If poverty were a consequence of the character defects of the poor, then we [which is to say, we who are affluent or downright rich, and therefore manifestly do not have those debilitating character defects] could have an enlightening, self-satisfied conversation among ourselves about just what steps the undeserving poor ought to take to clean up their act and enter the great Middle Class. And if poverty were a consequence of the failure of the poor to acquire the appropriate educational credentials, then we [which is to say we who have those educational credentials] could have an uplifting, self-satisfied conversation among ourselves about how to persuade the poor to stay in school, gather up degrees, and waltz into the great Middle Class.
But a lack of character is not the explanation for the poverty of the poor, and a lack of degrees is not the explanation for the poverty of the poor. The explanation is that there are not enough jobs that pay well enough to allow the people who hold those jobs to live decent lives -- never mind about getting into the Middle Class. What on earth can be done about that?
Well, after long study and deep cogitation, I have discovered the answer. It is, I am aware, too complicated for most commentators in the public sphere to grasp, requiring as it does a profound conceptual transformation -- an entirely new weltanschauung, one might say. Fortunately, however, the answer can be stated in ten words, only two of which have more than one syllable. Here it is:
Pay poor people more money for the jobs they have.
You see, if you pay someone $8.89 an hour for making burgers at McDonald's, then he or she will only make $18,491.20 in a year, working fifty-two weeks, forty hours a week. And those are poverty wages. But if you pay the same person $15 an hour for the same work, then that person will make $31,200 a year, and that is enough to get by, if not to buy anything that most of us would recognize as a middle class life.
But how on earth can you pay someone fifteen dollars an hour for doing exactly the same work he or she was doing for less than nine dollars an hour? The money has to come from somewhere, so it looks as though it is going to have to come out of the profits of the McDonald Corporation. Can McDonald's afford that? Well, it is a little hard to come by exact numbers, but here is an example of an attempt to work out the calculations. It looks as though that sort of corporation-wide salary raise might cost the company half of its annual profits.
What on earth would persuade any corporation to raise the wages of its employees so much that its profits are cut in half? The answer is as obvious as the question: a debilitating strike by a labor union of its employees. This is not rocket science, folks. It is not even advanced economics. Absolutely all of the current discussions about how to end poverty in America proceed from the unacknowledged refusal to consider this answer. Do America's corporations make enough profit each year to fund an economy-wide rise in the wages paid to America's poorest workers? Yup. Will they do so if not compelled? Nope.
This is so simple that I feel like an idiot repeating myself, but we really need to keep certain elementary facts clearly in mind. McDonald's pays poverty wages to a great many of the 300,000 or so men and women who work for the corporation or for one of its franchisees. Most of those people do not have college degrees [some do, of course]. If by some miracle -- a Great Religious Awakening, perhaps -- every single McDonald's employee somehow managed to earn a Bachelor's Degree, McDonald would still employ 300,000 people, and the same number would still earn poverty wages. Even if all of those newly minted college grads went off and snagged better jobs, thereby displacing an equal number of people from those better jobs, McDonald's would still be paying poverty wages to the same number of people. Economy-wide, while the nametags on the workers would change, the distribution of low, middle, and high wage jobs would remain absolutely unchanged.
There is more than enough money being earned in profits each year to pay all of America's low-wage workers significantly better wages. The solution to poverty is what it has always been: