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Social Justice: Do the Poor pay more?

By Marbel Lih, Case Management Intern

Eradicating poverty goes beyond flinging a dollar at a beggar by the road side. Instead, it requires the country to dig deep to find those problems that are responsible for making people homeless and keeping them below the poverty margin.  It goes beyond just table talk and must involve concrete action.

 The Hunt

A few months ago, Daily Work sent a few of us interns out on a scavenger hunt in the St Paul community. The purpose was for us to find the available resources in the community for clients at Daily Work. We were to experience firsthand what clients go through to access these services.

 The Problem

What we found out, as we visited some of the resources, left us baffled. We visited a bank in St Paul to find out what it would cost to cash a $25 check. We found out that charges amounted to over 3 dollars. We took a $25 check to the bank and returned with a little over $21 dollars in cash. The charges amounted to over 14 percent of the check. A good number of our clients must cash their paychecks at banks, which implies that they would have to accept these charges and put up with the cut. Also, a good number of Daily Work’s clients take the bus to work. For a client who takes the bus to and from work every day, 3 or 4 dollars will cover bus fare for a couple of days.


This scavenger hunt left me with several questions and thoughts. Do the poor pay more? Are there more services out there people get overcharged for? Is there any way to make this better? Who decides how much people get charged for services? Is this a social justice problem that needs to be looked at? These are some of the questions that cloud my mind when I reflect on the numerous services available and the roadblocks that exist to access these services.

 What is Social Justice?

Wikipedia defines social justice as the equal distribution of wealth, opportunities and privilege in society. I take it to mean a society where wealth and opportunity is made available to everyone regardless of their race, economic status, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation and ethnic background. This implies that we elevate the playground for those who are lower, so they can level up. We can’t see equality until we begin from there. It will never be equal or just, if society draws a starting line across the board knowing fully well that some people are way behind the starting point, and it will take them much longer to get to the finish line.


In his Top 10 ways to address Economic inequality, Beinstein (2015) suggests an increase in the minimum wage as one top way to reduce poverty. He also suggests for stakeholders to support sectoral training, apprenticeships, and earn-while-you-learn programs. He also suggests applying fiscal and monetary policies aggressively by not raising interest rates pre-emptively (Beinstein (2015). This is exactly the plight of some Daily Work clients as we found out during the scavenger hunt. To foster economic justice, Boteach and Vallas (2015) also suggest reforming the criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration, enacting a comprehensive immigration reform that creates an easy pathway to citizenship, and to expand Medicaid. To the bulk of Daily Work clients who fall below the poverty margin these reforms could make a big difference. This is because the struggling job seekers that Daily Work serve come in with a variety of issues that affect their ability to find jobs that can sustain their families. These issues range from lack of English proficiency, felony records, basic job training, to lack of familiarity with the American work culture.

 Daily Work

From my point of view, more sustainable ways should be developed to assist those who are struggling. This goes to say that struggling job seekers, who are usually living below the poverty margin, require more than temporary assistance or short-term crisis interventions. To truly level the playing field, job seekers need feasible opportunities to acquire the skills that many of us take for granted such as: the computer skills which are required by most jobs, free job training targeted to employed adults/parents, and jobs that provide full-time, livable wages and benefits. 

Daily Work is that one-stop-shop for all of these. While Daily work may not be a solution to every challenge a job seeker is facing, it does provide a supportive environment for any job seeker to be able to air out their struggles and get good advice.

We help by patiently listening to each person’s life story, building a solid cover letter and resume, searching and applying for jobs, providing referrals for job trainings, and help with interview skills, all while  helping job seekers learn about American work culture and many other things that impact their ability to find work. If we cannot meet all the needs of the job seeker, we point them in the right direction and guide them about possible solutions.  It is the main reason why investing in Daily Work is truly a win- win situation.

To learn more about this topic, visit: https://talkpoverty.org/2015/06/10/solutions-economic-inequality/




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