Want to be in a Working Family? (Hard Workers with Money Need Not Apply)

October 29, 2008 by  
Filed under Economics

One of the constant battle cries of politicians running for office is that they support “working families.”  Much of the political whining and hand wringing is about the “plight” of “working families.”  It seems that every tax cut, new entitlement program, and stimulus package is intended to cure “working families” from all sorts of economic illnesses.  When I see or hear a political ad or speech that focuses on “working families”, I am left wondering what the phrase actually means.  At the same time, I also get the impression from the context of the political ad or speech that the Mr. ToughMoneyLove family is not welcome in the domain of working families for the simple reason that we have money in the bank and don’t live paycheck to paycheck.

I have to say that I am bothered by the implication that my family is not a “working family” solely because of our income and/or net worth.  More about that in a minute, but first I want to tell you about my search for an accurate definition of what a “working family” is.

First, I discovered that there is actually a “working families” political party.  (www.workingfamiliesparty.org)  Surely, I thought, this organization would provide a reasonably precise definition of a “working family” that includes everyone who has a family and that works hard to support them.  I was sadly mistaken.  I looked at all of the party’s online materials and found no such definition.  Instead, the Working Family party prefers exclusion to inclusion.  Instead of defining what a “working family’ is, the party tells us who cannot be part of a working family.  On the party’s “About” page, we find the following: 

Formed by a grassroots coalition of community organizations, neighborhood activists, and labor unions, we came together to build a society that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and well-connected. 

We fight to hold politicians accountable on the issues working- and middle-class families care about, like good jobs, fair taxes, good schools, reliable public transportation, affordable housing, and universal healthcare. 

So, we apparently learn from the first paragraph that someone who is “wealthy” or “well-connected” cannot be part of a “working family.”  In the second paragraph, it is clearly implied that a “middle class” family is not a “working” family, although the party is willing to build a society that works for issues that middle class families care about.  How nice of them. 

Not being satisfied with this exclusionary view of a “working family”, I decided to check out what the Obama/Biden campaign had to say about it.  (After all, the Working Families Party has selected Obama as its candidate.)  On their campaign site, we find this: 

Provide a Tax Cut for Working Families:Obama and Biden will restore fairness to the tax code and provide 150 million workers the tax relief they need.  Obama and Biden will create a new “Making Work Pay” tax credit of up to $500 per person, or $1,000 per working family. The “Making Work Pay” tax credit will completely eliminate income taxes for 10 million Americans. 

So, according to Obama and Biden, there are 150 million workers who are allowed to be a member of a “working family.”  Apparently among those are the millions of workers who don’t pay any income taxes.  That excludes us big time. 

Obama has also repeatedly said in debates and speeches that he would “cut taxes for 95% of working families” and that “only those making more than $250,000 annually would see a tax increase.”  According to this logic, then, we are not sure who is included as a “working family” but we know that if you earn more than $250,000, you are excluded, no matter how hard you work for your money.   

I also checked out the McCain/Palin campaign site.  I could not find any policy statements that were specifically targeted at a group known as “working families.”  Nevertheless, I know that Republicans also play the “working families” semantic game. 

My search found numerous union websites with statements suggesting that if you are a member of a union, you can be part of a “working family.”  (I wonder if that includes members of the NFL Players Association?)  I don’t belong to a union so I am still excluded. 

Finally, I want to return to why Mr. ToughMoneyLove is bothered by all of this.  First, I understand why certain politicians and political organizations support initiatives that favor those who do not make a lot of money and for that reason do not have much in the way of financial resources.  I get that.  It’s been part of the political landscape for a long time.  What I don’t appreciate is the use (by politicians and by the media) of a category that divides the working electorate into the “haves” and “have nots” using a label that implies that the “haves” don’t really work hard for their money.  

For example, assume that you own a small business where you put it 60-70 hours per week to support your own family and to provide jobs for 10-20 other families.  You started this business at great financial risk, you worked hard, it paid off and perhaps you are finally making $250,000 per year.  Well, the media and politicians say you are no longer eligible to be a member of the “working families” club.  You still show up everyday, work your butt off to keep things going, but you are too successful.  The politicians and media have used the term “working family” in this exclusionary way for so long that there are probably millions of low income workers out there who are now convinced that anyone who makes substantially more money must be doing something other than working hard to earn it.  This just perpetuates a myth and tends to generate economic class envy and anger. 

I think it’s time to allow all of us who work hard to support our families to join the “working families” club.  The media and political types should select another phrase to identify target voters.   Any suggestions?

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16 Responses to “Want to be in a Working Family? (Hard Workers with Money Need Not Apply)”
  1. Chiko says:

    I don’t think the use of the word “working families” is meant to create division, I think it is use to state an obvious point. People who make more than 250K a year aur obviously in a better financial situation (most of the time). Secondly, I don’t think they need as much of an assistence.

