With deference to Jonathan Swift for borrowing his book title, I have long thought about this proposal for every politician in America. The proposal would not go to the house or senate for a vote; it would go to our citizens and, if passed, would become a permanent law of the land, until or unless the people wanted a re-vote.
Like the title, my proposal is not new. It’s actually a spin-off concept, simply a very good idea, from a non-profit organization in rural upstate New York’s Delaware County where I worked for thirteen years. The agency was deeply dedicated to excellence in an area of human services—serving the mentally delayed and mentally ill—that often lacks quality. Here’s what we did:
When a new employee was hired, regardless of job title, he or she spent the first day of employment in a role play as a client receiving our organization’s services. Each was given a disability (eg., confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed on one side of the body, blindness, inability to speak) and several other daily living goals to promote identified growth areas: eating skills, verbal skills, gross and fine motor skills, social skills, and often goals to improve maladaptive behaviors. The employee role-play goal: to increase empathy in a highly positive environment for those we served.
You may now sense where I’m heading: I submit that anyone who wishes to serve the people in our country be required to enter a minimum week-long, 24 hour-day role-play, stepping into the shoes of a huge segment of our population, those who live within or close to poverty guidelines.
This candidate would become a single parent of three children, 13, 9, and 6, employed as a stock/check-out person at a big box store, earn $18,700 per year gross income (40 hour week x 52 weeks x $9.00 per hour), have chronic asthma, requiring an inhaler that cost $100.00 per month, and have no medical benefits. Home would have two bedrooms, noisy neighbors, and be located in a moderately high crime rate area. The car would be ten years old, have worn tires, brakes, and an overdue inspection.
During the role-play week, the following would occur:
• The youngest child wakes up sick and must stay home. Parent choices: (1) call into work, say she/he is staying home with the child. With no personal time, the day is unpaid, or (2) have the oldest child stay home from school to care for the sick child. Child Protective Services has already investigated several of these “illegal” absences. Paying a babysitter is not possible.
• Driving to work, the parent is stopped for the expired inspection sticker. The parent gets a temporary inspection during lunch hour using food money to pay the fee; the tires and brakes must be fixed in a week for a fee of $174.00.
• In mid-week, the parent’s breathing inhaler empties; the parent must choose: buy another inhaler or tonight’s food from the dwindling food dollars.
• At home, a final disconnect letter waits from the electric company for $129.00. The parent puts this on a credit card which she/he pays $20.00 per month.
These problems are but sample barriers that our fellow low-income, uninsured citizens encounter daily, yet are problems so far from our politicians’ lifestyles.
I cannot stop imagining our country as one where everyone could earn a living wage….