Tag Archives: middle class

Minimum Wage

Minimum Wage
A hefty, affluent man who is sipping champagne and relaxing amidst piles of ‘record-level profits’ is identified as ‘big corporations’ and sits atop a stone labeled ‘immorally low minimum wage’, crushing people below it. Wolverton underscores the issues prevalent in the United States’ upper class with regards to the helplessness of the working poor.

Minimum Wage

Monte Wolverton – April 21, 2013

The political cartoon, “Minimum Wage,” was created by Monte Wolverton and published in The Cagle Post on April 21, 2013; it depicts the helpless nature of the lower and middle classes in terms of the attempt to raise the minimum wage in the United States as well as the superiority that the upper class possesses. Similarly, John Francis Knott’s 1933 political cartoon, “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More,” parallels the issues of inadequate wages, the contrast between the upper and lower classes, and poverty. Wolverton’s cartoon in combination with Knott’s cartoon and related contemporary articles brings to light the manner with which the term ‘minimum wage’ evolved, the stark contrast of the concept of minimum wage from the past to the present, and the proposed inadequacy of these wages with regards to how poorly they affect lower classes.

The term ‘minimum wage’ is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as an amount of money that is the least amount of money per hour that workers must be paid according to the law (“Minimum Wage Definition”). Furthermore, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) – which generally controls the employment and compensation in the United States – requires that a minimum wage be paid to employees regardless of if they are paid by the hour or by salary (“Minimum Wage”). This provides a foundation for an employee’s basic rights for adequate payment. Statistics show that from 1955 to 2014, the minimum wage in the United States gradually increased from $0.75 to $7.25; while this appeared to be a wage that aided the lower class in maintaining a stable life, proponents of a minimum wage increase would say otherwise (“Federal Minimum Wage Rates”). On the other hand, the term ‘living wage’ also comes into play. While a minimum wage is set by the law, a living wage is set by an individual’s standard of living; it should be large enough to provide an individual with the basic necessities to live an acceptable life (“Living Wage Definition”). There are currently two sides to the issue of raising the minimum wage: proponents of this issue state that the minimum wage should be increased due to the inability of the lower classes to work their way out of poverty, while its opponents argue that raising the minimum wage would lead to higher unemployment and an overall lack of a positive effect on the issue (Hasset).

The accompanying article to Wolverton’s cartoon, published by Tina Dupuy in The Cagle Post and titled “Don’t Like Food Stamps? Raise the Minimum Wage,” emphasizes proponents’ views to raise the minimum wage and outlines why their opponents’ perspectives do not appear to be the best option for the country. According to Dupuy, approximately ten million out of the forty-six million impoverished United States citizens are the working poor – she emphasizes that ‘work’ for the working poor does not buy food and shelter and that raising the minimum wage would help an individual with a full-time job and a child surpass the requirement for food stamps (Dupuy). On the other hand, opponents of raising the minimum wage, such as Kevin Hasset of the Los Angeles Times, believe that it would only increase the cost of hiring younger, low-skilled workers and raising it from $7.25 an hour to $9.50 an hour would only aid about eleven percent of impoverished workers (Hasset).

While the debate between whether or not the minimum wage should be increased continues, it is important to view the issue from a holistic perspective; Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune states that while both sides make valid arguments, there are points to consider from each angle which contribute to the long-term effects for the country. Huppke states that on one hand, raising the minimum wage could potentially improve the lives of the working poor; on the other hand, it targets all minimum wage workers rather than just the working poor. Improving the lives of all minimum wage workers rather than solely the working poor reduces the action’s effectiveness due to an inefficient distribution of financial assistance and thus sheds light on alternative opportunities to relieve the situation using other investment methods (Huppke). This thought process leads to the idea that raising the minimum wage without further action to permanently eliminate poverty would only create a vicious cycle and cause the problem to reappear.

