Painting: "A Snake Emoji for Your Most Despised Politician" 2020. Acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20"
Back in the autumn of 1991 I had my first encounter with homelessness that set my cerebral cortex unfolding and re-folding in quiet spasm. I was a new father temporarily separated from responsibility, playing mind games with myself, while trying to set a plan of action that would keep me in close proximity to my daughter. It was a high and low time of intense emotional energy, and I learned a great deal about me, enough to become a devoted daddy, and shun any pathway to security that neglected the first priority of child rearing.
I spent mid-August to October of that year sleeping at the lake, under bridges, and in the woods, collecting cans for bananas and Drum® tobacco before reaching out to a previous boss for a job practicing dish washing in a rinky dink steak and seafood restaurant. I was promoted to salad station and then novice line cook in no time, and set my path from that point, where I have steadily dropped in social status over the last 27 years, by my own volition.
In the early years I watched my childless friends struggle with opportunity to find nominal success initially. Most left town to build careers and use contraception, while I kept to the latter and learned how to love well living check-to-check as the world turned.
While homeless I realized how easy it was to fall into a perceived state of “no going back”. No telephone lines to tree and lake shore to leave a contact number on an application. Razors and showers were also difficult to come by while tramping friendless in a park. The mind wandered to thoughts of sleeping soundly under shelter in the playground, putting aside dreams of running water and central heating.
I wasn’t completely down and out. I had a friend who let me crash in his hallway after his roommates went to bed, and I used his shower to interview for the dish washing position. 30 hours a week at $4.25/hour.
I was on my way to paradise.
Another good friend lent me enough money to put down deposit, and first and last month’s rent on a basement apartment in Oswego, that was much more basement than apartment (the shower was a refurbished coal bin).
He told me that to live comfortably at any level, one week’s pay must cover a month’s rent or mortgage. My rent was $190 (cheap for a basement even then), and since I made roughly $120.00 clear a week, I would never be able to afford living without more hours worked or finding a roommate who would agree to shower in a coal bin. Which leads me to another issue of New York legislative importance.
On December 31, 2018, it is set to become $11.10/hour. 40 hours a week with one week’s (unpaid) vacation amounts to a yearly salary of $22,644, and after payouts to state and Uncle Sam®, $18,706.00. Divide the latter by 12 for a monthly income of $1,559.00.
On Craigslist I spotted an apartment I rented in 1993 (with a girlfriend) for $350/month, available today for $1100.00. Affordable then, but still struggling $25/month behind for two people working full time at minimum wage. Today the same scenario for the same apartment for a couple earning minimum wage (as of January 1, 2019) would leave each wage earner down $160 toward reaching that month’s rent with one week’s pay.
So, in order to live well by having one week’s pay cover the expense of a month’s rent in the same apartment rented 25 years ago, a dishwasher today, sharing an apartment with a roommate, would need to earn $15.11/hour.
Minimum wage was too low then (1993), and too low today, but much lower today by comparison.
In 2020, it is poised to go up to $12.50/hr upstate, $14.00/hr in Long Island and Westchester (to cap at $15 in 2021), and remain at $15.00/hr in New York City.
I cannot imagine the soaring rents downstate. I foresee several roommates per apartment (a lá photo essay by Jacob Riis), more struggle, more broken families, more social dysfunction.
As Senator, I will pen a bill for a universal New York State minimum wage set at $15.00/hr, to increase gradually by a rate set with federal cost of living increases. If the billionaire class and its small army of cronies thinks this is an unsustainable wage, then the billionaire class can help me write up the next few bills placing a 69% wealth tax on persons and corporations whose net worth is over a billion dollars. I wrote out that plan recently, and determined it quite fair and useful for the common good.
McDonalds® might not play along. Or perhaps it will, and men and women can have jobs that support a family while deep frying mutilated chicken parts at the same time. A waiter can be a proud employee, especially if his employment is a lifelong career of dignity including a roof over his head. In the 48th District, the majority see minimum wage employment as a beginning and not an end. Some young people play at it part-time to supplement car payments and boredom. However, there are many others like the young Ron Throop who want to do right by their families, knowing that to work hard is to laugh, to live, and to raise bright, sensitive children. Yet it’s just not reality for so many people in the state of New York, or anywhere on the planet at this time.
But the money is there. The wealth and resources exist. Unfortunately, so too does the greed and the power class. The latter should be relieved there are sane, less drastic solutions to income disparity. The rich can keep the private plane (but only one), and the poor can earn a decent living with basic needs covered, and time allowed for mental healing and growth.
To our dear and disabled 48th District,
As Senator, I vow to pen a bill to institute asap a minimum wage set at $15.00 hour. I wish I could help those struggling downstate, but minimum wage would need to be at least $25/hr to make ends meet nicely in the 5 boroughs and beyond. All I can say to these fellow New Yorkers is that you have representatives. Call them out and demand the financial dignity your labor deserves.
And small business, may I suggest demanding that localities stop giving tax breaks to incoming corporations and nuclear power plants. If anything, your tax burdens must be lowered, and Walmart®’s should skyrocket to the moon.