social welfare

The Price of "Betterness"

Umair Haque via Wylio http://bit.ly/AugRQB
Umair Haque speaking at the 2009 NEXT conference in Berlin. Via Wylio http://bit.ly/AugRQB

If you’re on Twitter, you may well have a few people that you follow with such enthusiasm that it occasionally feels a little like you’re stalking them. You re-tweet every article they post, nod along with every inspiring tweet they type and include them in your Follow Friday list every week.

Even if that’s not true for you, it’s certainly true for me of one person in particular — Umair Haque.

Haque is a self-titled “author, blogger, thinker, reformer.” But the more I read of his work, the more inclined I am to add the title “prophet” to that list of descriptors.

Haque is a prophet in the sense that he is preaching a message that is for a specific group of people (those who are disenfranchised but not quite cynical enough to give up yet) at a specific point in time (now, in a time of economic malaise). His words cut right to the heart of what has been going wrong in our world, and they are words that many, many people need to hear.

So it was with great relish that I purchased his new digital book, Betterness: Economics for Humans, excited to hear these words.

Welfare Reform: Helping Whom?

Ponder for a moment the following facts:

- The purchasing power of the nation's minimum hourly wage, frozen at $3.35 since 1981, has declined by 27 percent over the past six years.

- Slightly more than half of the new jobs created in the last eight years in this country were at full-time, annual wages of less than $11,611, the federal government's poverty line for a family of four.

- Almost a third of the jobs created since 1980 have been part-time, and three-fourths of them have been filled by people wanting full-time work. Two-thirds of those would-be full-timers make the minimum wage, and 85 percent of them receive no health insurance from their employers.

- More than 40 percent of all poor people over age 14 worked last year, and the number of working poor has increased by 50 percent since 1978.

- The number of working poor people is more than twice the number of adults on welfare.

- While the national poverty rate remains basically stable at 13.5 percent, the typical poor family has fallen further below the poverty line under the Reagan administration, and the gap between rich and poor families is now at the widest level in more than 40 years.

- The official, September 1988 national unemployment rate was 5.4 percent, and employers in many industries complain that they cannot find enough qualified and willing workers.

And now consider this: In the past few months the U.S. Congress rejected, again, a proposal to raise the minimum wage, while it overwhelmingly passed a "welfare reform" bill designed to "break the cycle of poverty" by forcing welfare mothers off the dole and into the workforce. Anyone who studies the above figures can see that for millions of Americans, jobs do not bring an end to poverty.

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