Wolverton’s cartoon embodies the current wage inadequacy. It can be correlated to another political cartoon published in the Dallas Morning News on October 20, 1933 by John Francis Knott titled “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More” – in Knott’s cartoon, an upper-class man is depicted giving a ten cent loan to a man in tattered clothes who represents two million cotton planters. The two cartoons differ in terms of their depiction; however, they share similarities through meaning. Wolverton’s cartoon parallels Knott’s cartoon due to the way it visually parallels – the rather rotund and well-dressed man sipping champagne and grasping the ‘record-level profits’ represents Knott’s Uncle Sam, the ‘immorally low minimum wage’ stone represents the ‘ten cent loan’, and the crushed bodies underneath represent the ‘two million cotton planters’ in tattered clothing.

The two cartoons are similar in the sense that they both deal with the call to aid the impoverished and underscore that the inadequacy of the current minimum wage is simply crushing the working poor. The humor that can be extracted from Wolverton’s cartoon is from the plump, smirking man increasing the downward force of the ‘immorally low minimum wage’ stone to crush those below him – this is humorous due to the accuracy with which the upper class is represented according to proponents of raising the minimum wage as well as how helpless the working poor is depicted. Additionally, the idea of minimum wage vs. living wage creates new meaning for the people crushed by the ‘immorally low minimum wage’ stone. They are suffering due to the insufficiency of the minimum wage they are being paid; these lower class individuals – while lawfully paid – are not being paid enough to accommodate their standard of living, causing them failure to be self–sufficient. The prominent message conveyed by Wolverton’s cartoon is that more attention should be given to the lower class along with the methods in which we plan to eliminate poverty; actions must be taken in order to benefit the country in the long term, not just for temporary relief. Through the reparations for the working poor, the future for all of the socioeconomic classes may seem more optimistic.


Works Cited

(1) “Federal Minimum Wage Rates, 1955–2014.” Infoplease. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

(2) “Living Wage Definition.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.

(3) “Minimum Wage.” Encyclopedia of Small Business. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2007. 743-44. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. 

(4) “Minimum Wage Definition.” Merriam Webster. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

(5) Dupuy, Tina. “Don’t Like Food Stamps? Raise the Minimum Wage.” The Cagle Post. Daryl Cagle, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2015. 

(6) Hasset, Kevin A., and Michael R. Strain. “The Minimum-wage Debate.” Los Angeles Times 10 Mar. 2013: n. pag. Print. 

(7) Huppke, Rex. “In Minimum Wage Debate, Both Sides Make Valid Points.”Chicago Tribune 17 Mar. 2014: n. pag. Print.

(8) Knott, John. “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 20 Oct. 1933, sec. 2: 2. Print.

(9) Wolverton, Monte. “Minimum Wage.” Cagle Cartoons. Daryl Cagle, 21 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. 

Too Far Apart

John Knott’s illustration depicts a sick, middle-income American staring up at a building with the words “high-class income” inscribed on its side.

Too Far Apart

John Francis Knott- April 29, 1936

The political cartoon Too Far Apart offers a comedic yet eye-opening perspective on the imbalanced distribution of healthcare during the Great Depression. The Great Depression devastated the middle class, further excluded the lower class, and ruined the lives of several members of the upper class. Many Americans lost their jobs, and droughts across the country caused many farmers to lose their major source of income. This drastic spike in the poverty rate led to a significant decrease in the quality of healthcare received by the public. Furthermore, many impoverished citizens were unable to consistently eat and this made them more susceptible to the various illnesses that were prevalent during the 1930s. Many children suffered from rickets (a disorder that stems from a lack of Vitamin D, phosphate, or calcium) and since there were many areas that didn’t have running water, a large number of people became ill from the constant spread of germs. Physicians often found themselves unable to handle the sudden influx of unemployed and underprivileged patients, and this eventually created a gap in the quality of healthcare Americans received.

