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The Invisible Ones

April 19, 2019

There are invisible people all around us. Whole families of them in fact. Day in and day out we pass them as if they weren’t there, but they are. We, however, mentally school ourselves not to see them.

They are the dark bundles huddled beside bushes, under bridges, in the shadowy overhangs of buildings and darkened alleyways. Or perhaps they just take our payments for a bottle of water at a convenience store. They are the homeless or those who call a car, van or camper home. A lot of them are on the streets because of addictions or psychosis. But others are there because, despite having jobs, they just can’t afford the costs of housing in our modern societies.

Many of these working poor find employment in a host of low wage jobs that are essentially invisible to us, but are vital to keeping our society running. They are the store clerks, restaurant staff, cooks, cleaners, bag boys, hotel workers, janitors and on and on.

While they may work full time in our major cities their take home pay isn’t enough to afford them the “luxury” of a roof over their heads. Instead, they scrimp by from pay day to pay day unable to put together the first and last month’s rent plus security deposits most landlords require. More often than not these three sums total between two and four thousand after tax dollars.

I recently saw a news report that serves as the “canary in the coal mine” warning of their plight. In San Francisco a number of three star restaurants had to close because their staffs couldn’t afford to live in or anywhere near that city. In fact one of their chefs was living out of a camper jumping from parking spot to parking spot and a bunch of others were just worn out by daily five to six hour round trip commutes. The same sort of thing is happening in the Florida Keys where the affordable housing stocks were devastated by a recent hurricane that obliterated trailer parks and cheaply built rentals.

These working poor are confronted with two basic problems which underlie their plight. The first of these is us, you and me. We apparently don’t feel any need to deal with either them or their second problem, our nation’s corporate culture.

That culture demands the higher and higher short term profits required to benefit already obscenely overpaid CEO’s and investors. And all too often those profits are achieved off the backs of the working poor and the gouging of the average consumer who is then less willing to pay more for the services the invisible ones provide.

I am ashamed to say that in America, the richest country in the world, we haven’t shown the interest or will to solve this problem when we could if we wanted to. We could start by demanding an increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to our working poor. An increase that should bring their salaries up to a “living wage.” We can also insist that government, from Washington DC on down to our local cities, invest more in affordable work force housing or alternatively create rent subsidy programs to bridge the affordability gap.

And at the individual level we can all chip in to local organizations which are already in the affordable and shelter housing fights. Finally we can insist that those at the top are taxed at a level that will reign in their  excess profits in order to redirect the money needed to alleviate this problem. Truth be told, the top one percenters really won’t miss it since it won’t affect their standard of living one wit and neither will we.

We need to strip off the cloak of invisibility we have draped over these folks so we’ll be reminded that they are our fellow citizens and human beings. We can then address the obvious needed answers to their plights. It only requires our will to do so.