As you have quite well already heard, in response to the recent protests by their workers in favor of a higher wage McDonald’s released a “Practical Money Skills: Budget Journal” for use by their employees. The budget journal has the intended purpose of educating their employees on how to live within the means provided by a normal fast food worker’s wage, and no doubt was also intended to dampen support for the protests by showing that doing so was possible. Despite what side of the political spectrum commentators have been on regarding the protests, one reaction to the budget has been nearly unanimous: it is ridiculously unrealistic. As just some examples – the income side of the equation assumes two jobs that either a) earn significantly more than fast food workers make or b) requires a 70 hour work week, while the expenses side assumes a $20 a month health insurance plan and doesn’t even contain categories for food, clothing, childcare and others. Numerous groups and individuals have pointed out the problem with the budget, from Time magazine to Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald, with the latter calling the sample budget “an insult to those living in poverty.”
As I reflect on the issues of poverty, one thing that I am constantly reminded of is the distance between the rich and the poor. The rich and the poor so rarely interact with one another, and the resulting ignorance generates things like the McBudget – a radically unrealistic document that testifies to the lack of perspective its writers had about the realities of living in poverty. If we generously assume, and give them a rather massive benefit of the doubt, that this was an earnest attempt by McDonald’s leadership to put themselves in the shoes of their workers , then how do we bridge this distance? How can we bring rich and poor folks together? One of the things that I think is a bedrock principle for those of us who are part of Common Change is the idea that the issues of poverty can only be addressed when the rich and the poor (and everyone in between) truly understands the challenges facing the others. However, that is easier said then done. So what do you think? How can those on both sides of the economic divide be brought together in such a way that fosters real, informed problem solving? How can we work to create a culture where we care not just for the “problem of poverty,” but for the people who live it?
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