Friday, July 24, 2009

Don't spend it all in one place

Because 70 cents more per hour certainly won't take you too far:

Poor workers may have especially good cause to say TGIF today.

That's because amid the worst recession in decades, about 500,000 of Texas' lowest paid employees will get a raise. The federal minimum wage increases to $7.25 per hour from $6.55.

While those workers include thousands of financially secure students still living with Mom and Dad, they also include thousands of the most impoverished and vulnerable members of the workforce – those who sink further into debt each month as ordinary expenses outweigh their meager paychecks.

Sure, the raise is the right thing to do. But it's not nearly enough. To emphasize that point, how about a slice of life from April Greer of Dallas?

She finally caught a break two months ago, when a nonprofit agency helped her land a part-time, minimum-wage job at T.J. Maxx, taking home about $800 a month.

Two weeks ago, after she started having dizzy spells at work, she collapsed and spent two days in the hospital.

Doctors aren't sure what's wrong with her. Maybe diabetes. Maybe her heart. Maybe just stress.

Greer knows she can't afford $434 a month for the medication her doctor says she needs. She can barely afford the $100 a week she's been paying her in-laws to cover their ballooning utility bills.

She wants to find a second job, but doesn't know if her body can take it.

"Since I'm the only one right now for my kids, I have to take care of my health," she said.

Her children worry. Her oldest, who is 17, wants to drop out of high school to help pay the bills.

And thus the cycle continues.

I suppose here is where we bring it all back to health care. I know, everyone finds it more interesting to analyze Obama's offhanded remarks about arrest of Skip Gates, but all that boring stuff he talked about before was the whole point of that news conference.

The poorest among us, people like Ms. Greer, are also generally the most vulnerable among us. And there's nothing healthy about straddling and slipping below the poverty line. As dday at Hullabaloo noted, "In this most cruel of American landscapes, the poor and the sick often are the same person."

If forced to predict the future, I see a very bleak outcome for Ms. Greer and her young family. Maybe she'll get so sick that she can't work at her job anymore. Maybe she'll be crushed by the wave of debt sure to follow. Maybe her 17-year-old son will follow through on his plans to drop out of school so he can accept the same kind of low-wage job that his mother has.

And maybe a lot of this could have been prevented if Ms. Greer had access to health care that didn't send her spiraling into financial oblivion.

But on the bright side, no socialized Obamacare for at least another couple months.

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