Paul Ryan used Twitter to introduce “Cindy,” a fictional mother of one who works as an assistant restaurant manager making $30,000 a year.
“Meet Cindy: a single mom, making $30,000 per year, who hopes to one day get beyond living paycheck to paycheck,” Ryan wrote. “With a $700 increase in her tax refund each year under our tax bill, Cindy can start saving for her future.”
The Republican Speaker, who has an estimated net worth of $6,453,040, wants people to believe that what amounts to an extra $58 a month will allow for “Cindy” to save money.
If this fictional single parent is anything like the two-thirds of Americans who don’t have enough saved to take care of a $500 emergency, Ryan’s embroidered “tax refund” won’t be anywhere near enough to keep their finances above water, let alone give them breathing room to start saving.
Keeping all of Ryan’s imaginative numbers where they are, let’s say “Cindy” lives in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) living wage calculator, at $30,000 a year and with one child, “Cindy” would need to make $23.62 an hour working forty hours a week to make a living wage.
The minimum wage in Wisconsin is only $7.25 per hour. The average annual salary that would be necessary for a single parent household and one child in Wisconsin is $49,131.
In other words, $700 won’t be saving “Cindy,” and that’s taking into account that $30,000 may be a fairly high estimate for someone working as a restaurant assistant manager. It would take a decade to save a meager $7,000 should “Cindy” deposit every $700 check, not touching a penny of it to pay for medical emergencies, child care, food, and any debt.
Existing financial institutions—incredibly predatory and unforgiving—are tireless in their exploitation of the poor. Along with the rapid rise of the cost of living and decline in pay growth, the hurdles that face low-income households keep multiplying.
For the poor, there is no “pulling your bootstraps” out of capitalism. Those straddling the edges of homelessness, financial devastation, and hunger have no bootstraps. There are no boots.
The Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) published “The High Cost of Being Poor in The U.S.” in 2016, which documented the burdens forced upon those living in “deep poverty:”
For a family of four in 2015, the official poverty line was $24,257. According to the Census Bureau, 6.1 percent of Americans–19.4 million people–live in deep poverty, meaning they earn less than $12,129 for a family of four. Nearly 1 in 11 children (6.5 million) is this deeply poor. That’s down from the previous year, but a higher proportion than in 2007, before the Great Recession. These families are especially prone to late fees for unpaid rent and eventual evictions, leading to frequent moves. Once they do find new housing, they often start out in the hole with a new landlord because they can’t afford the first and last month’s rent along with a security deposit.
CHN’s report also examined the impact of medical costs on low-income households, revealing that “11.2 million more people would be in poverty if out-of-pocket medical costs were taken into account.”
This is important to consider, as to this very day the U.S. remains embroiled in a “debate” over the right to health care, one of the most fundamental human rights all people deserve.
In a damning example, CHN found that, in states that did not take part in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) option to use federal Medicaid dollars to expand health coverage to low-income adults, these same low-income adults were uninsured “at nearly twice the rates of those in states that have taken this step to expand coverage.”
The House tax bill, even if one was to believe that $700 was a generous incentive, is no great class equalizer—if anything, low-income households will be made to watch as taxes are slashed even further for the wealthy, and that includes President Donald Trump and his family, who are likely to save an estimated to $1 billion should the bill pass in the Senate.
Ryan’s “Cindy” will never be able to live without the specter of financial distress, beyond “paycheck to paycheck,” unless there is a truly forceful and disruptive reconstruction of our society. Fifty-eight dollars a month will not improve the quality of life for the many Cindys that are pushed deep into the shadows of poverty by the boot of capitalism. But class struggle will.