By doing just that simple thing, a person can support local farms and producers, a democratic workplace, great quality and service, worker self-management, community action, and a wage that workers can actually live on. What’s not to like?

Education is an important item on Black Star’s agenda, and the International Co-operative Alliance is a big influence, with its set of beautiful, yet achievable ideals:

A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

The momentum began in 2006 when several people gathered to explore the possibilities of Steven Yarak’s vision, which in turn had been inspired by neighborhood pubs in Belgium. Young was there right from the start. In fact, through one of those strange coincidences in which the universe abounds, he had arrived in Austin only a few days earlier, and the gleam in his eye was the notion of starting a microbrewery. The group made plans, organized a fundraiser, bought equipment — and a marvelous idea became reality.

Here is a list of the co-op’s principles, explained in more detail on its site, which is as worthy of a visit as the establishment itself:

Voluntary and Open Membership
Democratic Member Control
Member Economic Participation
Autonomy and Independence
Education, Training and Information
Co-operation among Co-operatives
Concern for Community

Admittedly, the microbrewery subsidizes the restaurant and makes its unique operational method possible. All this shows is, where there’s a will, there’s a way. If people want to create an alternative business model, it’s doable.

The Black Star Co-op hopes to be a role model for other businesses not only in Austin but across the country. Just like the Universal Living Wage, another Austin-born idea that could change the American economic landscape. Everything about the ULW is laid out in great detail via its own website, which connects the dots between widespread homelessness and the inadequacy of the federal minimum wage. Here’s a brief excerpt:

The proposal, through a ten year plan, is to fix the Federal Minimum Wage by indexing it to the local cost of housing throughout the United States. The ULW would end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum wage workers and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum wage workers. By using existing government guidelines: 1) work 40 hours in a week, 2) spend no more than 30% of one’s income on housing, and 3) using the HUD section 8 rental calculations, we ensure that anyone working 40 hours in a week will be able to afford basic rental housing, food, clothing, utilities, and access to health care.

Reactions?

Source: “At One Austin Restaurant, a Living Wage Doesn’t Depend on Tips,” Good, 04/24/12
Source: “Black Star Co-op,” BlackStar
Source: “Co-operate,” BlackStar
Image by Mike Miley (H. Michael Miley), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Musicians and the Homeless

16th Street MallEveryone likes celebrity news, especially when it’s good, and House the Homeless has previously taken note of wonderful generosity from stars like Bruce Springsteen. We also mentioned Eminem’s patronage and mentorship of a homeless rapper called Yelawolf. The musician and activist known as Reverend Billy Wirtz supports the organization Picture the Homeless, whose motto is “Don’t talk about us, talk with us.”

Last May, it was announced that Lady Gaga would donate $1 million to homeless youth. Cyndi Lauper began the True Colors Fund in 2008, and the result is a shelter with 30 studio apartments specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are experiencing homelessness. Some of them anyway, for as the singer is quoted as saying:

In New York City, a very disproportionate number (up to 40 percent) of homeless youth identify as L.G.B.T. Even more disturbing are reports that these young people often face discrimination and at times physical assault in some of the very places they have to for help. This is shocking and inexcusable!

Back in 2006, Jon Bon Jovi started up the JBJ Soul Foundation, which feeds people and puts families into houses, and does a whole bunch of other stuff in several cities. Now the foundation has teamed up with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to create Project REACH.

It stands for “Real-time Electronic Access for Caregivers and the Homeless,” and it’s a contest with a financial reward for whoever in the “developer community” can figure out how to make a national platform that can be accessed by the Internet and smartphones. The assignment is to supply complete and current information on shelters, housing services, crisis hotlines, legal assistance, VA services, health clinics, food kitchens, and any other resources, anywhere, anytime.

House the Homeless has often mentioned Austin in relation to its music scene, which has a long and impressive history, and the South by Southwest festival, and a whole lot more going for it. Among other things, the Austin Music Commission was supposedly represented on the Waller Creek Citizen Advisory Committee, but then whatever work that group did was apparently set aside to await the results of an international design competition. The ongoing project will greatly affect what is locally called the Red River music scene, and it will also have a huge impact on the area’s people experiencing homelessness.

