Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Saturday, February 24, 2007

the minimal minimum wage

Congress is on the verge of raising the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, but many states have already taken further steps to ensure that their workers won't get left behind by inflation. As of the beginning of this year, twenty-nine states have higher minimum wage requirements than the federal law. Most of the other states have tied their minimum wage to the federal level. Only one state has a minimum wage lower than $5.15 an hour.

In Kansas, workers not covered by the federal law -- about 19,000 people -- are subject to a minimum wage of $2.65 per hour. A bill to raise the state minimum to the federal minimum was rejected this week. Geraldine Flaherty, who was my representative when I lived in Wichita, called the defeat a "crime against humanity," adding, "Kansans deserve better."

But legislators from Johnson County, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, disagreed:

“This is one of the greatest superstitions of all, that if you raise the minimum wage you are doing anybody any favors,” said state Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe.

Rep. Benjamin Hodge, R-Overland Park, argued against the increase saying the state should avoid “European-style socialist bills.”

On one level, Rep. Kiegerl is right. Raising a person's annual income from $5500 to $10,700 is not doing them a favor. It's still not nearly enough to keep a family out of poverty.

Some people would argue that, if minimum wage earners wanted to make more, they should get an education or learn new skills. But such thinking is delusional at best. It's true that some individuals may be able to improve their economic status by getting new skills or education, but they can only do so if others fail to keep pace.

This is the point at which the debate usually goes off course: Those who oppose regular increases in the minimum wage refuse to look at the bigger picture. If everyone in the nation had a postgraduate degree and knew how to perform neurosurgery and could program the guidance system of a satellite, we as a society would still have a need for people to perform menial work.

Raising the minimum wage is a moral issue. It is a matter of society agreeing that work -- all work -- is valuable. If we don't have someone to clean the bathrooms at our workplace, to stock the shelves in the grocery store, or to wash our dishes at the restaurant, we won't survive long as a society.

That's why raising the state minimum to the federal level -- even the new federal level that Congress is considering -- would not be enough. A minimum wage that does not keep a family out of poverty is a disgrace, especially for a nation wealthier than any other that has ever existed.

If we can't find a way to ensure a living wage for full time work, then we don't deserve to survive long as a society.

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At 2/25/2007 10:20 AM, Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I certainly agree. I have long been a proponent of the living wage: one that would allow a family of 4 to survive on one salary. But a first step toward this would be to make the minimum wage indexed to inflation so that we don't wait a decade for another increase.

At 3/27/2007 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Odd. The Congressional White Knights ride to the rescue of the economically challenged by minimally ramping up a non-existant wage. I am not surprised. It makes a good show. And without exception, the monkeys who are pushing this act are playing to the peanut gallery. As with "immigration reform," their motive is nothing less than political control. The human needs of people are of little or no consideration. And the ultimate outcome of their efforts is of no consequence. No amount of effort on the part of Conservative Christian can roll back the constitutionally illegitimate provisions of Roe v. Wade. And not amount of political posturing or handwringing by social liberals can repeal the law of supply and demand as applied to either product or producer.

Inspite of childlike hopes and dreams, the simple fact is that we must return to the sandbox, we must again learn the lessons of childhood. Competition is a part of life from which no one can be shielded. If as children we learn to compete, we are better served in adulthood to face the everyday and longterm challenges of thriving rather than surviving. When a kindly teacher tries to make all the children play "nice" she/he is only delaying a lesson that will ultimately have to be learned. Failure to learn will result in repeatedly having to repeat the experience. No amount of effort by legislators on either the state or national level will change the fundamental nature of either the playground or the workplace.
Consider this point. Most of the folks advocating this minimal wage themselves have little or no contact with minimum wage workers, except when they buy a hamburger or purchase groceries. They themselves are not so employed and heir children are not so employed. Neither they nor any of their family members live in the same neighborhoods as are populated by minimum wage workers. If they are so committed to the idea of a minimum level of human dignity linked with the working world, where is their credibility? As many who protest the war in Iraq can not identify by name even one service person currently servicing in Iraq, so many who so fervently espouse this minimal wage can not even name a single person, male or female, who would by this legislation see an increase in income.

