A Very Modest Proposal

A Very Modest Proposal

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says he doesn’t understand why furloughed federal workers are turning to food banks during the government shutdown. He says they ought to just get loans from credit unions to tide them over. As if loans are so easy to get when you have no collateral or safety net. The thing people like Ross don’t seem to understand is that it’s really hard to get money when you don’t have money. Banks are happy to lend to people who own property or other non-liquid assets, but they’re pretty stingy about handing out loans to everyone else.

Piggy bank
This is the only bank most Americans can count on for a loan.

The problem here is that Ross and Lara “it’s a little bit of pain” Trump have never been in financial peril. They have never had to face eviction or hunger or skip a few weeks of prescription medication in favor of feeding their children. They believe skipping a few paychecks is an inconvenience rather than an emergency. Too many of our elected officials also seem to believe that federal workers should just grin and bear it. The problem here is that none of these Washington officials seems to understand what they’re actually asking of these workers

We could change that. I propose that we require every person considering a run for public office to spend 90 days living on low wages and without a safety net. I’m thinking something between $10 and $15 per hour would be fair. It’s not quite minimum wage and it’s on par with what many federal workers bring in for preparing taxes and doing administrative work. There would be no savings account. No loans. No help from papa. Workers will make do with the paycheck and nothing else. They’ll feed their kids, fill prescriptions, and fill gas tanks with that paycheck. Spouses will also be eligible to receive a low-wage paycheck. Most working class households are two-income households, after all.

The policy would also apply to any appointed officials in any administration. Before a cabinet secretary takes office, he or she must serve 90 days living on the bare minimum. These folks can continue to do their regular jobs. I’m not looking to destroy anyone’s career. If you’re a lawyer, keep right on lawyering. But you won’t receive a lawyer’s paycheck.

The only exemptions will be for people who can prove they’ve already spent adequate time living meager paycheck to paycheck. Those folks can get a waiver. Everyone else has to do the time.

The point here is not to inflict punishment, but to build empathy. We should not be entering the second month of a government shutdown with this much tone deaf rhetoric flying through the airwaves. Everyone speaking about this issue should have firsthand knowledge of the problems these workers face or they shouldn’t be speaking about it at all.

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Tiffany Quay Tyson

THE PAST IS NEVER is the winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, the Mississippi Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, and the Mississippi Author Award for Adult Fiction (selected by the Mississippi Library Association). The novel is shortlisted for the prestigious Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction. This southern gothic novel steeped in local lore was selected as an "Okra Pick" by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. Tyson's debut novel THREE RIVERS was a finalist for both the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. She was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and now lives, writes, and teaches in Denver, Colorado.
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One thought on “A Very Modest Proposal

  1. I’ve long thought that EVERYONE should have to work a service job and live on the proceeds; only I’d recommend a stint of 6 months. Too many people sneer at food service or retail staff because they have never had to do those jobs.

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