Back in the fall, a recent college grad named Adam Valdez spoke at a press conference in Atlanta put on by Jobs With Justice, an organization that is part of a larger movement working towards social and economic justice. During his short speech, he talked about a mountain of student loans and a desert of decent paying jobs. Then he mentioned, “wage slavery.”
He was just one kid, on one block, in one American city. But he was hitting on a reality facing so many young people today. There aren’t many jobs out there and the ones they can find hardly pay a living wage.
I’ve been thinking about Adam Valdez the last few weeks as I’ve watched the leading GOP contenders for the nomination -- Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich –- attack each other. There has been much talk of tax returns, lobbying and which one pulled down the larger pay check. But so far I haven’t heard anything about helping young people get jobs or help for millions of children who live in poverty.
When two candidates engage in this kind of talk -- against a backdrop of an excruciatingly slow economic recovery, job outsourcing, a crumbling infrastructure, unstable gas pump prices, and an already frayed social safety net of food stamps and extended unemployment benefits -- then they are out of touch with the reality many American families face every day.
Here’s some reality for you: Last semester at the community college I was attending there was a table set up for students to educate themselves on how to apply for food stamps. It also had information about which farmer’s markets were offering two-for-one deals.
So, with visions of college students applying for food stamps, I hear about candidate Gingrich’s $500,000 jewelry bill at Tiffany’s. Is it any wonder that a lot of people -- especially those who can’t afford even to think about going to Tiffany’s -- feel there is something of a gap between them and the candidates? And what is this rhetoric (again from Newt Gingrich) about the “Food Stamp President?” I can only conclude that such a comment is intended to inflame anger, divide the nation and divert discussion away from the vast divide between rich and poor in this country.
And yes, there is an income divide in our nation. According to the Children's Defense Fund and the Census Bureau’s 2010 Current Population Survey, in 2009, 15.5 million children -– more than one in five –- were poor. Can Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich identify with 15.5 million poor children, particularly black children who are three times as likely to be poor than white children? Who knows, maybe they can, but they certainly do not give the impression they can, or that they even care.
During one of the CNN debate’s in January, Mr. Romney scolded the other candidates, saying that he was the only one who lived on the “real streets of America.”
I’m sorry, but the man has addresses on at least eight streets. None of them are on mine or on the street of 99 percent of the rest of us.
Sure it’s the political season when candidates say rude and insensitive things. Eventually, when they stop talking only to the base, their tune may change. But in the minds of the people who struggle every day, these two candidates will be remembered as indifferent and be seen as swimming in the sea of entitlement.