Like many other cities, Austin has heard objections to the presence of homeless people downtown because of the trash problem, which in the public mind is inevitably associated with vagrants. But… If Austin is anything like other college towns, a big part of the trash on the streets is contributed by students with an overweening sense of entitlement and not much genuine connection to the city they temporarily inhabit.

Where there are bars and clubs, there is litter, vomit, and urine on the sidewalks and in the neighbors’ azalea bushes. What pulls customers to those clubs is the music. So the blame for urban squalor can’t be solely assigned to the homeless.

In many citizens’ minds, both show business and the homeless are responsible for urban crime. Live music = night life = booze = drunk-rolling = fights = prostitution = stolen cars = hard drugs = police sirens = litter = homeless people. In a downtown area, especially on weekends, they’re all mixed up together. And musicians write songs about the homeless, like “Only a Hobo,” “Tramp and the Young Girl,” and hundreds more. Often, musicians are the homeless, especially in old age — if they make it that far.

Sure, at a certain stage, with the world at your feet, being technically homelessness might be the best career move. If you plan to tour for 10 months, why pay rent for an apartment? The road can also make someone unwittingly callous. A 21-year-old guitarist who sleeps in a band’s tour bus might not understand how the rolling-stone life is not so much fun for a 45-year-old woman veteran with diabetes and PTSD. In many significant ways, musicians are just like everybody else — sometimes uninformed or thoughtless.

The music scene has always been an environment where thinking was a little more enlightened than in the general population. When musicians meet, age, race, creed, economic status, and all those other tiresome barriers are totally irrelevant. Sure, the music subculture has always had its problems, but discrimination generally hasn’t been one of them. That’s how much power the music universe holds, and one of the ways to use power responsibly is by looking after the interests of society’s least fortunate. An outstanding example of this is New Orleans, where in the wake of multiple disasters, the musicians took care of each other and a whole lot of civilians, too.

In Los Angeles, a band called Avenue 52 has a music video project called “Homeless,” whose profits will partly go to local helping organizations. In Berkeley, Ace Backwords, who is himself a homeless musician, organized and produced several compilations showcasing the work of numerous street musicians.

In Denver, David Adebonojo, performing at the 16th Street pedestrian mall, attracted the attention of musician/producer Tyler Ward, who got his career going. In one way, as the son of the Ivy League-educated parents (a doctor and a minister), Adebonojo doesn’t match the homeless stereotype. In another way, he does, with his history of being an auto mechanic, a Deadhead, and an ex-con. After writing a quantity of music in prison, he was released to the streets, where he spent enough years to have half a dozen guitars stolen.

Let’s hope for perfect weather in Springfield, Missouri, on May 12, for the second attempt at raising $10,000 for homeless causes with a concert called “Stomp the Blues Out of the Homeless.” The promoter, Jim Payne, whose day job has something to do with escrow and land titles, tried to launch this idea last year, but the weather was impossibly foul and he ended up losing all the money he had put up to get the thing going. Better luck this time!

Homeless Media Bonus Link
The late comedian Greg Giraldo — “Underwear Goes Inside the Pants” — featuring many of Venice Beach, California’s homeless residents.

Reactions?

Source: “Cyndi Lauper Opens Homeless LGBT Youth Center In NYC,” The New Civil Rights Movement, 08/25/11
Source: “VA Launches “Project REACH” Contest,” VA.gov, 03/19/12
Source: “Los Angeles Based Pop Rock Band Avenue 52 Raises Homeless Awareness,” SFGate.com, 04/12/11
Source: “Denver musician David Adebonojo (Dred Scott) strikes a chord,” DenverPost.com, 08/03/11
Source: “Fresh start desired for blues festival,” News-Leader.com, 05/05/12
Image by bartlec (Chris Bartle), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Income Inequality and Low-Paying Jobs

chartMany people have seen the chart shown here, which “went viral” not long ago. Now the site where it appears carries an afternote from Lisa Wade, who says:

Since posting this, I’ve discovered that the numbers do not accurately reflect the ratio of CEO vs. worker pay. I apologize for not vetting this more carefully.