  2. Melissa says:

    What a fantastic article! THANK YOU for saying what many people think but are afraid to voice. I manage a very small business (dental office) that employs 10 people. We gross 1.7M a year, but at the end of the day, after lab costs, supplies, salaries, TAXES, etc- there are actually months that I make more than the doctor does!!! And yet, under Obama/Biden’s tax plan, our taxes are going up because of the specious $250K benchmark. The bottom line? We will have to eliminate two out of our ten employees to hold our ground- which means us “working people” will have to work even harder to make up for the loss of two people. And those two people? Out of a job in scary times. Thanks, Obama! Thanks, Biden!

  3. Chiko – Thanks for your comment but I respectfully disagree. I think the phrase is intended to create division by suggesting that only people who struggle financially are working hard. That is simply false. Moreover, some folks who struggle financially do so because they do not work hard or make poor money decisions.

    Melissa – Thanks for telling us your situation. I know there must be thousands of others like them.

  4. Shareef says:

    It seems like a semantic issue for me. When I hear “working families” I think of families that are working hard but barely making it. That seems to align with some of the views of the unions, politicians, etc. They should probably specify the term though – something along the lines of “working poor”.

  5. Shareef: I agree that the issue is largely semantic but it still bothers me that people continue to draw lines using the term “working.” It seems that political correctness prevents politicians from now using the term “poor.” Also, there are families out there who are “barely making it” not because they don’t have reasonable incomes, but because they have taken on too much debt, a conscious choice. Those people should not be given preferences over others who did not make such poor choices.

  6. Doctor S says:

    I have heard in different speeches by Obama Biden mentioned benchmarks ranging from 150k, 200k, and 250k, where will they decide to put it? I agree that this argument is largely semantic, but by conentrating most of their energy on this “working family” class, they do alienate anyone other than this target. We can only wait and see the results.

  7. CJ says:

    I agree with Shareef. This seems mostly to be a case of a phrase along the lines of poor but working families getting chopped down over the years. And you’re right it is divisive.

    It’s one of the reasons I was glad that Rick Warren asked the question of the candidates “What’s your definition of rich?” It helps build clear definitions instead of perpetuating the kind of speculations and misconceptions that you’re talking about.

  8. Doc S – If the Dems get a filibuster-proof majority, I think the House and Senate will draw their own lines, regardless of what Obama has said.

    CJ – I’m OK with talking about rich and poor, as long as we separate it from the concept of working hard, as both rich and poor do that. Also, in my book there is a substantive difference between being “poor” and being “broke.”

  9. Brian says:

    Great Article. I am in a union and hear all the time how the Dem’s are for the “working man” and I challenge that statement and ask what they mean and find that they can’t articulate any type of awnser. I alway ask if Bill Gates is a working man just to hear them sputter the union line. Nothing worse then a union sheeple. The biggest problem with this country is the sense of entitlement that many people have.

  10. Brian – It is refreshing for a union man like yourself to step up to the plate on this issue. Please come back often and give us your input on other economic issues.

  11. This is a major annoyance for me, as well. I’ve got a family and I work, but according to the lefties and union hacks, we’re not a “working family”. Apparently, if you oppose tax hikes and fiscal irresponsibility, if you plan well and make a good living, you’re part of the “elite”.

    The problem is just as bad here in Canada, maybe even worse. I’ve pushed and pushed candidates to tell me exactly what a “working family” is, but to no avail. Some seem to use it as a euphemism for poor, others for blue collar, others for middle class. If that’s what you mean, say it. Until then, my “working family” can’t take you seriously.

  12. RetiredAt47 says:

    Well said. I’m sure those who have worked harder and smarter and finally reached that $250K will be relieved to know that they’re not working.

    I think this may be why the “Joe the Plumber” story took off like wildfire. Here is a man who aspires to run a business and succeed with hard work seeing his reward bashed before he even gets there.

  13. Retiredat47: The Joe the Plumber story took off but I’m not sure that everyone understands the implications of higher taxes on small business owners in a down economy. I suppose we will find out Tuesday night.

  14. poor boomer says:

    Mr. ToughMoneyLove said:

    Also, in my book there is a substantive difference between being “poor” and being “broke.”

    Please elaborate. I am poor AND broke, both suck.

  15. poor boomer says:

    RetiredAt47 said:

    Well said. I’m sure those who have worked harder and smarter and finally reached that $250K will be relieved to know that they’re not working.

    Just read the personal finance blogs. There is vast attention and effort given in this country to acquiring passive income streams which produce income without having to work for that income.

    Indeed, the point of having passive income is to not have to work to get it.

    So if you’re living off a passive income stream, you can hardly be considered to be working.

    But it’s human nature to believe you are working hard, even when you are not working at all.

  16. Poor boomer: In my book, being “broke” is a consequence of wrong choices and bad decision-making in spending and use of credit. Being “poor” comes from lack of job opportunities or financial misfortune such as health problems. Yes, both suck but I have much sympathy for the poor – not so much for broke people. I hope things turn around for you. If you want to be more specific about your situation in an email to me, I would be glad to post something about it and solicit input from other readers.

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