For those of you who don’t know, I live in Portland, Maine, the largest city in Maine, but by most standards, a small city. I love living here. The accessibility to culture, nature, restaurants and retail is amazing. I like looking out my back door at the tug boats and cargo ships, walking down Commercial Street and seeing the latest retail changes, taking my dog to East End Beach for her morning play dates with her canine buddies. Portland has so much to offer.
Last night, though, something changed. Something relatively minimal in scope, but which absolutely confirmed my belief that we, as a country, can do better.
You see, I like to walk my dog at night, after dinner. It’s a time for me to relax a bit, and Kylie loves being out, nose to the ground. She gets to sniff the latest smells, startle the nighttime critters that inhabit the city (think opossums and skunks, not rats!) and I get to surreptitiously peek in lighted windows as we walk by townhouses. I hate to admit it, but I love to see how people decorate. I digress. Here’s the disturbing part.
Tomorrow is trash day. In Portland, we have special bags for trash, and then bins for our recyclable cans, paper, bottles, etc. Now, many people bring their redeemable cans and bottles back to the supermarket to get their $.06 back, but some people can’t be bothered and they just throw them in with the other recyclables. At night, people start bringing their bags and bins to the curb, in anticipation of the early morning pickup.
As I’m walking the dog, I see a small, beat up compact car, crawling along the street. A woman is driving, and whenever there are bins by the curb, a man in the passenger side jumps out, combs through the recyclables and picks out the redeemable cans and bottles. The trunk is open, and there’s a bag in the trunk that he throws them in. He hops back in the car, they go to the next set of bins, and it starts all over again.
Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like handling my own returnables, never mind someone else’s. Sometimes there’s schmutz in the bottom, the bottles are all sticky, it’s smelly! The bags end up leaking and then your car ends up smelling too. Not pleasant at all, yet here is a middle aged couple, not kids, driving around to pore through someone else’s trash for $.06 a bottle.
How is it in the United States of America, the greatest county in the world, and in particular, my little city of Portland, Maine, there are people so needy, they are forced to pick through trash for pennies?
How is it in the United States of America, the federal minimum wage translates to about $15,000 for an adult, yet the cost to live in Portland for a family of two adults and a child is calculated at over $63,000? (fact from Economic Policy Institute)
How is it the federal minimum wage is $7.25, yet if it had kept up with inflation over the last 40 years, it would be almost $11.00?
How is it that the six Walton family members who own Wal-Mart have a combined wealth equal to the bottom 42% of the rest of the families in the United States? While it may be legal to pay workers the absolute minimum wage and keep their hours low so they don’t qualify for health insurance or other benefits, is it moral? When is enough wealth enough?
I don’t have the answers. I just have a lot of questions.