The McBudget, and our distance from poverty

The McBudget, and our distance from poverty

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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Steven Cottam

Steven Cottam hangs out in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Va, alongside a lot of cool folks who are up to a lot of good. He works as an outdoor educator, working to get urban youth out and enjoying God's creation. He lives with his wife Megan, his (soon to be born) daughter Jackie, his dog Wanda, and their roommate Kelly. Past adventures have included getting his Master's in Theology from Catholic Theological Union, serving as a elementary school religion teacher, and living in a Catholic Worker house in Phoenix, AZ.
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Latest posts by Steven Cottam (see all)

  • http://www.thelongwindingroad.me thecarolinepowell

    Hi- for me it has only been possible by moving churches to worship where the materially rich and materially poor meet together to work out Gods purposes for our collective lives- how we meet, where we meet, what we eat, what we sing, how we spend the money that comes into the church, how we spend the rest of the money we have, how to share, how to care, how to hear each others’ stories and really see each other as completely completely equal, NO exceptions

  • Vinny
  • Vinny

    I gather out doors in a park on Sundays with people not normally accepted in most churches to more than feed them but make friends that share life the other 6 days as well it was born out of a gathering on Boston commons. http://www.ecclesia-ministries.org/common_cathedral.html

    • Brett Anderson

      ah that is great Vinny – good to hear stories of where this is happening and how it is going – have you found challenges in terms of getting the wealthy to meet with the rest of you or is it a good mix of people, rich and poor? And any ideas to help bridge the gaps?

      • Vinny

        excellent question Brett :-) The major challenge isn’t so much finding the well off to come but more of a challenge to encourage them to have relationships more than just benevolence motivate them. I believe this will grow though.