Neel Kashkari, Republican candidate for governor, spent an impressive seven days sleeping on park benches and in parking lots trying and failing to find work in Fresno. After his fifth day on the streets he concluded that all he needed was a job:
“I asked myself: What would solve my problems? Food stamps? Welfare? An increased minimum wage? No. I needed a job. Period.” – Neel Kashkari, Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2014
Kashkari’s sojourn illuminated a few issues for him, such as the short radius of job opportunities for people who need meals from a shelter, exactly how far $40 will take you, and how little good a roaring stock market does if you’re on the street.
But Kashkari managed, at the other end of his experiment, to disturb not one of his free market, pro-growth, anti-regulation Republican principles including cutting Social Security and Medicare, overturning the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), weakening collective bargaining, as well as promoting fracking and off-short drilling for an oil-based economy, policies which may well be related to the drought currently drying up farm jobs in Fresno.
If he’d stuck with it a little longer, if he’d committed to even six months to a year of job search, as most of us have had to do, or used his “free-market” Republican connections to insert himself into a low-paid retail position while looking for a “good” job, he would have learned a lot more.
He would have learned that the tattered safety net for which he has such disdain needs more, rather than less, funding. He would have learned that a large ratio of low-wage workers need that safety net and qualify for food stamps despite having a job, since their wages are so low and their rents are so high that they can’t cover even minimal living expenses, which may have introduced him to different thoughts about rent control and the minimum wage.
Kashkari’s person wealth, at only around $5 million, is not impressive by Republican standards. But it does move him out of the arena most of us know well; the scramble just to stay ahead of bills and obligations, watching the sunset of dreams we once had for our communities, our children, and ourselves as our libraries and schools scud along with minimal funding, our after-school programs are put on hiatus, our arts institutions sadly compete against each other for dwindling support.
Let’s respectfully applaud Kashkari’s week on the streets of Fresno. Let’s encourage him to donate at least one of his millions to the Poverello House shelter in Fresno. And let’s encourage him to continue his experiment, so that his values have a more realistic opportunity to get some traction in a very real world.