Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.
As a kid growing up in East Los Angeles, sometimes our electricity would be turned off because my dad couldn’t afford to pay the electric bill.
I can still remember my mom gathering all six of her seemingly oblivious kids into the living room, the Sala, after the sun went down, so we could sit near the fireplace and avoid being in the dark.
My dad would stay at his office in hopes of selling another life insurance policy so he could earn the commission needed to turn our lights back on.
Supporting a large family – three girls, three boys, and a wife who stayed home to raise their kids – was a challenging proposition in the inflationary 1970s.
This experience had such a profound impact on me that whenever the power goes out in my large, 3,000 square foot house in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Santa Barbara County, my first thought is, “Oh crap, did I forget to pay the bill?”
Just as in the early 1970s, millions of families today, from California to New York, exist right above, right at, or right below the poverty level. For these families, one of the most challenging weekly and monthly expenditures is the cost of household energy.
Consider today’s $4.00 per gallon gas prices in California. I’ve written about this often, calling attention to what I consider the main culprit – aggressively regressive sales taxes. Currently, for every tank of gas purchased at a gas station in California (assuming a 13-gallon tank), working families pay over $8 in taxes.
But what if we were to ignore the taxes for a moment and only consider the $4.00 per-gallon cost. A working family earning less than $50,000 a year of pre-tax income, which describes 48% of families in America, according to the US Census Bureau, will spend $52.13 to fill up.
Assuming an average family owns two cars and fills up both cars twice in a week, they’ll spend over $800 in a single month for the gas needed to drive to work, take kids to school, little league, dance, the grocery store, etc.
Forget a family vacation. At these prices, that just isn’t going to happen for families who earn $50,000 in pre-tax income or less.
Add to this the monthly cost of heating their house in winter, or cooling their house in summer, assuming they can afford air conditioning, which isn’t very likely, and you see the problem.
I’ve often asked, who is really looking out for America’s working families? Indeed, who is looking out for the working poor? Because the numbers are unbelievable.
According to the Census figures, an average American family earning less than $30,000 in pre-tax income spends 27% of their after-tax income on household energy costs. In California, it’s even higher.
An average family in America earning between $30,000 and $50,000 of pre-tax income, spends 14% on household energy costs. While families earning over $50,000, 7% of their after-tax income is spent on household energy costs.
Let me be clear…those of us who spend 7% or less of our after-tax income on energy costs need to stop and consider the economic plight of those who spend 27% or more.
The reason is simple, we all have a stake in each other’s economic success. Indeed, we are all our brother’s keeper. And we are all called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
I have a bleeding heart for those working families throughout our community who live on the economic margin because that is how I grew up.
The brutal truth is that it is minorities, including children and the elderly, who are disproportionately impacted by rising energy costs. Social and economic justice demands that the more fortunate wake-up and speak out for those who are less fortunate. And we can speak out by demanding public policies that allow for more energy, not less. We want abundance, not scarcity.
As a society, we must demand that our policymakers, especially here in California, adopt the public policy equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.
Unfortunately, many upwardly mobile and increasingly out-of-touch politicians in California, like Governor Newsom who is contemplating ending all oil and gas production in California, seem intent to not only do harm but to do much harm.
Governor Newsom is literally stumbling over himself in his quest to win an ideological race to the left, particularly as it relates to ethical resource development. His anti-oil and gas policies are not only misguided; they are wrongheaded. Newsom’s policies are reckless, and they are dangerous to our national and economic security. But, perhaps even worse, his policies are cruel to working families in California who are struggling to make ends meet.
America, including in sunny California, needs an ever-increasing supply of low-cost energy to power our busy lives. All of us, including the working poor, want economic abundance, not economic scarcity. So we need to wake up, stand up, and speak out.