We are all called on to “Feed the Hungry.” All of us this political season can agree, I’m sure, that we can work together on this. There is a Food Bank in Johnston, the BiLo has a collection point for food, and especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are Salvation Army and other food drives. We in Edgefield County are doing a lot better at feeding the hungry now than we were, say, 50 years ago, right? Actually, we’re not. Let’s look at some numbers (not too many, I promise).
I left Edgefield County to join the Navy 50 years ago this month. How were things then, and how are they now? I’ll use the “CPI Inflation Calculator” (it’s online) to convert to 2014 dollars. In 1964, the Dow Jones average was at 830 – or 6,347, in today’s currency. It’s now at 16,700. We’re much better off now, at least those of us fortunate enough to own stocks and bonds. Per capita income back then was $2408, then or $18,415 in today’s dollars; it was $34,266 in South Carolina as of 2012. On average, we’re way better off now, so we must be way better at feeding the hungry.
How about those at the bottom of the income scale – those on minimum wage? We’ve had a mandated minimum wage ever since the Depression in the 1930’s; almost everybody thinks we should have one, but at what level? In South Carolina, a little over 5% of employees today are in minimum wage jobs – and unlike the rest of us, they are worse off now than they were 50 years ago. In 1964, the minimum hourly wage was $1.25 – $9.56 in today’s dollars. However, our elected politicians have kept today’s minimum wage at $7.25 for over five years now. That’s 24% lower than it was in 1964. Can you imagine the outcry, if we woke up tomorrow morning and the Dow Jones average or the per capita income for everybody in Edgefield County were all of a sudden 24% less than they were, 50 years ago, even accounting for inflation? We’d fire, if not tar and feather, all of our elected office holders. And certainly we would have more hungry to feed!
There’s a big difference in the minimum wage level on the one hand, and the Dow Jones and per capita income levels on the other. Our elected politicians can’t mandate changes in the Dow Jones or per capita income levels; I, for one, am exceedingly happy about that. They can, however, repair the broken minimum wage level. In fact, we can even fix that level here in South Carolina, without needing the federal government to fix it for us. Shouldn’t we agree to pay those employed at the bottom 5% at least as much as we did 50 years ago? The other 95% of us make much more money than we did back then.
It’s just plain wrong, when we have prospered the way we have here in Edgefield County over the past 50 years, to keep those at the bottom 5% of our working population not only from sharing in that prosperity, but actually reducing their real wages. Today’s minimum wage is so low that people earning it are eligible for government food assistance. They are the hungry, and we feed them. We should fix the system not by giving them more food, but by giving them a better chance at escaping hunger. We should at least bring them up to the level they were 50 years ago.
I have been writing about “they” and “them.” My sense of morality, and of religion, says that there really isn’t any “them.” There is only “us.” It’s about helping us, not about helping a fictional them.
A rising tide lifts all boats. Feed the hungry.