If you are really so concerned about the state of working class men and women, then do something really meaningful. Insist upon and work toward seeing to it that everyone pays Social Security tax on every dollar they make. Have Social Security apply to every single dollar every single person makes, both wage, interest, capital gain, etc. Because until you do that, Social Security will be a tax primarily impacting low and middle income workers. Require Social Security to be paid by everyone without exception and by every corporation without exception. Then you will see a genuine change that all the minimal wage efforts can only promise.

To raise the minimum wage is a true "crime against humanity!" It is a lie hatched in that same hell that tries to persuade us that somehow or other, we can ignore the law of the marketplace. As with the law of gravity, we certainly can ignore it. But we can not avoid the consequences of ignoring it. So we may choose to ignore the law of the marketplace, but we will have to deal with the consequences. At this moment there are many children suffereing because of adults who failed to accept that their actions would have consequences. No matter how many children are helped, it will not change the hard facts that their substandard existance is the direct result of adults who apparently thought someone else would be responsible for the consequences of their actions.

Far better than a new minimal level minimum wage is to let these irresponsible adult children go play in the sandbox! Let them learn the painful truth that would have been so much better learned when they were children growing toward adulthood. Anything else is just a sham offer as unreal as that offered to Dorothy and company from behind the curtain.

Is minimally raising the minimum wage a "moral issue?" No. It is not a moral issue because we are not our work. All work is not equally valuable. We may be thankful for the childcare worker at the nursery who looks after our child, but their work is not as important as that of the person who owns and runs the nursery, else they would be paid the same amount. It is sad if someone can not compete in the marketplace, but their failure to be competitive is not a moral failure, it is simply that people are different and not all are going to be equally succesful. Remember the sandbox... not every little boy and girl could build equally beautiful sandcastles, some could not even get their best efforts to stand up. But they could try. And those who could create more than simple shapes in the sand were not penalized for being successful.

Speaking from personal experience, I have cut and sold firewood, dug stumps, loaded trash, cleaned houses, washed dishes, stocked shelves and mopped floors. I did that while working my way through college and a masters degree. My wife majored in fine arts. Later confronted her with the limited utility of her degree, she returned to college to earn a nursing degree. Of course her first degree was valuable, for all of her advisors and professors lauded her choice. But the marketplace taught her the lesson of the sandbox. And the sandbox didn't lie.

It is not loving to lie to anyone. Some would say that in trying to raise to some minimal level the current minimum wage, they are making the marketplace "fair." Think back to gravity, you know, the kind that helped Newton when the apple fell. To not agree with the law of gravity is fine. But the law of gravity is not immoral. It is a fact of life. And those who choose to ignore it are doomed to deal with the consequences of refusing to comply with it. The same goes for the law of the marketplace. It is not immoral. It is a fact of life. We can not protect anyone from the consequences of failing to comply with it.

That's why even minimally raising the minimum wage is less than not enough. An minimum wage will never be enough. Income is the direct result of choosing to employ oneself in a productive occupation. It is not a national disgrace if someone chooses a low paying career. It is a personal choice. And the consequences of that choice are entirely the responsibility of the individual. Not being satisfied with the wage/income derived from a career choice is about the best incentive anyone can ever have to make the changes needed to make themselves and their skills more marketable. The only society that will do more than survive, that will actually thrive and offer to its citizens the best opportunities, is that society that remembers and lives by the lesson of the sandbox.

At 3/28/2007 12:39 PM, Blogger BruceA said...

Anonymous -

I may not agree with everything you've said here, but I do agree with this:

Insist upon and work toward seeing to it that everyone pays Social Security tax on every dollar they make. Have Social Security apply to every single dollar every single person makes, both wage, interest, capital gain, etc. Because until you do that, Social Security will be a tax primarily impacting low and middle income workers. Require Social Security to be paid by everyone without exception and by every corporation without exception.


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