Guest opinion: A reality check on Montana jobs and judge

2014-07-02T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: A reality check on Montana jobs and judgeBy JACQUIE HELT and MARK ANDERLIK The Billings Gazette
July 02, 2014 12:00 am  • 

et a real job.”

This line, usually meant to insult or demean someone, to put the person saying it in a position of superiority over the person to whom they are saying it, is sadly a phrase that is all too commonly uttered.

But when the insult is said by a judge, we have to seriously question our justice system. On June 23, Judge G. Todd Baugh, no stranger to controversy after the national uproar caused by his insensitive remarks regarding a young rape victim, told a 21-year-old defendant to “get a real job” after learning he was making $9.50 an hour at Burger King.

No question that due to the amount of restitution this young man has to pay, his wages are disproportionate, but Baugh clearly does not understand the current job market and how difficult it is for many workers to find work that pays. Let alone pays enough to cover basic, living expenses with extra carried over.

The minimum wage in Montana is $7.90 per hour. Due to Montana’s low unemployment rate, many service-related jobs pay slightly higher wages, but almost none provide a living wage.

A living wage in Montana ranges from $13.92 an hour for a single individual to $17.70 an hour per adult for a family of four with both parents working, according to economic research by the Alliance for a Just Society. Furthermore, there are eight job seekers for every job opening that pays a living wage for an individual; and 58 job-seekers for every job opening that pays a living wage for a family of four with two working parents.

These wages should also be taken in context: in Montana, women earn just 67 percent of what men earn, and minimum-wage jobs across the country are disproportionately held by women, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry reports that the unemployment rates on American Indian reservations are two to three times higher than those in surrounding areas; these areas have higher concentrations of job-seekers, making the need for relief that more significant.

The increased poverty level across the state is real, but it can be prevented. With swift and immediate action, lawmakers can alleviate the financial woes of hardworking Montanans and those who are desperately searching for work by strengthening safety net programs which support low-income workers and their families.

Montana still needs to expand Medicaid to insure an additional 73,000 people get health care. This alone would significantly reduce their cost of living. Ensuring that Montana families can provide for their basic needs will only be possible with the support of the Legislature and Congress.

We need to wake up to the danger of the “get a real job” mentality. All jobs are real jobs, and all working Montanans deserve to take pride in their work and be able to rise above poverty. Everyone who works deserves respect for that work.

Jacquie Helt, of Helena, is state director for SEIU Healthcare 775 NW. Mark Anderlik, of Missoula, is executive officer for Unite HERE! 427. Both serve on the Montana Organizing Project board.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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