The Politics of Being Poor in the United States of America

My name is Jonathan Robinson and while I am originally from Cincinnati, Ohio I have spent my time as an undergraduate (I am currently a senior) at The George Washington University where I major in Political Science and minor in Economics.

Currently I am a blogger and researcher in the Political Science Department at the George Washington University interested in working in Washington, DC or 2-3 years before beginning my doctoral studies in political science. I blog at group blogs: The Monkey Cage, The Politicizer, and my own personal blog: Midwest Progress.

Democracy is supposed to be representative. We fully expect the lawmakers who we elect to serve in Washington, DC to respond to our basic grievances and preferences or as the old saying goes, “we throw the bums out”! But what about those who don’t have their voices represented in government? There are many different groups that have a voice in Washington and effectively get their grievances heard by government. Even minority groups such as LGBT rights advocates, Jewish advocacy groups, and Latino groups, to name a few, have people and who push their agenda, and work to pass legislation in their interest in Washington. Even if, to some extent, policy isn’t exactly aligned with the preferences of those groups, at least their voice is included in the debate and heard on a national level. These groups pour millions of dollars every year into lobbying Congress, producing reports, and holding rallies in support for their causes all over the country.

The one ‘interest’ group that routinely has no say in the policies that most directly (and in many cases) and only affect them are our nation’s poor. Survey research my political scientist Larry Bartels has shown that the preferences of lawmakers are more closely aligned with those of the rich rather than the poor. If lawmakers vote more in the interests of rich people (a group that is growing smaller as income inequality continues to rise) then we must question if democracy is indeed a representative one? One of the reasons that this group has no say or real involvement in the process of legislating laws and creating these programs is that the poor are one of the least active interest groups in American politics. Political scientist Joe Soss found that the the poor have been characterized as having a low level of participation in politics because of their experiences with government programs that make them feel powerless, not to mention, that for many of our nation’s poor the time and education necessary to understand and come to opinions on issues is not something they readily have. This means that the poor are not likely to begin participating at much higher rates anytime soon, and thus begs the question: If the poor do not advocate for policies that can improve their status, who does, when, and why?

It is for this reason that I have been very interested in the politics of poverty legislation.This interest, combined with the work of my adviser on legislative durability or how to find what variables best determine how long a law will last before it is sunsetted or amended lead me to look at the federal minimum wage. The minimum wage is not indexed to inflation, and thus declines in value over time as inflation eats away at its value. I have set out to find out what causes the  minimum wage to be increased in value since its inception in 1938. I hope to find out the answer to this question: if the poor don’t advocate for minimum wage increases, what political and economic environments lead to minimum wage increases to be legislated.

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About Jonathan Robinson

My name is Jonathan Robinson and while I am originally from Cincinnati, Ohio I have spent my time as an undergraduate (I am currently a senior) at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. where I major in Political Science and minor in Economics.
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