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Is the real entitlement generation living in Washington, D.C.?

May 26, 2015

When Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL) made his pitch for an increase in salary for member of Congress, many people hooted derisively. They pointed out that if Congress was paid according to how good a job the public think it is doing, the members would be getting a substantial pay cut, not a raise. After all, $174,000 isn’t exactly starvation wages to most of us.

However inadvertently, Representative Hastings hit on exactly the problem now facing a large number of Americans. In short, people are barely getting by on the wages they dreamed about 10 years ago.

In rebuttal to Rep. Hastings, several people commented that if members of Congress had to learn to live with less just like the people they purport to govern, it might bring some common sense to government.

Getting paid according to what you think you’re worth isn’t the way it works for most of us. Take John for instance.

John is 29 years old.  He graduated from college in 2008, with $31,000 in student loan debt and a BA in business. He married his high school sweetheart in 2007, and has a 6 year old son and a 2 yr. old daughter.

Upon graduation, John couldn’t find a job that utilized his college degree. He finally took a job as an OTR driver for a well-known food store chain, and currently makes about $39,000 annually ($18.75/hr) , or 165% over the poverty line for a family of four. That qualifies his family for a price cap on ACA insurance premiums at around 5% of the household income.

Until the birth of their second child, John’s wife also worked, but childcare and transportation costs convinced them that she couldn’t afford to work, so she is now a stay-at-home mom.  They currently rent an apartment, since they haven’t been able to save up enough for a 20% down payment on a house.

John’s employer just offered him a chance at a management position. It comes with a raise that could almost double his current income after one year of training, assuming that he actually is able to become a store manager.

It would also mean that he would lose his ACA premium subsidy. He doesn’t know what to do. Should he jump at the chance to finally use his education, or should he stay in his current position as a driver?

There is something wrong here. John is caught in the government assistance trap.

There is a tendency to think that only the very poor can’t afford to get off public assistance, but as the government’s control of our lives has expanded, so has the pool of government-dependent citizens.

In the end, John decided to drop his silver plan and opted for a cheaper and higher-deductible bronze plan. If he actually gets one of the coveted management positions, he will then be eligible for employer-based health insurance assistance, assuming it is still available in two or three years.

America is supposed to be the place where hard work and a willingness to get ahead means a more secure and successful life.

There is something wrong with a system that forces people who should supposedly be in the middle class to make life decisions based on loss of government assistance. A $15.00/hr minimum wage isn’t going to fix that.

John isn’t worried about living in Foggy Bottom.  He just wants to buy a little 3-bedroom, two-bath fixer-upper and live in a decent middle class neighborhood. He’s done all the right things to attain the American dream. He doesn’t think he’s entitled to anything.

Maybe Rep. Hastings and John should trade lives for awhile.

From → op-ed

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