Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Stay Divided and Be Conquered

The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a report that's making waves on social media regarding the lack of affordability of housing in the United States, but the story isn't new. The left has been pushing hard for a $15 federal minimum wage, a wage that, according to the NLIHC's report is STILL below the “housing wage” for a renter in 29 states and the District of Columbia. The “housing wage” is defined as the “full time hourly wage a household must earn to afford a decent apartment at [US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)]'s estimated Fair Market Rent while spending no more than 30% of income on housing costs” (OOR2015, NLIHC). Strictly in terms of number sense, a wage that allows paying less than 30% of income for rent seems quite reasonable, but there has been an absolutely ludicrous amount of push back. The rich insist that the poor need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Then there's the outcry that there are worthier wage earners than the fry cook at McD's that make less than $15...

Wait. Rewind on that last one.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 figures, median pay for an Emergency Medical Technician or Paramedic was only $14.91 an hour. These are people who are trained to “care for the sick or injured in emergency medical settings” (BoLS). These are people who literally hold the lives of others in their hands. $14.91 an hour. And you want $15 for flipping burgers?!

This kind of rhetoric is dangerous. Of course it's unjust that lifesaving personnel with extensive training are so hideously underpaid. They work the most brutal of hours, brave sometimes dangerous situations to administer emergency care, and in the best of cases, they save lives; they absolutely should be paid more than that. Realistically, not only should they be paid more than that, they should be making more than the minimum wage. What those who push back against raising the minimum wage to $15/hr seem not to realise is that if the minimum wage is raised, everyone will benefit. If an employer is paying over minimum, they are required to dole out raises that reflect the change in minimum wage. If a profession is making under $15/hr, the solution should not be that nobody should make that kind of money, it should be that we need to reevaluate how that profession is paid.

Another favoured argument against raising the minimum wage is the ideology of throwing back to the golden days of yore... where about a week and a half's wages paid the rent. According to The Fiscal Times, rent in the 50s averaged 56 hours at minimum wage—not 56 hrs/week, but per month—in the 60s, that figure increased to 71 hours, which still isn't quite two weeks' wages. The minimum wage, due to its disconnect from inflation, has effectively decreased by 25% from 1968 to 2012 (Konen, How Well Can You Live on Minimum Wage). At this point, on average, a minimum-wage worker has to burn 109 hours of their paycheck on rent alone, which is still double NLIHC's cited expectation of 30% of income—according to the Fiscal Times piece, the HUD's suggestion is that only 25% of income go to rent, meaning that we're paying more than double what we should. There's no denying it; the minimum wage has been too low since the 80s. It's been raised, sure, but inflation has continued on up with it. The 80s saw renters paying 70% of their income into rent, which is worse, but that doesn't make paying 60% of income to keep a roof overhead good.

We need to stop seeing minimum wage in such an adversarial light, because that kind of thinking only serves to reinforce the status quo. The more we fight amongst ourselves about who deserves to be able to afford a roof over their heads, the less things change. We need to fight for what's in our best interests, collectively. If so many of us weren't living paycheck to paycheck, we'd put more back into the economy. If we weren't barely scraping by, higher taxes wouldn't be such a burden, and maybe, just maybe, we could put a meaningful dent in not just the deficit, but the debt. Don't let toxic, divisive rhetoric turn you against someone else who's just trying to get by. Nobody's suggesting that flipping burgers should buy you a mansion, but food and shelter are basic human necessities, and shouldn't be considered a luxury available only to the rich.

As an aside, the argument I have generally heard is NOT, in fact, that EMS get paid less so fast food workers shouldn't make more, it's that EMSand police make less, an assertion that is not supported by the numbers from the BoLS.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Gulf Electric is not turning ME on...

So, there have been these billboards recently in my area, all on inconvenient stretches of highway so I must admit I did not take the picture that follows.  Massachusetts State Representative  Carole Fiola seems to be the only person openly expressing outrage at what respondents on both the Twitter accounts of Representative Fiola and the Children's Advocacy Center of Bristol County(CAC of BC) have carelessly handwaved, because of course they have.  So what, exactly, is the problem here?

The billboard in question, borrowed from @CACofBC
Lots of things.

Admittedly, the first reaction I had was to giggle.  Somewhere inside, I'm a seventeen year old boy at heart.  I enjoy humour that might be dismissed as sophomoric, juvenile, or crude.  But here's the thing: I enjoy that humour among friends.  Not every joke is appropriate for every audience; I'm not going to tell the same kinds of jokes when I'm having drinks with friends that I'm going to tell at a family dinner with Grandma or at a business dinner with my boss.  The issue with the billboard isn't a matter of being too uptight to enjoy the humour, it's a matter of the setting in which it's being presented.  The response that, "Anyone who is offended needs to take the stick out of their ass," [source redacted to avoid misdirected hate tweets] is only contributing to the problem by silencing any protest against systemic sexism as a prudish and underdeveloped sense of humour.  I get the joke, Gulf, I just don't think you understand ad targeting very well.

And speaking of ad targeting...  just who IS this targeting, anyway?  Well, one assumes, from the fact that it's a utility, it's targeting, to use tax lingo, the Head of Household.  Real progressive, Gulf, assuming that the Head of Household is a straight man, just like it was in the '50s. The owner of those legs is just window dressing anyway, am I right?  Wouldn't want to make them worry their pretty little head about something like how the electricity is being provided!  That's for the red-blooded, heterosexual MAN to worry about!

Of course, as is often the case, the same assumptions that hurt women are hurting gay men.  Just as the stocking clad leg is unlikely to appeal sexually to a straight woman and likely to be more offensive than appealing to a gay or bisexual woman, using heteronormative sex to sell product serves only to further alienate gay men.  You are not our target audience, it says.  Whether that's because gay men shouldn't be heads of household, because they don't exist, because they don't matter...  all of these things are dismissive of gay men.  Even the defense I expect, which is, "I'm sure they weren't thinking about that when they ran the billboard," is not a defense.  They never stopped to consider that it might alienate gay men?  But you're trying to tell me that the experience of gay men isn't being minimized or dismissed.  They just didn't think of it.  The irony, it burns.

Lastly, of course, is the fact that they're using sex to sell electricity.  If they were a sex-toy manufacturer that specialized in electric toys (e.g. toys that are rechargeable, the infamous Hitachi magic wand, or Violet Wands), that would make sense.  Otherwise, the link between electricity and sex is tenuous at best, and the woman becomes nothing but a prop.  Please notice that there's not a pinup girl making eyes at drivers as she flirtily turns the light on.  There is a disembodied leg flipping a light switch.  I could see the owner of that leg at work, on the bus, or in the mall and have no idea it was her, because her personhood is irrelevant to this advertisement.  Her leg is an object to be desired, and to allow the play on words.

The news clip I linked in the beginning mentions that Representative Fiola contacted Gulf and received no response.  Worse yet, an unnamed Senator contacted Gulf, and was informed that they had no intention of reconsidering their billboards.  Gulf knows what they've done, and they don't care.  And they're going to get away with it, because anyone who finds the joke to be in poor taste just "needs to take the stick out of their ass."  Isn't that lovely?

If you're tired of seeing women used as window dressing to sell things, if you agree that this billboard is out of line, don't just sit back and seethe.  Tumbl.  Get #GulfElectricityTurnsMeOff! trending.  Blog. Email Gulf Electricity.  Don't assume you won't make a difference.  Prove that you will.