The article that complements this cartoon, titled ”The Medical Problem”, aims to provide insight on the medical issue from the perspective of the many physicians that were working during the Great Depression. The article claims that much like the majority of citizens, many doctors were negatively affected during the Great Depression. Countless physicians were being overworked and did not receive any compensation for their efforts. Additionally, many unemployed Americans that were unable to afford medical care were under the assumption that doctors failed to understand their troubles and doctors eventually began to feel the same way about the American populace. The article also pessimistically analyzes several proposed solutions to the medical problem that was prevalent during the Great Depression. The author repeatedly asserts that doctors and American citizens were “unable to agree” on a way to ensure that Americans received quality healthcare and that doctors were equitably salaried. However, agreement on a solution was not a simple task. The author highlights the complexity of the medical crisis by saying that it was a “many-sided problem” and that “even the soundest medical thinking has difficult cross-currents”.

Too Far Apart, a political cartoon drawn by John F. Knott, accurately illustrates the rift that was created between upper class healthcare and middle class healthcare. According to “Poverty in America: An Encyclopedia”, “public-relief programs enjoyed widespread support” during the Great Depression. For example, many middle-income Americans (income of $150 to $424) heavily relied on the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to supply them with medical care. The WPA did what they could, but they often lacked the proper facilities to treat their “3.5 million patients”. However, families that were considered to be financially comfortable (income of $425 and up) were, on average, able to pay for medical care 45.9 percent of the time. Middle-income families were only able to pay for medical care 18.8 percent of the time. This meant that many of these families (31.4 percent) were forced to rely on the free programs that were being offered through Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Knott’s cartoon exemplifies this fact by showing an ill and hopeless man lying in a bed with the words “medium income sickness” inscribed on the blanket. The man is looking up towards a rather large building with the words “first class medical care” etched on its side. The fact that the man in the medium income bed is unlikely to ever be able to reach the first class medical building that is not only physically separated from him but also metaphorically separated implies that there was indeed an issue that needed to be resolved and that many unlucky, downtrodden, and sick Americans were suffering due to the lack of a solution.

The humor in this cartoon is particularly subtle. Neither the character nor the environments in this cartoon are drawn in an exaggerated form. Knott undoubtedly choose this realistic style to illustrate the seriousness of the medical problem that affected millions of Americans during the Great Depression. Knott’s goal for this cartoon was not to make people laugh. He instead aimed to inspire thought amongst his viewers. However, this cartoon does contain some humor. Many viewers of this cartoon could probably relate to the man in the bed since millions of Americans were either unemployed or unable to pay for topnotch medical care. Knott takes advantage of the human capacity to empathize with another individual or situation in an effort to further emphasize to his message through humor.

John Knott’s cartoon Too Far Apart accurately captures the despondent attitude many Americans had towards the medical industry during the Great Depression. Many families could not afford decent medical care and they were forced to rely on public-relief programs whenever they became ill. Various solutions were drawn up but because of the disparity between the ideals of doctors and patients, there was never any agreement. These numerous disagreements created a gap between the health care received by the upper class and middle class. As this gap became increasingly apparent, journalists and artists like John Knott yearned to expose this problem and one impactful result of this desire was the political cartoon Too Far Apart.

Works Cited

“Great Depression.” Poverty in AmericaAn Encyclopedia. Russell M. Lawson and Benjamin A. Lawson. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008. 61-65. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

“The Human Impact of the Great Depression.” The Human Impact of the Great Depression. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014. <http://bigmateo0.tripod.com/id2.html>.

“Health Conservation and WPA – Social Welfare History Project.” Social Welfare History Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014. <http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/eras/health-conservation-wpa/>.

Perrot, George St. J. “Medical Care during the Depression: A Preliminary Report upon a Survey of Wage-Earning Families in Seven Large Cities.” NCBI. N.p., Dec. 2005. Web. 28 Nov. 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov%2Fpmc%2Farticles%2FPMC2690273%2F>.