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Sunday, December 4, 2016

In natural terms, our economy is a giant sequoia. Unfortunately, our present corporate and governmental leadership can’t seem to grasp one of the basic laws of nature: You can’t keep a mighty tree alive (much less have it thrive) by only spritzing the fine leaves at the tippy-top. The fate of the whole tree depends on nurturing the roots.

Sadly, we’re led by a myopic crew of leaf-spritzers.

Elites in Washington, on Wall Street and in the corporate suites have taken exquisite care of themselves. Blithely oblivious to the dangerous shriveling of the roots, they’ve increased their take by offshoring our middle-class jobs, slashing American wages and benefits, busting the ability of unions to fight back, deregulating their nefarious corporate and financial operations, dodging their tax obligations, privatizing and gutting public services (from schools to food stamps), and turning our elections into auctions run by and for billionaires, thus robbing America itself of its unifying ethos: economic fairness and social justice.

One of the least excusable of today’s injustices is that in this country of unsurpassed wealth, it’s an abomination that the power elites are casually tolerating poverty pay as our wage floor. How deplorable that they can actually juxtapose the words “working” and “poor” without blinking, much less blushing.

Nearly 4 million Americans are being paid at or below the desiccated federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. For a single mother with two kids, that’s $4,000 a year beneath the poverty level. Where are the ethics in a “work ethic” that rewards so many with paychecks that deliberately hold them in poverty?

Consider the kind of life $7.25 buys. At that rate, a full-time worker is taking in only $1,250 a month, before payroll taxes. Try stretching that over the basics of rent, utilities, groceries and gas. Need car repair? Lose your job? What if you get sick? Good luck.

Corporate politicos and front groups have draped a thick tapestry of myths and excuses over the miserly wage.

“The only people paid the minimum,” goes one of their oldest dodges, “are teenagers working part-time summer jobs for extra cash.” In fact, only 6.4 percent of these low-wage employees are teen part-timers. Contrary to the stereotype, the typical minimum-wage worker is an adult, white woman (including many single moms) whose family relies on her paycheck.