Could you live off a basic monthly minimum wage of $6.35? (I had to check a couple of sources to verify there wasn’t a typo) No joke. That’s what the minimum wage is in Egypt and has been since 1984. Rioting in the streets in Egypt today did not suddenly emerge as an idea tossed around the social networking sites. It’s been simmering for decades.
Imagine if nearly one third of our children in the United States were malnourished because most of us could not afford to feed them. Surely we’d be out demonstrating in the streets too, and we’d probably take help from anywhere we could find it. The average Egyptian worker makes around $55 a month. Yes, a month. It’s a figure, though much larger than the $6.35 minimum wage, still hard to imagine stretching far enough to cover just the food needs of a family of four. And over the past couple of years food prices there have soared, forcing many families to cut back on meals.
Egypt’s government subsidizes some staples, like wheat; but lamentably the poorest of the poor, who really need that help, are least likely to benefit from it. A robust black market skims off large portions of subsidized goods crippling the system and creating more resentment and distrust towards the government.
In the United States, though the economic times have been rough for us, our experiences pale in comparison to the struggles that have been felt in North Africa for decades and most recently have erupted into full-blown popular revolutions. Egypt’s recent economic prospects have shown growth, yet its poverty rate is still as high as 40%—by some accounts, even higher. For comparison, our own poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is 14.3%, based on a family of four living on less than $22,050.