Class Warfare, Dammit!

Phaedrus at No Fear of Freedom links to a story from the LA Times, ‘Though Far From Poor, a Family Struggles Daily’, that lays out the difference between ‘official poverty’–based on the Federal poverty index–and actual poverty, what social scientists cal a ‘self-sufficient income’, meaning you make enough to get by.

The Basurtos are neither destitute nor desperate. They have no debt, do not go hungry, and have managed to put three children through Catholic school. Yet their grip on the bottom rung of the middle class is precarious.By the local cost of rent, by what it takes to commute to work, by the price of food at the local store, by the cost of clothing and healthcare, a family like the Basurtos would need more than $40,000 to make ends meet in Los Angeles. Families with younger children and day-care expenses would need closer to $70,000.

That estimate, called a self-sufficient income, is an emerging measure of economic health seldom used in the calculus of poverty.

Policymakers still measure progress in the war on poverty using the federal poverty level, despite decades of quarrels over its shortcomings. Developed in the 1960s, the poverty level is based on a food survey from 1955.

It tells only how much is too little to live on, not how much is enough to get by on.

Phaedrus points to what that gap means.

By the federal benchmark, 13% of Californians are poor, according to the Census Bureau. By the self-sufficiency standard, 30% don’t make enough to get by.

It may not be that bad for the whole country but I’ll betcha anyt’ing it’s worse than what the gummint tries to tell us.

He also notes some inconsistency in the way inflation is measured:

One reason why the wage-earning middle class increasingly can’t afford California is that wages, adjusted for inflation, have been stagnant for two decades. In the same time, the percentage of income needed to pay for rent, healthcare and child care has spiraled.Economists call this “alligator economics,” because wages are a horizontal or falling line, while costs rise like an alligator’s upper jaw.

They’re saying that wages kept pace with inflation, but the cost of living rose dramatically. At least for those nearer the bottom than the top. So, somebody tell me again. What inna fuck does the inflation index measure? The price of gold bathroom fixtures? “Rents have gone up 30%, but gold bathroom fixtures are down 80%, offsetting rents, so there’s no inflation.” Oo, that helps me a lot.

The result of these two crooked measurements, he says, is what amounts to indentured servitude.

The American working class consists mainly of indentured servants. Oh, they’ve changed the forms so you won’t easily snap to that realization but, effectively, it still works like indentured servitude for the employer. Sure, you can quit, but you damn sure better get another job fast. We don’t have laws binding workers to their employer for long periods (ya know, ‘cept in the music business), and we don’t have company stores. But we have mortgages, and credit cards so usurious they amount to loan-sharking. And that “X% of Americans own homes” shit really cracks me up. If you’re still makin’ payments, you don’t own it. Doubt me? Stop payin’ the mortgage for a while. See what happens.

To read the rest–and you should–click the title.


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