Sunday, July 16, 2017

war on poor

One leading cause of being poor is being born poor with limited job opportunities, higher expenses, defeatist attitude of poor neighbors and extra attention from police.  Lacking a Costco card, or a way to get there, or even WalMart one has to pay the inflated prices at the local liquor store.   
It’s hard to start a business; it can take a year to get simple permits, complicated to employ and if necessary fire people. Business owners oppose increasing minimum wage for obviously selfish reasons that often sound a lot like slave owners opposition to freeing slaves. Many employers argue that increasing minimum wage would make them less competitive, even though their competitors would bear the same burden. Employers schedule short capricious work hours that make it impossible to qualify for benefits, and difficult to hold down a second job. Seattle/Tacoma raised minimum wage to $15 and business there is booming.

Some financial transactions are taxed the same amount whether the transaction is $10, $10,000 or$10,000,000. Hawaii car registration fees are based on weight, so the owner of an old beater pays more. General Excise Tax (GET) is regressive in a subtle way. It is an added cost of doing business to local businesses, where the poor often have to shop, but less costly to chains that buy nationally. There are strange exceptions that seem to benefit the wealthy, like aircraft maintenance. The tax code is so complex that only those who can afford professional help pay the legal minimum. Parking fees are hard to make progressive, but why does it cost less per square foot to park a personal jet at the airport than a family car. (I did not make this up)

Affordable housing is a great idea, but the most affordable version, the ohana unit is often illegal.  
If a person is fined for an offense it should be equally painful no matter who the offender is, but it's not. If the laborer is fined $55 for a parking violation that is a day’s take home pay. His kids might not eat. To the stock trader that's just one less imported cigar. "Thirty dollars or thirty days" is catastrophic to the dish washer, insignificant to the trader.

Courts treat failure-to-appear very severely. The unschooled laborer is likely offend inadvertently and be subjected to unpayable fines. Faced with losing a day's pay or not making a court date may seem simple. Mandatory minimum sentencing impacts those who cannot afford representation making it difficult to comply and get out from under the legal albatross; the victim is stigmatized for life.
Efforts to combat drug dealing and violent gangs often sweep up the poor who just happen to be in the path. Guilt by association often works against the defendant. Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to confiscate property. The well off can weather it, or hire a lawyer, the poor just become poorer, possibly losing their only way to get to work. 
It seems like any one with more than a high school education here has their kids in a private school. The public schools are filled with immigrants for whom English is a second language. Even if the teachers were highly qualified, and many are not, it would be hard to teach well with this demographic. Their recent goal, have third graders reading at grade level in ten years!  Hawaii public schools consistently rank close to number 50. Parents are charged extra for school bus service!

Can we fix all of these?
Probably not, but some are obviously not in the best interest of us collectively.  Raising minimum wage circulates money and boosts the economy for everyone. An extra dollar earned amounts to about $2.40 to the economy in a year, because it changes hands many times. Better education creates better workers.

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