Sunday, April 09, 2006

Immigration? Minimum wage? No, poverty

Yes, quite a bit went on this week and I didn't feel good enough to document it until now, so I'll play some catchup.

DeLay cut and run, his goons are acting like bitter-enders in their death throes, and apparently no special election will be held. Republicans and the rest of us (well, Kuffner) are trying to figure out what it means.

Turns out the President is the leaker. Imagine that. Will he fire himself now?

But to get back to the headline of this post, I attended a breakfast meeting Friday morning hosted by councilman Peter Brown on poverty (defined by a family of three with an annual income of $16,000) in Houston. Here, his statistics speak for themselves:

  • Of the 2.1 million people living in the city of Houston, over 500,000 -- one quarter -- live at or below the poverty level. That is is the highest among Texas cities.
  • There are 14,000 documented homeless person in Houston, but the actual number is probably twice that.
  • The poverty rate among Houston's Hispanic immigrants affects over 150,000 people; poverty among African-Americans numbers nearly 200,000.
  • 49% of those Houstonians who receive food stamp assistance are Af-Am and 34% are Hispanic.
  • 34% of Houston families whose head of household is a single female live below the poverty line. That number is 41% if that family has a child under the age of 18. And 29.5 % of Houston children under 18 live in poverty.
  • 27% of Houstonians who live below the poverty line never graduated from high school and 32% are unemployed.
And some Texas statistics (so that we don't need Rick Perry to remind us again how proud he is):
  • 28% of Texas workers between 18 and 64 are without health insurance. Texas is 50th -- that would be dead-ass last -- with regard to the number of its residents without health care insurance. Maybe Governor MoFo can follow the example of his good-haired comrade and get a law passed making this illegal. Oh yeah, 200,000 children in Houston have no health insurance either.
  • Texas has the highest number of minimum wage workers in the nation. That's not first place either, Governor. One out of every nine minimum wage earners in America lives inTexas.
So there's this little issue -- you'll see some more protesting about it tomorrow -- about why people -- and let's be clear: no human being is illegal -- come here, and that's so that they can almost make it to the poverty level, which is waaay better than they can do in their own countries.

Immigration? Minimum wage? No health insurance? I see a wholesale dismantlement of the American middle class. A destruction executed by Republicans in Washington and Austin but advocated and funded by the real culprits in New York and Houston: big business, middle-sized business, and small business. Corporations of every size, run for the most part by the good folks who "need" cheap labor, whether it's in their factories or their shops or their backyards. And who vote straight-ticket Republican, of course.

Is there a quick answer to all of this? Of course not. But there is a relatively easy task for those of us who are alarmed by these statistics can get started on, and that's organize, join, or enable the rebirth of the labor movement in this country.

A collective bargaining agent empowered by its members would, in comparatively short order, acquire a living wage and health benefits for its members, making decent housing more affordable, lifting even people of limited education above the poverty line and increase everyone's standard of living (except those who don't scrub their own toilets or wash their own clothes... unless they go into rehab, as Bill Maher noted Friday night).

The Service Employees International Union organized janitors in Houston, who have -- soon to be 'had' -- the lowest wages and benefits of similar workers in the United States. This isn't something I'm trying to get started; it's already happening. It's gathering momentum, and it will change my city and state and return this nation to a prosperity which began with the Industrial Age but was decimated by the simultaneous metastases of Big Bidness and the Republican Party that bega in the '80s. (Which was enabled by the fundamentalist Christian Right, of course, but even those poor fools can't continue to delude themselves much longer about the Samaritan intentions of the GOP.)

A revitalized union movement will change things for the better for most all of us quickly, but it's going to terrify that association of rich and powerful currently in charge.

The corporate executives will quake. The silk-stocking set will grit their teeth and then starting writing five- and six-figure checks to the PACs. (Follow the money and you'll eventually find Tom DeLay in his new career. He won't be the first but he WILL be the fattest pig at this trough, mark my words.) The small businessmen, through their own collectives, will whine and bitch and grouse and then bribe and intimidate the Republicans to protect their way of life.

That alone is reason enough for me to help a Wal-Mart employee contact a union representative.

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