US doctors coined a phrase for this condition: “shit-life syndrome”. Poor working-age Americans of all races are locked in a cycle of poverty and neglect, amid wider affluence. They are ill educated and ill trained. The jobs available are drudge work paying the minimum wage, with minimal or no job security.
In 2017, 80.4 million workers age 16 and older in the United States were paid at hourly rates, representing 58.3 percent of all wage and salary workers. Among those paid by the hour, 542,000 workers earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. About 1.3 million had wages below the federal minimum. Together, these 1.8 million workers with wages at or below the federal minimum made up 2.3 percent of all hourly paid workers.
Or around 1% of all workers.
The minimum wage is, at best, a minimal issue in the US economy.
There is little social housing, scant income support and contingent access to healthcare.
Section 8 vouchers exist, that’s housing benefit in all but name. Most of the large cities have rent control – not a good idea but they have it – which is like affordable housing. It’s true, they’ve stopped having directly government built and owned housing because they realised they were vertical slums even more shit than no housing at all. You’ve perhaps heard of “the projects?”
Income support exists, it’s largely in goods and services in kind rather than cash. And health care? Has Willy never even considered the size of the Medicaid bill?
Finding meaning in life is close to impossible; the struggle to survive commands all intellectual and emotional resources. Yet turn on the TV or visit a middle-class shopping mall and a very different and unattainable world presents itself. Knowing that you are valueless, you resort to drugs, antidepressants and booze. You eat junk food and watch your ill-treated body balloon. It is not just poverty, but growing relative poverty in an era of rising inequality, with all its psychological side-effects, that is the killer.
That’s why Willy’s a fat boozer as he considers the billionaires that infest London.
What our citizens are experiencing is criminal, even if it has nothing to do with the EU, the great lie so brilliantly told by Brexiters and the malevolent political genius that is Nigel Farage. Instead of blaming Brussels and impoverishing ourselves with Brexit, Britain should be launching a multipronged assault on shit-life syndrome and the conditions that cause so many to die prematurely. Acknowledging the crisis, together with measures to address it, will be crucial to winning any second people’s vote on Brexit.
We need (as Andrew Adonis and I argue in Saving Britain) an industrial policy not just for the City, but for the country, a repurposing of enterprise, a re-enfranchisement of workforces and a remaking of our threadbare social contract, in particular the dysfunctional care system. Too many of England’s towns, even some in the south-east, are becoming crucibles of shit-life syndrome. They have become inward-looking, urban islands in which despair and despondency are too prevalent; their high streets in decline while hi-tech, knowledge-intensive jobs pass them by. Train and bus fares are so high that travelling within them has become prohibitively expensive. Stripped of power by the most centralised system in Europe, they are disempowered and sullen about the present and apprehensive of the future. All this can and must change.
Above all, it is an agenda for an effective parliamentary opposition – combining a campaign to stay in the EU with a campaign to change Britain. The life expectancy numbers tell a dramatic story. It is time to act on their message.
Oooh, that’s pretty good. We must decentralise power as we centralise it in Brussels?