The Price Of Everything*
Do you remember when Rudolph Giuliani didnâ€™t know the price of milk? Well, it may be time to ask again. Milk prices have jumped â€“ 15 cents a quart in the supermarkets near me. Have politicians noticed? (In the most concrete sense of course, they know since milk prices are regulated)
One way to think about the fiscal impact on families of Bush years is to imagine how our national economic (income) pie is shared, according to the Economic Policy Institute. When economists write of pie, I imagine pie charts; but in this case itâ€™s an interesting bar graph. The EPIâ€™s Laurence Mishel tells us that in 2001-2005 period the very richest among us (top 1%) have seen their share of the pie increase while bottom-half and middle income people are getting less. This clearly written (for an economist) squib and chart are definitely worth a click if only to confirm that itâ€™s not your imagination: almost all of us are worse off than we were in 2001 (to unearth a Ronald Reagan slogan). See also this excellent Alternet article and this essay by James Parrott on how inequality plays out in NYC.
One reason, as it turns out, the rich are different from you and me is that they pay taxes at a much lower rate than the rest of us. In Fridayâ€™s Washington Post Jeffery Birnbaum & Lori Montgomery explain it all. Yes, yes; tax stories put us to sleep; but as Willie Sutton is claimed to have said (about banks), itâ€™s where the money is. One big surprise has been the energy with which our own Senator Schumer has defended this loophole for the superrich. Amy Traub, at the DMI blog, tells that tawdry tale here. It's so odd for us to worry about the small burden of congestion pricing falling on the very few, while the huge inequities in our tax system allow the rich to make out like bandits and place the costs on the rest of us.
In the light of rising costs of living and increasing flow of income to the richest, Congressional action raising the minimum wage seems paltry and overtaken actual costs. This wonderful victory by progressive democrats will not bring our lowest paid workers to the earning power the minimum wage had in 1956. It doesnâ€™t mean the victory wasnâ€™t great, only that weâ€™re barely begun the process. See this article from the American Prospect and Nicholas von Hoffmanâ€™s article from The Nation .
One concrete way we can shape our demands to fix this is to ensure that cost of living increases are built into the minimum wage and public assistance. To be fair, for a change, there have been increases in the shelter allowance and food stamp allotment, but the basic public assistance grant has remained unchanged for since 1990. Below, one proposal to begin to fix it which includes a cost of living escalator. We need to build that in.
The Governor and the State Legislature have not raised the welfare grant since 1990. The value of welfare benefits has fallen to only half of the federal poverty level. 577,000 New Yorkers are on Temporary Assistance including 333,000 children. For more than a decade the courts have repeatedly ruled that welfare payments for housing are illegally low.
In 1975 public assistance for a three-person family was equal to 110% of the Federal Poverty Level.
Proposal: Increase the non-shelter portion of the public assistance grant from $291 to $450 for a family of three to reflect increase in the cost of living since the last adjustment in 1990. Fuel for Heating Allowances should be increased to account for inflationary increases since the last adjustments in 1987. A commission should be established to investigate the adequacy of all public assistance allowances and to recommend mechanisms to provide for annual cost adjustments.
This legislative proposal melted like the proverbial snowball in Albany. When next you meet or write your electeds, consider asking them about it. For me, the slogan to keep in mind is the one we Dodgers fans used to utter annually (pre-1955): Wait 'till next year.
*Oscar Wilde, it is said, called a cynic a person who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.