When expressing myself to others, both in life and in writing, I try to follow the wisdom afforded to me by the 1996 movie Sleepers. “No religion, no politics”. So, although some hot button political issues currently surround the minimum wage in our nation, this blog does not support the issue of one side or another. Its intent instead, is to celebrate a critical and often overlooked sector of our economy, the working poor.
The term “working poor” refers to those members of our society who are employed, but still fall below the poverty line in terms of overall income. Working while still falling below this line can occur for any number of reasons, be it wage level, access to consistent hours, or employment opportunities only offered in increments of part-time units. And although there is a myriad of additional statistics that can be used to analyze this phenomenon, at its core many individuals who fall into this category represent what is best about us as a society?
People that fall into the category of “working poor” represent roughly eleven percent of the population. These are people you interact with every day. The lady that took your 7:00 AM breakfast order at McDonalds, the guy who vacuumed up the chip crumbs from under your desk, and the single mom of two that answered your car insurance claim call are more than likely members of this population. Ironically, they also represent a 2:1 ratio when compared to nonworking poor, who make up about 6% of the population.
Probably the most ironic part of it all is that on average, a working poor person earns a little over $10 per hour compared to a non-working poor person who earns the equivalent of a little over $11 per hour in subsidies and benefits. And therein lays the beauty of what the working poor represent. Often, they could get more money to stay at home than to work. People who choose to make less money to make more of themselves should be commended and celebrated. We regularly recognize many other sectors of our workforce (teachers, nurses, fire fighters, police officers) and deservedly so. They have earned our respect and adoration. But perhaps it is time to also give the individuals who are often unrecognized and forgotten our attention too. After all, in many ways, they are a backbone of our country and make up many jobs in the service industry. They cook your restaurant meals, take care of your mom at the nursing home, drive your Uber, and teach your children at preschool.
I am sure there are no parades in the works or national holidays planned for the working poor. But we can still show them our appreciation just about every day via a remarkably simple process. When someone hands you your drive-thru meal, look them in the eye and sincerely say “thank you”. That is all it takes. It conveys genuine appreciation and respect which is the least we owe these hard-working individuals.