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Grace Ross: Primary Voting is a Must

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Grace Ross, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

There’s one hotly contested race for a legislative seat that serves Worcester. It is the seat left open by Vincent Pedone’s resignation from the legislature, and an important seat.

Like so many legislative seats in Massachusetts, the real competition is going to be determined in the primaries. As a state that so often functions as a one-party state, the Democratic primary will likely be the determiner of who fills this seat.

Many folks who don’t vote very often don’t understand why there are two election days in a particular race rather than one final vote. They don’t always realize the critical importance of voting the first time. But if we want to determine who’s on our ballots and what our final choices are, it’s critically important that we get out and vote in the primary. This year on September 6th.

In this race for the 15th Worcester District seat, four of the six folks who are running I would consider friends. I’ve worked on their campaigns and/or they have worked on mine.

Democrats are not all the same

Simply because they are all under the Democratic flag in our state does not mean that their politics are at all the same. And for someone like me who knows all of these folks, it can be pretty awkward because even the candidates can confuse friendship with the really critical issue: it is not whether they are popular or not, but whether the policies they will stand for and how hard they will work for us that really matters in an elected official. A representative might be someone whose personality you don’t even like, but if they’re the ones who are going to fight for us, really put in the time and energy, understand the issues, and take the positions that are going to support the vast majority of the folks in our district, that’s what matters.

And at this time more than ever, we need someone to actually help shift our economy back to function better for everyone.

In this race, the contrast from the first debate was very stark. Certain things are absolutely clear if we are going to be honest with ourselves and with each other and if we really listen to the majority of people who surround us in our daily activities, walk the streets with us, drive the roads with us, shop in the same supermarkets.

One of the key questions was about jobs and minimum wage. As with most of the questions that were asked that night, Mary Keefe’s was clearest that decisive action is needed even if she did not have details – we need to address wages that are insufficient.

Any economist – who has not been getting paid for and steeped in the mythology of business economics – can tell you that the minimum wage serves as a floor. Many people who work in the more common jobs available now – in service industry and other non-manufacturing sectors – may work close to the minimum wage for much of their lives.

It is critically important that the minimum wage reflect actual living expenses, and not just for a young single adult, as if it were an entry wage. Real people, responsible adults who have children may have to support them on near minimum wage incomes for many, many years.

This tough economy has been an excuse for huge corporations still making record-breaking profits to drive down the wages of line-workers. In the early 70s was the last time the minimum wage was above the federal poverty level – a ridiculously low, low-balled estimate of what it actually costs to survive on. It has dropped off significantly since then. Recent increases in the minimum wage have helped, but they haven’t brought people anywhere near the spending power of the poverty level. The poverty level itself, which was never designed to measure an income sustainable for ore than a few months, has been further undermined by the rewriting of the standard inflation figure, the consumer price index. That figure no longer keeps up with inflation, because of the way it was rewritten in the 1980s.

For some, minimum wage is not temporary

In contrast, Kate Toomey, whom I have always supported as a city councilor, her answer was truly depressing. She made some comment about how her son is working at $8.00 an hour and that it’s good for character-building. Is her life so far removed that she does not know that minimum wage is not just for temporary, entry level jobs?

It’s not a good character-building exercise for all the folks who are getting paid a little over minimum wage and get to try to figure out how not to put their kids to bed hungry a fair number of nights a month. That’s not character-building; that’s destructive of families, children, long-term health.

In fact, low minimum wages hurt our economy. It turns out that the folks who spend every dollar which comes into their house do the most to drive the economy; for the majority of us that means when our incomes fall off across the board so does the economy. Conversely, all of us benefit when the minimum wage, the floor, is raised. When all low wages are raised, the spending in our economy increases significantly, all low wages are raised.

Big businesses fight increases in minimum wage

Interesting, the folks who benefit the most from all that local spending are local businesses. The businesses that fight minimum wage increases because it cuts into their profit margin the most are the really big companies like Walmart; they can come into our local communities and undermine our local businesses with low wages, with the lowest wages they can manage to pay.

If what we want is to rebuild our economy, rebuild the fabric of families, and the health of the majority of the working population, AND support our local businesses against those who take the most advantage of minimum wages, there’s no question that increasing the minimum wage is the right answer.

At times like these we cannot afford to be misled by some inaccurate, morally framed answer that it is somehow good for your character to not have enough money to survive on, especially when you have children. We need leaders with answers that don’t show either a lack of understanding or a misplaced sense that in hard times it’s moralistic platitudes that will somehow improve our lives.

Thursday, September 6th, if you can, get out there and vote. This is an important race, and the primary is really going to be the determiner.


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