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Put onus on the poor to cut income gap

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Will 2013 be a vintage year for economic envy?

Liberals love the “widening income gap,” such a good blame target between America's richest 2 percent and everybody else.

Zap that gap, we're told, or America's long-term trajectory is down.

But what if economic health got a lift from the other side — by way of poor folks handling their money better?

Maybe you caught a Bloomberg News report the other day starring Tyree, a working guy in Chicago, where unions are agitating for a minimum hourly wage of $15. Right now, it's $7.25 nationally, $8.75 in Illinois.

Tyree, 44, gets the $8.75 and can't make ends meet. His two part-time jobs don't total one decent 40-hour week. He commutes from one McDonald's to another by public transit.

After his rent for a room at a downscale hotel, $320 a month, there's hardly anything left. Unable to afford a computer, he uses one at an Apple store to “update his Facebook page” — in part “to find someone nice to date.”

Now, meaning no disrespect to Tyree, could it be his survival priorities are a trifle out of joint?

First, what's he doing living alone? From time immemorial low-wage working stiffs have doubled and tripled up. The tenements of New York and boarding houses of Pittsburgh staffed what grew to the world's greatest economy. And now a room of one's own is an entry-level entitlement?

Tyree has a father and a mother. If he moved in with them, he'd save rent while helping defray their own costs and chores. Sure, it would take behavior adjustments, but in a crisis is picking up your socks beyond human possibility?

Then consider Tyree's reported 20 years on the bottom rung of McDonald's career ladder. Never a shot at promotion? Hmm. True, moving up might take a high school diploma or extra training. So get it. And check out lines of work. If your skills never grow, your pay is not apt to either.

In an time when government constantly seeks votes by looking for new ways to “help” (courting bankruptcy doing it) people like Tyree just might grow accustomed to never personally striving. Or calling on the “little platoons” that surround all of us with possible support. Where are the friends, relatives, churches, schools of vocational and living skills, and employment agencies?

Throw in food stamps and Medicaid, and the “working poor” surely aren't bereft of help when trying to quit being poor — if they also cut out such foolishness as lottery tickets and cigarettes.

Yet the cry is heard for another whirl of government aid: raise the minimum wage! Unheard, but inevitable, such aid would also mean raising prices to customers. And probably reduce job openings and working hours at the bottom.

But blame the “income gap,” easpecially since corporate chiefs make it easy. McDonald's CEO got paid $8.75 million last year, or 580 times the take of a minimum wage worker. In 1980, big-time CEOs made do with just 42 times as much. If and when America's fall is traced by history, greed at the top will undoubtedly figure.

Yet if McDonald's CEO gave away every dollar of his income to his army of fryers, flippers and servers, they'd each collect another $14 and change per year. And all the time they could get a better bang from the bucks they get.

Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

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