To say that we live on a 1% planet isn’t just a turn of phrase. In fact, it would undoubtedly be more accurate to speak of a .1% or a .01% planet. In recent years, wealth and income inequalities have grown in a notorious fashion in the United States — and, as it turns out, globally as well. In January, Oxfam released a report on the widening gap between global wealth and poverty. It found that, between 2010 and today, the wealth of the poorest half of the planet’s population fell by a trillion dollars, a drop of 41%, while that of the richest 62 people (53 men and nine women) increased by half a trillion dollars. Put another way, those 62 billionaires were wealthier than the bottom 50% of the world’s people, while the richest 1% owned more than the other 99% combined. The direction in which we’re heading is obvious. Just consider that, in 2010, it took 388 of the super-rich to equal the holdings of the bottom 50%; now, that number is 326 people smaller.
Keep that trend line in mind as you read about TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren’s latest adventures in the minimum-wage economy. Back in 2014, he described for this site how, having lost his State Department job for being a whistleblower on the Iraq War, he fell for a time into the low-wage world. As he wrote, “And soon enough, I did indeed find myself working in exactly that economy and, worse yet, trying to live on the money I made. But it wasn’t just the money. There’s this American thing in which jobs define us, and those definitions tell us what our individual futures and the future of our society is likely to be. And believe me, rock bottom is a miserable base for any future.” His experiences in a big-box retail store inspired him to write his novel, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. As last year ended, he returned to the minimum-wage world, now — thanks in particular to Bernie Sanders — part of the national conversation. And here’s what he found.
- Nickel and Dimed in 2016
You Can’t Earn a Living on the Minimum Wage
Peter Van Buren • February 16, 2016 • 2,500 Words