In case you missed it, there’s a great essay in today’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer that deserves to be shared widely. Written by a Hillsborough physician named Aparna Jonnal, it includes some hard and important truths about poverty, inequality and the first and most obvious way to tackle those problems. This is from “How the current minimum wage hurts kids”:
“In this country, 43 percent of children live below or near poverty. Over half of these kids have one parent working full time. They just don’t make enough money. A person working full time making the minimum wage earns a mere $15,080 a year before taxes. If that worker supports any children, they grow up poor. In fact, according to the nonpartisan N.C. Justice Center, the living income standard for one adult with one child is $35,710 a year.
Poverty’s oppressive effect on children renders it nearly impossible for them to thrive and move up the economic ladder. Multiple studies show that being poor adversely affects children’s academic performance. More alarming is a newer finding that poverty causes stunted gray-matter development in children’s brains, negatively affecting their test-taking skills.
In America, we have the added shame of gross levels of economic inequality. Were we all uniformly poor, at least we would each enjoy a roughly fair shot at success. Not so. In this country, the top 20 percent has more than 84 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 40 percent has a mere 0.3 percent. Societies with higher levels of economic inequality have higher rates of violence, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, mental illness, many diseases and lower life expectancy. This disparity isn’t good for anyone, but especially not kids. As the economic gap grows, so does the academic achievement gap.How we expect these youngsters to overcome the odds against them is unclear. There are anecdotes of children prevailing over adversity and achieving great things, but these are rare. Much more likely is that a child will wind up trapped in the generational cycle of poverty. It is a cruel oversimplification to hold that hard work pays off in this country. The facts show that the American dream of upward mobilization has become more of a mirage.
To help poor kids, we need to reduce poverty. This requires an actual transfer of wealth, and the least controversial way to achieve this should be by paying fair wages to working people. Workers who make higher wages are healthier, better parents with healthier, more successful children. Raising the minimum wage is not only fair, it is fiscally prudent to avert the later costs of supporting poor kids who could not become productive adults. The benefits of a more equitable society extend far beyond those enjoyed by vulnerable children. Closing the wage gap would reduce violence, improve everyone’s health and foster a more harmonious society for us all to enjoy.
It’s time to raise the minimum wage.”
Click here to read Jonnal’s entire op-ed.