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Stop Making It About the Money

(Domenico Stinellis/AP)

So yeah. First Lady Melania Trump wore a really expensive jacket during her visit to Italy last week. The Dolce & Gabbana she sported in Sicily basically cost as much as I make during an entire year.

Stop right there.

I hope you didn’t start calculating my salary along with my education and my years of experience and then judge me based on my earnings.

But if you did, I understand. That’s what most Americans do.

We tend to equate the size of a person’s salary or bank account with success. If someone makes a lot of money, that must mean they’ve done something right… they’ve applied themselves and persevered. And if they are poor?  They obviously need to try harder.

In reality, that’s completely ridiculous. I’m not rich for a lot of different reasons: I wasn’t born into a wealthy family and having a high paying job was never my priority. I wanted to do work that I found satisfying and meaningful, which is how I landed in social work. I will never garner a big salary, but I’m actually a very hard worker.

On the flip side, Melania Trump became a model and then she married a super rich guy. Those were her choices, and I shouldn’t judge her for them just as I hope people don’t judge me for mine. If she weren’t married to the President of the United States, the cost of her jacket certainly wouldn’t be making headlines nor would people be citing her expensive choices as reprehensible in light of her husband’s proposed budget and stance on social benefit programs.

Don’t get me wrong.

I understand the outcry. I too am completely appalled by Trump and his proposed budget. And yes, I admit that I can’t help but believe that Trump has no sympathy for the poor partly because he can’t relate to their situation.

But equating the size of the Trumps’ bank accounts to his proposed budget is as irrelevant as claiming our social and budget problems are the fault of poor people who don’t try hard enough. President John Kennedy and Senator Jay Rockefeller also came from wealth,  yet they always took into consideration the least among us.

Being wealthy and being able to pay $51,500 for one article of clothing have nothing to do with a commitment to help our less fortunate neighbor.

Being a person of wealth doesn’t mean you lack compassion for the poor any more than living in poverty means you expect society to support you. Of course there are rich people who only think about themselves just as there are poor people who want to “live off the system.”

But stereotyping and making assumptions does no one any good.

Money doesn’t define us. The way we treat our fellow human beings does.

Our role in life is to support each other and to call out those who don’t. It’s that simple.

Some of us can help because we have plenty of money to meet our own needs and enough to help others. Others can give our time and our God-given talents to mentor, teach, or guide those who need extra assistance. And all of us can raise our voices in support of those who need us most.

It’s just not about the money.

It should never be about the money, and none of us should care how much anyone else spends for clothes.

With that said, I have to admit that even if I had $51,500 to spend on one jacket, it would look absolutely nothing like Melania’s, which I think is ugly and obnoxious.

But there is nothing wrong with judging an item of clothing.

It’s the people who wear the clothes who shouldn’t be evaluated based on appearances alone.

What Am I Worth?

value]I had to pause when the person complained about her salary. She doesn’t have a college degree and is ten years younger than I am. She has a gap in her work history due to having children. And yet, her salary was comparable to one I was making two years ago with a Master’s Degree and 20 years of experience. I’d never witnessed this person putting in any extra hours at work while I rarely work just the required time.

I didn’t know whether to feel ashamed about my salary history or disgust that someone would have such a sense of entitlement that they thought they deserved what it had taken me years to achieve: an achievement that involved getting my master’s degree while pregnant and giving birth to my first child. And I never took time off work to focus on being a mom.

Then I remembered what someone had recently said to me. The conversation had nothing to do with salaries but everything to do with my philosophy about life. He said “I don’t know why people don’t want to give to help the poor. It’s not really our money anyway. Everything we have is because of God. and I can’t believe God gave us resources so we could only use them to benefit ourselves.”

At the time this was being said to me, I nodded my head vigorously. But then, it was easy to nod my head. He wasn’t attacking me or my belief system.

The comment about the “salary being too low” was. I took at as  an indirect slam on me.

I shouldn’t have.

I don’t judge the value of any other person based on his/her salary, so I shouldn’t value myself on that criteria.

Instead of a big pay check, we should all be striving to live a life that makes the world a better place. Period.

For some people, that might mean giving back financially. For others, it might mean giving their time. And for some people, that might simply mean sharing their talents with the world.

For me, it means having a career that involves earning a smaller paycheck but going home every day with a sense that my little corner of the world is a better place. And it means determining my worth not by what I receive but what I give.

And when I do that, I consider myself one of the richest women in the world.

Minimize This

Last week, WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.00 an hour in 2015 and to $8.75 in 2016.

Opponents of the new law have had multiple complaints:

Teenagers working part-time jobs will be making more money than they really need;

The amount employers will be forced to pay for overtime will increase significantly;

When minimum wage increases, everyone else’s income is worth a little less.

I’m not an economist nor am I a labor expert, so I really can’t disagree with any of these statements.

What I can do is provide a little bit of perspective.

Currently, a full-time minimum-wage employee making $7.25 earns $15,080 annually.

The poverty threshold in the United States for a single person is $11,670 annually. According to that, a person making minimum wage is rolling in the dough since he/she makes $3,410, or nearly 23%, above poverty guidelines. Never mind that this threshold is so low that most social service agencies use guidelines such as 138% or 150% of the poverty level to determine eligibility for services and emergency assistance.

Who couldn’t afford housing, utilities, transportation, groceries, medical bills and clothing with all that extra money? Granted, if there are two people in the household, the poverty guidelines increase to $15,730 a year. That means both people would have to work to keep the family above the poverty line, and one would only have to work part time at minimum wage to do so. Of course, if that household is comprised of one adult and one child, living above the poverty line becomes a bit more tricky.

In my job, I encounter people trying to navigate that tricky situation every day when they are seeking help keeping the electricity on or paying their rent.Minimum Wage Cartoon

But here’s something you may not realize: you probably encounter them every day too.

They are the people providing services for you behind cash registers and brooms. They are the people caring for your children and you parents. And they are the people who are working long hours for the lowest legal pay and are still often called lazy when they can’t pay their bills.

During the recent debate over the minimum wage in West Virginia, I was reading arguments for and against the increase, and one exchange struck me more than any other.

An individual in favor of the increase stated that he was working two jobs to support his family and that the increase would help.

In response, someone else stated that this person wouldn’t have to work two jobs if he had gotten an education.

As a very educated person, I can personally attest to the fact that an education is not a ticket to a good salary. But even if I hadn’t had to personally struggle with low-paying jobs, I’ve still had many advantages.

I was blessed with a childhood during which my parents cared about my brain development and supported me in school. I was  blessed by people who encouraged me when I pursued a higher education. And I’ve been blessed with circumstances that didn’t require me to support others when I was getting that education.

Not everyone has the opportunity or the aptitude to get an education. And even if they did,  there would never be enough decent-paying jobs to support everyone who meets the educational requirements.

Besides, many of us depend on people who are willing to work for minimum wage to do the tasks that make our lives easier.

Instead of condemning them, we should thank them.

And a slight increase in their pay is just a start.