Death From Economic Inequality - Shuffling Three Jobs
It is rare for a corporate media outlet to focus on those killed by the grindstone of economic inequality. That is why a profile of the final hours of 32-year-old Maria Fernandes's life, chronicled in The New York Times last year, still stands out. The victims who die from economic inequality are not abstract collateral damage in public policy debates; they are real people.
The cause of death among those struggling to survive might be stress, punishing manual labor, inadequate diet or a variety of other factors. In the case of Maria Fernandes, The New York Times' headline observed, "For a Worker With Little Time Between 3 Jobs, a Nap Has Fatal Consequences."
No one directly killed Fernandes, but she died as a result of the circumstances of living on a minimum-wage income that forced her to often live out of her SUV in order to juggle part-time jobs at three different Dunkin' Donuts in and around the Newark, New Jersey, area.
Last summer, a convenience store employee noticed Fernandes slumped over in her car:
Emergency responders found a gas can open and overturned in the cargo hold and the S.U.V. filled with fumes, in what police said appeared to have been an accident.
Technically, Fernandes died because of an "accident," but it was an "accident" that was precipitated by her Sisyphean struggle to survive on three part-time jobs that paid minimum wage. She was a casualty of economic inequality, which is not an accident. It is a deliberate financial policy of Congress, the executive branch, and a ruthless Ayn Randian economic system. And, by all accounts, the income gap is widening, not narrowing.
The reason that The New York Times article about Fernandes is so memorable is because such personal accounts in the mainstream media are so infrequent. The Times noted that Fernandes earned just a bit more than the New Jersey minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, but portrays her as an upbeat worker who even paid the check of a homeless man now and then.
George W. Bush, when he was president, implied that holding two or three jobs was all part of the "American Dream." That is also what Rep. Paul Ryan, the austerity GOP "budget guru," suggests. Of course, it's not a "steppingstone" that either of them have had to endure. And in this economy, in which compensation for labor is continually deflated, that steppingstone often leads to a cul-de-sac - not a path "upwards."
The New York Times describes how Fernandes dreamed of having only one job, of being able to sleep a full night, of moving to Pennsylvania with her boyfriend.
Caught on the wrong side of the economic divide, however, her dream turned into a nightmare. She was killed by a financial system that values the profit margin on donuts and coffee over a livable wage.