The Democratic junior senator from Massachusetts opened with her moving story about a harrowing time in her childhood when her mother supported the family on a minimum wage job after her father suffered a heart attack. They struggled, but managed to get by and keep their home, because even the lowest-paying jobs paid a living wage:
“I grew up in a time when a person could work a minimum wage job, and it would support a family of three. And that’s what it did, it saved us.”
Nowadays, the minimum wage hasn’t even kept up with inflation and the cost of living, let alone American workers’ increased productivity. If wages had kept up, minimum wage workers would make at least $14.75 per hour. there isn’t even a single place in the country where a minimum wage worker can afford the rent on a one-bedroom apartment. In fact, two full-time, minimum wage jobs are required to make the rent in most areas.
Warren explains that declining wages are a big part of why she wrote her book.
“And it’s a big part of why I wrote this book, because today, a person can work full-time at a minimum wage job and still live in poverty, and I think that’s just fundamentally wrong. America needs to be a place — like I said in the book — where everybody gets a fighting chance.”
Elizabeth Warren on how a higher minimum wage saved her family.
Back when Warren’s family was struggling, they got by because her mother’s minimum wage income went a lot further than it would have today.
David Letterman went on to ask Warren about what her role was with the U.S. government after the economic crash in 2008. Warren explained that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tapped her because, as a mom, teacher, and law professor, Warren had done a lot of research and writing on “what was happening economically to America, to America’s middle class, to America’s working families.”
She goes on to hilariously describe the phone ringing while she was hosting a barbecue for students, and her 100-pound golden retriever was slobbering over the unfortunate delivery guy. When Warren answered, “this man with this very soft voice” introduced himself and asked her to lead Congressional Oversight Panel (COP)
“So I came to Washington to try to help. I mean, truly, this was a crisis. The world seemed to be imploding at this point.”
Letterman interrupts to agree, “in fact, it was.” He then asked how Wall Street reacted, and Warren replied:
“Most of them didn’t know who I was, but I looked around and saw what this little panel could do is at least say something about how all that bailout money was being spent. I mean, we really didn’t have a lot of power. “
At Letterman’s prompting, Warren added that the U.S. government bailed out the banks with three hundred billion dollars. That’s “billion with a ‘b,'” in addition to generous guarantees.
Although the banks have paid most of that three hundred billion back, the bailout still sticks in Warren’s craw.
“Here’s what gets me about it. They [the U.S. government] thew all in to save the biggest financial institutions in this country, but not so much to help middle class families.
Warren on Wall Street’s “too-big-to-fail” whales.
Warren goes on to explain how U.S. tax payers have gotten absolutely nothing in return for their generous bailout. Despite the fact that Wall Street’s greed nearly destroyed the world’s economy and themselves along with it, we’ve since allowed them to get even bigger than ever.
“So here’s how we stand today. Those biggest financial institutions — the ones that we were told, the American tax payers were told, ‘we have to bail them out now, because they are too big to fail — if they fail, they will bring down the economy.’ Today, after , here we are nearly six years later, those financial companies are bigger than they were before the crash, and they are taking on new and exotic risks.”
When Letterman mildly interjected, “so the problem has not been corrected?” Warren angrily railed against our current system of socialized risk and privatized profit.
“What it tells us is that the big guys are doing great, still loading up on risk, and the American middle class — working families — are out there still struggling. And ultimately, the ones that these big guys would count on to back them up if anything goes wrong. We’re still in a world of on-the rise, the profits go to the top, and if it all comes crashing down, the responsibility goes to hardworking families across this country. That is fundamentally wrong, and that is something we must change.
Here’s the video with the other part of the interview, where Elizabeth Warren and David Letterman discuss the “too-big-to-fail” banks, and our new system of socialized risk and privatized profit.
Featured image: Video screen grab/CBS The Late Show.