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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thoughts on a living wage

We've been hearing a lot lately about raising the minimum wage from the $7.25 per hour it currently is to a higher number - I read quite a bit about a new number of $15 per hour. I don't know what the minimum wage should be, but I do have some thoughts.

I'm not talking about the nuts and bolts of how much, and how to implement.  I'm just talking about the issue conceptually.

I believe that employers should be required to pay a "living wage". A living wage is defined (here, by me) as the amount of money that a person requires to feed, house and clothe him/her self.

The minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not been changed since July 24, 2009. The minimum wage is not currently indexed for inflation.  This means that the $7.25 per hour earned in 2009 will not buy as much as the $7.25 earned in 2013. Using an inflation calculator found here , we find that it would cost $21.73 to purchase an item that it cost $20.00 to buy in 2009 - an increase of 8.6% - but the minimum wage has not increased at all during that time, meaning a minimum wage earner can buy 8.6% less than he/she could have in 2009.

Recently, Walmart has come under fire for not paying a sizable chunk of its employees a living wage.  Here is one perspective (shared by me):  By paying its employees less than a living wage, Walmart increases its bottom line profit (measured at $3.7 billion during the third QUARTER of 2013


- that's not an annual profit, just the profit in the third quarter.

According to an opinion piece in  


"Wal-Mart's low wages have led to full-time employees seeking public assistance. These are not the 47 percent, lazy, unmotivated bums. Rather, these are people working physical, often difficult jobs. They receive $2.66 billion in government help each year (including $1 billion in healthcare assistance). That works out to about $5,815 per worker. And about $420,000 per store."

Do you know who pays for this assistance? Taxpaying citizens do.  This leads me to the inescapable conclusion that I, by virtue of paying taxes, am helping to increase the bottom line profit of Walmart. I don't want to do that.

I hear the argument that raising the minimum wage will cause mass layoffs.  I reject that argument, and ask anyone who cares, to provide me with a reputable source to back that claim up - show me where this has occurred in our history. I remember in 2009, 2007 and 2006 hearing the same claims, but don't remember any layoffs. Heck, I remember back in 1997, when the minimum wage increased from $4.75 to $5.15, the dire layoff predictions that were made.  We seem to have come out alright.

Another argument made is that people should be paid according to the value they bring to the company - I would argue that employees earning less than a living wage bring more value to Walmart (I'm going to pick on them again) than the amount of money they are paid.

There is another argument that it takes low wages to compete against low cost foreign goods made in countries with no minimum wage, and that Americans will look for the lowest price available - I'd say there is a good bit of truth to that statement (I wonder if people would be willing to pay a bit more if they made enough money to provide for the basics?).

And I absolutely reject the notion that low paid workers need to just work hard, take advantage of education and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  Sure, that would be great, and that is what folks with that ability should do - that's what I did (as an average looking white male of acceptable cultural and religious preferences).  But, you know what?  Not everyone has those capabilities (to rise above a less than living wage).  These are the people I'm talking about.  Not the "Welfare Queens".  Not the drug abusers. Not the cheats.  Not the lazy people.  I'm talking about the segment of our society that is doomed to be poor.  They will always be with us, as Jesus pointed out (while making a totally different point from mine).  These folks should be paid enough to live on.

That's all I'm saying.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How to be successful...

....well, in the long term, you must be capable.

But how do you become capable?  Through hard work, right? Hard work at what, though? Hard work at the opportunity given you, I think.

So, I guess that you have to have the opportunity to become capable, then.

How do you get opportunity?  It can be beneficial to have a family with connections, to get you in the door at the right schools, the right jobs.

What if your family doesn't have connections, though?  What if your Mom or Dad didn't go to the right schools, or don't have an occupation that allows them to know decision makers?

What if you happen to be the wrong race or creed? WHAT IF you are a first generation American whose family emigrated to a small town in the US from Pakistan to make its life better.  What if you quietly practice the religion of your ancestors, and that religion is not the dominant one in your town?

What if you are gay?

What if you are a woman trying to break into a male dominated field?

I didn't come from a wealthy family, full of connections, but I did have an ace in the hole:

I'm an average looking, straight white male of fairly standard height, weight and intelligence.

That advantage opened several doors for me, and gave me the opportunity to show those in power what I was, and would be, capable of. I've taken those opportunities when given, and have tried to make the best of them.

I think it is pretty easy for those of us who've had certain opportunities handed to us, to sit back and criticize those who aren't successful as lazy (and sure there are those folks out there), but  I think that is a little simplistic.

I'm pretty thankful to have my particular advantage.  I wonder what would have happened if I didn't have it.