Sunday Society Page – Minimum Wage

In his State of the Union address, President Obama brought up the long-overdue idea of raising the minimum wage, and there’s been a TON of debate about it since. There are those who say it’ll cause “job creators” to stop hiring if they have to pay their employees more per hour. I understand where this idea comes from, but I don’t think it’s accurate.

First of all, the wage increase will only apply to minimum wage jobs: those making the current $7.25/hour. No one else is going to get a wage increase, so it’s not going to apply to anyone higher than entry-level. That means it’ll mostly affect service personnel – those who work in retail, food service, gas stations, childcare, or cleaning companies – those who work 40 hours per week and still find themselves at or below poverty level.

The truth is, there are plenty of jobs available. Within four miles of my house, there’s a Joann’s, Starbucks, Panda Express, Stop & Shop, AC Moore, and Sears that have constantly been hiring for the past year, but these are jobs that most people don’t want. And the reason people don’t want them is because of the low pay and hard physical work. Because of uniforms that make you a faceless cog and having your personal items searched after every shift to make sure you aren’t stealing. Because of shift managers who schedule you against your stated availability, forcing you to scramble to trade shifts and wreaking havoc on your life. Because of being spoken to like you’re an idiot day in and day out – because obviously if you were any smarter, you wouldn’t be working HERE.

At the current minimum wage, even if you work an 8 hour shift 365 days per year, you will only make $21,170 per year – before taxes. That presumes you never get sick, snowed in, have car trouble, or take a single day off. This rate reduces hard-working people to subsistence laborers, and that’s just to provide for their own living expenses. Raising a family on that income means that hard decisions will have to be made. Pundits like to complain about parents who aren’t home with their children, don’t take the time to read with and to them, but how on earth is a low-income worker supposed to do those things if they’re pulling double shifts just to pay rent and buy groceries? This is a situation that perpetuates the cycle of poverty, of exhaustion, of hopelessness.

Nobody wants these jobs. People take them because they need them. Because low pay is better than no pay. Because the jobs that are hard to find are the ones that require years of training, education, and experience, and you might not get a lead for just as many years.

We all rely on these people to make our lives work. As individuals, we should be treating hourly workers with respect and dignity in our regular interactions. As a society, we should be able to agree that paying the people we rely on enough to pay their basic bills is only fair. And the vast majority of us do, but I think those who “represent” us in government need to be reminded.

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Sunday Society Page – Marriage Equality

I understand the whole “not getting someone who’s different than you” thing. But even in my fundamentalist in-this-world-but-not-of-it days, I knew that feeling was a big ole signpost pointing me straight toward the unknown. Because there is absolutely no reason to be scared of what you don’t know or don’t understand. Ignorance, actual not-knowing, is nothing to be ashamed of – but refusing to know, to learn, to expand, well, that is shameful.

When I was in ninth grade, we got our first ever out gay kid in school. He was a few years behind me, but there was no mistaking him. He wore eyeliner, nail polish, and had a rock star wardrobe. He was masculine and non-gender-conforming at the same time. I had the feeling that it must be tough to stand out so much, but he was unfailingly sweet and kind and I remember him always smiling.

My senior year, I met my second gay guy. He was out at school but not at home, and when he came out at home, he was immediately kicked out and forced to transfer to a school where he’d risk having his ass kicked daily. I remember being baffled that parents could willfully put their child in harm’s way like that – even if they were conservative, that’s not “loving the sinner.”

At this time I was still of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” mindset. I was nice enough to people face-to-face, but I still would have voted against marriage equality and been a-ok with gay people kept out of schools and scouting and other organizations. At that time -1999 – full marriage equality seemed a far distant possibility. It never occurred to me that gay people would want to get married, have children, and happy nuclear families. Being gay seemed like a thing you should want to keep to yourself, like having sex before marriage, and with enough willpower you could redirect yourself more appropriately. What I didn’t realize then was that I probably knew and was close friends with a half-dozen students who found themselves under the LGBTQIA umbrella. I may never know for sure, but I hope now that I never did anything to make them feel as though they were less-than. I probably did.

A few years later, I found myself in Marshall University’s theater program, where I met some of my most cherished friends. I began working for the theater facilities manager there – a gay man who could not care less what any of us thought about it. The particulars of his relationship were not open to us for questioning – exactly like any straight faculty member. As we worked together and got to know him, he would share more about his personal life with us as he saw fit. We got to know his partner and saw what a wonderful, loving couple they are, and how if we let them, they could provide us with a really excellent example of how healthy relationships are supposed to function. After working with him for four years, I was able to thank him for teaching me more than just theater. I told him that when we first met, I had absolutely no idea what to do with him, but I now credit him with making sure I didn’t spend the rest of my life as a bigot. I told him that I would definitely be looking to him as an example of what I want in marriage one day. It was his 18th anniversary.

Today, I find myself being completely baffled that the same horrible arguments put forth in the 1970’s are being used as arguments against gay marriage today. There is no greater or lesser reason to keep your child for going on a scouts camping trip with a gay adult than with a straight adult – the point is that you need to know well the people that you entrust with the well being of children. And the “sanctity of marriage” is a complete fabrication: many of the politicians who repeat that phrase have been unfaithful in their several marriages – Newt Gingrich, I’m looking at you. And the truth of it is, the only thing that affects the quality of my relationship is how my partner and I treat one another. No other couple, celebrity or anonymous, gay or straight, or even our own parents, has a true and lasting effect on what happens inside our own home.

There has been progress made. It is much less likely these days that gay people will be assaulted for daring to show affection on public, but I do know a teacher who lives in the closet for fear that *they* will lose their position or career if the truth were known. That doesn’t sound much like “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to me. And there are still some very determined people in this country who are working hard to create a second class citizenship – which is why I’m very proud to show you what arrived for me in the mail this week:

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Sunday Society Page – Superbowl Edition

I have a problem with football – a couple of them actually, and Superbowl Sunday seems as good a time as any to bring them up. My primary objection has to do with the incredible incidence of brain injury sustained by players as they repeatedly slam into one another and onto the ground during play. Helmets protect the skull and the neck, but they can’t protect the brain itself from getting sloshed around inside the skull as the players’ bodies rapidly decelerate. These repeated injuries are resulting in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that results in depression, paranoia, aggression, early dementia and suicide. According to the Washington Times, there are currently more than 4,000 player-plaintiffs involved in lawsuits with the NFL, who are suffering from the long-term effects of game play. It isn’t just limited to adults, either: Here in Massachusetts last September, five children in one Pop Warner game suffered concussions severe enough that they missed several days of school afterward. Even President Obama has expressed his concerns, and Bernard Pollard, safety for today’s game-winning Ravens, says he doesn’t believe anything will change until someone dies on the field.

While there are certainly things that can be done to mitigate the injuries players suffer, the game is inherently unsafe. While any sport or activity carries risk, we need to differentiate between the risk of a broken arm and that of degenerative neurological disease. There is no “game” worth that kind of sacrifice.