What happened was, a website called PolitiFact discovered that the chart originated with three graduate students in 2005 who forgot to list sources for their data, which by now would be more than 10 years old anyway. Fair enough.

It appears that no official body keeps track of the comparative CEO/worker rates of compensation internationally, so that’s a dead end. But even without solid verification, PolitiFact admits:

We don’t doubt the chart’s underlying point that the ratio of CEO pay to worker pay is high in the United States, and is likely higher in our free-wheeling economy than it is in the historically more egalitarian nations of Europe.

They also warn that even in the best case, statistics can only be approximated, because of differences in surveying methods and subjective decisions like what counts as compensation. But the story really gets interesting when PolitiFact seeks out current numbers regarding the income inequality between the CEO of an American company and the average worker in that company.

Here is what they found:

The most recent chart from the Economic Policy Institute shows a ratio of 185 to 1 for 2009. According to the group’s calculations, the peak since the mid 1960s was almost 299 to 1… Meanwhile, the most recent ratio from the Institute for Policy Studies is also smaller — for 2010, it was 325 to 1. In previous years the ratio on two occasions has exceeded 475 to 1 — to be specific, 516 to 1 in 1999 and 525 to 1 in 2000.

So they imply that we should calm down about this income inequality thing, because it was worse in 2000. Sure, the pay differential was even more outrageous than the number shown on the chart, but this information “would be of questionable use to policy debates today.”

Who are they kidding? We’re supposed to shun this chart because it’s wrong — but it’s wrong in the wrong direction! When the big boss makes 525 times as much as the worker, that’s worse than the big boss making 475 times as much as the worker!

Maybe it’s true that the most conservative number is closest to being right. Maybe the average American CEO only makes 185 times as much as the worker, a number that PolitiFact says was “not generated by groups that might have an ideological interest in downplaying the gaps between rich and poor.” So we’re supposed to chill out and not be concerned about the fact that for every dollar a worker makes, the big boss makes $185 of them.

Eileen Appelbaum notes that there is a difference between the official national unemployment level of 12.7 million and the actual number of unemployed, which is 22.8 million, if you count people who have given up searching for work, and the part-time employed who would be working full-time if they could. She is suspicious of employers who claim to “have good jobs but can’t find workers with the right skills to fill them.” If such an urgent imbalance exists between supply and demand, she wonders, then why isn’t this reflected by a rise in pay for these jobs?

Appelbaum gives a summary of recent research about the aftermath of an economic recession. High-paying and low-paying jobs come back, but, she adds:

A new study attributes the jobless recoveries following recent recessions to such job polarization. The study’s authors argue that jobs in the middle of the skill and income distribution disappear during recessions and fail to come back during recoveries.

However, in some areas of the low-skill-and-income-sector, the job outlook is perking up. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, personal care and home health aides are the fastest growing categories of workers being sought.

Last week, House the Homeless discussed the “silver tsunami,” the demographic bulge of seniors and pre-seniors who will soon require the attention of many thousands of personal care aides and home health aides. They are honorable professions, but the pay scale is not tempting.

Since the financial reward is paltry, we had better hope that a whole lot of young people feel motivated to enter the caregiver business through their own natural good-heartedness. Where is all this good-heartedness going to come from? We’re raising a nation of kids whose families are fractured by homelessness, whose human ties are fragile and constantly broken by the necessity to move yet again.

These disadvantaged kids are proceeding to grow up into the very workforce that will be spoonfeeding oatmeal to the Baby Boom generation a few years from now. We’d better hope they learn about the milk of human kindness somewhere along the way.

Reactions?

Source: “Cross-National Comparison of Ratio of CEO to Worker Pay,” The Society Pages, 05/03/12
Source: “Viral Facebook post on CEO-worker pay ratio has obscure past,” PolitiFact, 10/10/11
Source: “Low-Wage Jobs to Blame for Slow Economic Recovery,” NationofChange, 04/10/12
Image of “Cross-National Comparison of Ratio of CEO to Worker Pay” is used under Fair Use: Reporting.