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