By Jon Anderson
Candy and I have been opinionating back and forth on low-income citizens and how their access to safe and affordable housing is a means to promote economic upwards mobility. After all, if the poor are less poor, they will live richer lives (by any definition) and contribute more to society.
Unlike the rich who sequester money in intangible investments or various savings schemes, when the poor have more money, they spend it – because they need to. This creates a cycle that reverberates throughout the larger economy. If the poor buy more, manufacturers must make more which means hiring more people which in turn creates more people with money to spend, and so on, and so on. It’s exactly like the recession when governments were screaming for money because tax revenues took such a hit. Once people were put back to work, tax revenues rose, and in some states like Texas, overflowed.
In fact, recessions in general would be rarer and less dramatic if companies were forced to keep workers on the payroll or if unemployment benefits paid close to salary levels. As it is, recessions create a domino effect where one company dumps workers and then its suppliers dump workers because they’re not getting orders – and on and on. Call it trickle-back economics.
Personally, I spent nearly three years unemployed during the telecom meltdown that sent 500,000 skilled workers out on the streets early in the millennium. Desperate, I was open to anything and willing to uproot my life and leave my partner for any job. In the end, I was required to move to another state which led to the dissolution of my relationship. And compared to many, I was lucky.
For part of that time, I collected unemployment benefits that paid me the maximum $1,600 per month, a tiny fraction of my former salary. (Let me tell you, swallowing my pride and taking unemployment was one of the hardest things I’ve done – even though I’d paid into it for years. It felt like a stigmatizing failure.) All that check did was slow the eventual evaporation of a three-year “emergency fund.” I tell you this because $1,600 per month is more than the minimum wage in America and it was crippling even with a free place to live and extensive savings. Before you groan, this column isn’t about the battle for living wages, it’s about documenting and understanding how much it takes to live as a human being in Dallas. (Spoiler alert: it’s not the current minimum wage.)