If you want to know what a red state run entirely by Republicans want for America, look no further than the state's official job posting website.
There are more than 250,000 jobs available in Tennessee right now, but some lawmakers say there’s a catch with that number.
Only 3% of the jobs posted — about 8,500 as of Friday evening — pay $20,000 or more. The federal poverty line for a family of three is just under $22,000.
Senator Heidi Campbell (D-District 20) said she’s worried about Tennessee losing the federal CARES Act funds currently paying for some unemployment benefits. Governor Lee elected to stop accepting those in July, saying he didn’t want to pay people to sit at home.
“I think for the most part Tennesseans aren’t lazy and, I think it’s kind of insulting to continuously imply that they are,” Campbell said.
You read that correctly. Of the 8,500 jobs on the state of Tennessee's official job board, about 8,250 pay $10 an hour or less, which is a poverty level wage even in Tennessee.
I’m not going to pretend that I know how to interpret the jobs and inflation data of the past few months. My view is that this is still an economy warped by the pandemic, and that the dynamics are so strange and so unstable that it will be some time before we know its true state. But the reaction to the early numbers and anecdotes has revealed something deeper and more constant in our politics.
The American economy runs on poverty, or at least the constant threat of it. Americans like their goods cheap and their services plentiful and the two of them, together, require a sprawling labor force willing to work tough jobs at crummy wages. On the right, the barest glimmer of worker power is treated as a policy emergency, and the whip of poverty, not the lure of higher wages, is the appropriate response.
Reports that low-wage employers were having trouble filling open jobs sent Republican policymakers into a tizzy and led at least 25 Republican governors — and one Democratic governor — to announce plans to cut off expanded unemployment benefits early. Chipotle said that it would increase prices by about 4 percent to cover the cost of higher wages, prompting the National Republican Congressional Committee to issue a blistering response: “Democrats’ socialist stimulus bill caused a labor shortage, and now burrito lovers everywhere are footing the bill.” The Trumpist outlet The Federalist complained, “Restaurants have had to bribe current and prospective workers with fatter paychecks to lure them off their backsides and back to work.”
But it’s not just the right. The financial press, the cable news squawkers and even many on the center-left greet news of labor shortages and price increases with an alarm they rarely bring to the ongoing agonies of poverty or low-wage toil.
Vast numbers of Americans are kept poor for a reason. Any whiff of labor organization, or worker solidarity is ruthlessly annihilated in order to maintain millions of Americans working for single-digit hourly wages, or slightly higher wages, but no benefits whatsoever. We demand it, because we know corporations will just break our backs with higher prices if we give in. Either way, we're the ones who pay, and it's never the billionaires.
Instead we tell these folks "Well this is America. If you don't like being poor, you can always do something about it, like not being poor."
And we go back to eating our dollar menu cheeseburgers and watching NFL football and thinking to ourselves "Well, I don't know anybdy *that* poor. We're not rich, but we do ok."
Except you know plenty of people that poor. Personally. And many of us want to keep it that way, just in case we someday end up rich.