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One in four families struggles to get by...
Left behind by Bush and Kerry

October 22, 2004 | Page 1

MIRIAM PEREZ doesn't get much sleep. The 39-year-old day laborer from Chicago used to work double shifts chopping vegetables and packing tomatoes--for $5.50 an hour--in order to support her five children. Until the work dried up, that is.

Miriam is one of a growing number of low-income workers struggling to make ends meet in America's "Wal-Mart economy"--where low wages and nonexistent benefits are the norm.

According to a new study released last week, fully one out of four working families--some 9.2 million families with 20 million children in them--qualify as "low income," with incomes less than twice the federal poverty line. Right-wing politicians still peddle stereotypes about "lazy" poor people, but the breadwinners of these working-poor families each have, on average, more than one job.

The real problem, of course, is that jobs don't pay enough. In fact, the study found that one in every five jobs in the U.S. was in an occupation that paid a median hourly wage of less than $8.84 in 2002--roughly the federal poverty line for a full-time worker providing for a family of four.

As a result, an increasing number of working-class families has to make desperate choices every month--between paying for health care or groceries, for example. "One emergency--a broken-down car, rent increase or serious illness--can disrupt the family's precarious equilibrium and plunge them into financial chaos," the new report concludes.

In the richest country in the world, this financial suffering is totally unnecessary. The resources exist to make a better life for all. But neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry have any real solutions.

There's been plenty of empty rhetoric about jobs and the economy on the campaign trail. "I believe that the success of our economy is...about whether people who work hard every day can build a better life for their families," John Kerry blustered recently. But Kerry and the Democrats aren't offering anything to people like Miriam Perez.

"[L]ike his opponent, he has offered a supply-side solution to the jobless recovery: reward corporations who create new jobs instead of outsourcing with substantial tax credits," wrote left-wing author Stanley Aronowitz. Aronowitz points out that Kerry could put forward a real jobs plan--one that would include defending pensions, championing health care, repealing welfare "reform," creating jobs in the public sector, and policing corporations trying to exploit workers overseas. But he won't.

Rather than address his campaign to the roughly half of the country's eligible voters who don't go to the polls because neither party speaks to their issues, Kerry is playing to an ever-smaller number of "undecided" voters in "swing states." "Kerry," Aronowitz says, "has stayed close to the Clinton formula of presenting himself as a fiscal conservative and cautious supporter of private initiative."

There are differences between Bush and Kerry in this election, and that's all we hear about, from the candidates as well as the media that cover them. But the similarities are much greater.

On the questions that Miriam Perez and millions of others face every day, both parties have nothing to offer. It's a political process that leaves millions of people behind. Where we're told that the best we can expect is the choice between a pro-war, pro-business millionaire like Bush, or his Democratic challenger, a pro-war, pro-business billionaire.

But this year, there is an alternative--the independent campaign of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo, which takes an unapologetic stand against corporate greed and war, and for a living wage, union rights and universal health care. That's a campaign worth supporting--and voting for on November 2.

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