Dollars and Sense

It pains me that raising the minimum wage is even a debate. In a capitalist society, you’d think that more money for everyone to spread around would be a good thing, but apparently not. Seems that a lot of folks are surprised, appalled, and even downright pissed that fast food workers dare ask for $15/hr. When it comes to money, it seems a lot of people can’t (or won’t) apply logic and just do the math. I swear Americans despise poor people because we’re all convinced that one day we’re gonna make it to the 1% even though statistics say that’s nearly impossible. I mean it’s the 1%, not the 99%, for crying out loud! I’ve seen a lot of chatter surrounding this thanks to the “Fight for $15” strikes that happened this week. I’ve got more to say than will fit in a tweet or a Facebook status, so I decided to dust off my blog and cut through the BS.

First, the entire point of creating a minimum wage was so that every person who made the effort to work full time would be able to feed themselves and their families. The analogy used by the Supreme Court in addressing that this law was constitutional was that if wages fall below a certain point, you are basically doing  slave labor.  Post- industrialization, women’s lib, and desegregation, the types of jobs that are relegated to minimum wage have changed. Factory assembly line jobs are  almost defunct. What hasn’t changed is that minimum wage jobs are typically thought to be disposable. The fact is, somebody has to take out the trash. Somebody has to flip the burgers we eat two and three times a week. Somebody has to fold the cheap clothes we buy from Target and Old Navy. Somebody has to be the mall security guard. Somebody has to drive the metro bus. For whatever reason, it’s easy to ignore the issue because fast food workers are apparently not worthy of a living wage.

There’s a lot of talk about how raising the minimum wage will destroy ambition. That has not and will never be true. Minimum wage is still minimum, and $30,000/yr is just  barely comfortable for a new college graduate. It certainly isn’t enough to support the kind of lifestyle that most people would be content with living forever. And I’d bet money that raising the minimum wage would get more people into the workforce and off welfare. Why? Because in some states, you can actually live just as (un)comfortably on food stamps and Section 8 housing as you can working a full time minimum wage job- and you’ll have a lot more free time to boot. If you already grew up in the projects, why work harder to stay in the same place? Hell, there are professional women quitting their jobs to be homemakers because their $50,000 salary won’t cover the daycare they need to be able to work, much less the additional food, clothing and shelter costs children entail.

“But fast food isn’t meant to be a career”, you say.” Well, teenagers can’t work full time because they have school. Most retirees don’t want to work, and age discrimination screens out most of the rest of them. To reiterate, as long as we demand cheap consumer goods we need low wage workers to provide them. Some of those workers will inevitably be adults with families. Well, as discussed above, there’s a demand and a need for minimum wage jobs. No economy can support a 100% white collar workforce. At that point, the cost of living would skyrocket because we’d be importing groceries and paying jacked up rates to keep the lights on. Even if everyone could afford to attend college, not everyone would want to- and that’s perfectly fine. Doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to live. But even if college was compulsory, we’d just end up with a whole bunch of degreed burger flippers.

What’s sad is that is seems like people need someone to feel superior to. Sure, maybe you make only marginally more than the Wendy’s manager- at least you have a degree, so you can call yourself elite. In reality we need a raise in wages, minimum or not, across the board. Subsidies and tax breaks for corporations have kept the prices of consumer goods low, but wages have remained stagnant. Even wages for professional jobs have not kept up with inflation because corporate profit margins are bigger than ever before. Nobody wants to advocate for bettering the lot of the poor because we all believe that someday we’ll be millionaires. Truth is, if you don’t own real estate, stocks, bonds, and a trust fund, it’s just a matter of how many missed paychecks it will take for you to end up on welfare.

The lesson of the day? Stay woke. Capitalism will chew you up and spit you out.

 

Fight-for-15

 

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