Opinion: What Occupy Wall Street has taught me

Jody Michael

Jody Michael

Jody Michael is a junior broadcast journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

My previous Occupy Wall Street columns were actually about NYPD violence, so this time I’ll actually share my opinions on the movement’s proponents and opponents.

Gawker once posted a series of Wal-Mart employee horror stories: Some girls who weren’t getting their breaks on time reported it to the manager, who cut their hours as punishment for complaining. A man requested time off to care for his child while his wife underwent surgery; his boss scheduled him anyway and fired him when he didn’t show.

Meanwhile, the six richest members of the Walton family, which founded Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have as much combined wealth as the entire bottom 30 percent of Americans. Is that acceptable?

Mother Jones recently published a story about online-shipping warehouse employees. For $7.25 an hour, employees work 10-hour shifts in deplorable conditions while bosses pressure them to pack items faster than humanly possible.

The author was working there undercover: “‘You look way too happy,’ [a supervisor] says to me. ‘Everybody else is usually really sad or mad by the time they’ve been working here this long.’ It’s my 28th hour as an employee.”

Compare that to a recent Bloomberg story that interviewed Wall Street workers coping with smaller bonus checks. Andrew Schiff, a brokerage marketing director, worried his $350,000 income wouldn’t cover his family’s private-school tuition, summer home and the upgrade they want from their duplex.

“I feel stuck,” Schiff said. “The New York that I wanted to have is still just beyond my reach.”

Which am I supposed to pity?

Our university’s Board of Trustees continues to simultaneously raise student tuition and award Lester Lefton a yearly $100,000 performance bonus. Is that acceptable?

About 40 percent of food stamp recipients live in households with at least one employed resident. Is it acceptable that tons of Americans with jobs still cannot afford basic necessities? Is Wal-Mart incapable of paying workers a living wage?

A website titled “We Are the 53 Percent” chides the 47 percent of Americans whose income isn’t high enough to pay federal income taxes. It features stories of people who worked hard to become one of the 53 percent.

For example, one submitter can’t afford to get health insurance or take vacation days, but he served in the military, graduated from college, works two jobs and gets by just fine.

But the American Dream is not to serve your country, get a degree, and still have to work two jobs and forgo health insurance and vacation days just to survive. Nobody should have to do that.

Yes, the top 1 percent earns 17 percent of the nation’s income but pays 37 percent of the taxes. Raising taxes on the rich is controversial. But can we at least agree on closing loopholes? Why should Warren Buffett’s tax rate be lower than his secretary’s? How come Mitt Romney’s household earns $27 million and pays a tax rate of 13.9 percent, while Rick Santorum’s household earns $900,000 but pays a tax rate of 28 percent? Why did Bank of America Corp. pay zero federal taxes last year?

We need to start somewhere because, if Occupy Wall Street taught me anything, it’s that the status quo is unacceptable. Something must change.