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Working poor shouldn’t shut up until they get jobs that pay a living wage

Demonstrators pour onto the Dan Ryan Expressway Saturday morning. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

More than half of family households in Chicago do not earn a living wage and people wonder why folks were marching on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Chicago public schools are filthy, thousands of children are not getting a quality education, people are being gunned down on the streets and the governor of this state says marching in protest on the Dan Ryan Expressway was risky and dangerous. Living in Chicago is risky and dangerous.

The Metropolitan Planning Council analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Massachusetts Institute of Technology received fleeting attention last week.


That report revealed that despite an increase in the minimum wage from $12 from $11 an hour in Chicago, 70 percent of African-American households did not earn a living wage. To be clear, that’s seven out of 10 black households.

MIT defined the 2016 “living wage” in the Chicago metro area as an hourly rate of $13.05 for a single person living alone, $26.72 for one adult with one child, and $38.29 for an adult with three children.

MIT calculated average costs for food, child care, medical expenses, housing, transportation and other common expenses into its cost estimates of daily living.

There’s been a lot of discussion nationally about the need to raise the minimum wage. Hey, if a person works two crummy jobs part-time and earns the minimum wage of $12 an hour, he can make $504 a week, or $26,208 a year.

I can hear people screaming, “How dare you refer to any job as crummy” and demean the good people working hard to put food on the table for their kids.

Fair enough.

But how dare people act as though raising the minimum wage is going to make a real difference in the lives of the working poor. It’s outrageous that this has become the national focal point for improving the lives of Americans.

This country needs more jobs that pay a living wage, especially for people who have no college degree, or may have even dropped out of high school.

There was a time when a person in that situation could get a job in a factory and make enough money to buy a home, pay the mortgage, send the kids to college, and save for retirement. That’s because those jobs not only paid decent money but included health insurance benefits and pensions.

Union jobs.

Now “union” is a dirty word. Whenever a Sun-Times story mentions “union” these days, the word is quickly followed by an explanation that the ownership of this newspaper includes a number of union organizations.

Newspapers owned by rich guys and run by corporations (and that’s almost all of them) do not include such disclaimers in stories about tax cuts for big business or appointments of Supreme Court justices expected to rule against the rights of workers.

It would be refreshing to see something like, “For the sake of disclosure we must reveal that our multi-millionaire owner is going to benefit substantially from government deregulation, which is likely to pollute your drinking water and increase the likelihood that your children will die from cancer.”

Those newspapers owned by the wealthy often carry editorials talking about the virtues of ridding the country of government unions and replacing pensions with 401(k) plans. National health care, they will tell you, is an unnecessary expense but banks and Wall Street firms must be bailed out if they fail.

America was great when workers earned a living wage. When people could save at interest rates above 1 percent and still have plenty of money to spend.

The middle class became the greatest economic engine in the history of the world. They earned their take-home pay by fighting for their rights on the streets, in the courtrooms and at the polling place. No one gave them anything.

In Chicago, the working poor have been silent and well-behaved for too long. The governor has forgotten that he works for them.

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