Some Real Talk About the Minimum Wage

An outsider watching American news networks would think that there is a divide the width of the Grand Canyon between our citizens on most issues. This is the natural result of the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which made news a for-profit enterprise instead of a public service. (For more on that, click here!) The big corporations that own most of what we see and hear profit by keeping us angry, divided, and separated.

The truth is, most of us really want and need the same things, those things are just being framed differently to keep everyone distracted. After all, if we were all really paying attention to important issues and coming together to address them, our leaders would have to turn their backs on their corporate sponsors and actually go to work for the people they supposedly represent. The last thing the multinational (read: based in America but have PO boxes and bank accounts in Dubai to avoid paying taxes) conglomerates who own everything want is a unified, educated public demanding things that are for the public good.

My best friend of 30 years is a Republican, though the Trump era has almost cured him of that. I identify as a Democrat, though I am a fiscal conservative. Being a social liberal and fiscal conservative really means neither party speaks directly to me. Republicans don’t even try; Democrats try and fail year after year. Still, despite coming from different ideological directions, he and I can usually come to a reasonable compromise which addresses the major issues facing our country.

Let’s take minimum wage as an example. We must first identify what a minimum wage job is. It’s an entry level position. It’s the first job you have while you’re in high school or while you’re working your way through college. Few prerequisite skills are required and it doesn’t require a whole lot of training.

Now let’s identify what a minimum wage is not. It’s not going to support a family; it’s not going to pay your mortgage; it’s not to be mistaken for a career. If someone is working minimum wage they should think twice about having kids or living independently. That’s why there are colleges, universities, job training schools, and even advancement in the work force. You can work at McDonald’s and own a home, you just can’t be the one who flips the burgers or puts the wrong food in the bag at the drive-thru. You have to be in management. In other words, you have to be honest with yourself and be accountable for yourself.

On the flip side, minimum wage has to pay a higher wage than that which people can get from filing for unemployment. This is a big issue in post-pandemic America, where “now hiring” is practically the new national anthem. People have done the easy math and decided they would rather not work than take $7.25 (or $2.15 for restaurant wait staff) for some of the worst jobs available. Meanwhile, corporate profit rates have risen exponentially since the year 2000, going from $750 billion annually to last year’s $2.25 trillion. If corporations want people to sign up for their low-level jobs, they are going to have to reroute some of those profits from their CEO’s annual bonus and their shareholders’ dividends back to the people who are driving those profits at the ground level.

It’s a great talking point to say “a person shouldn’t work 40 hours a week and still be living in poverty.” I do agree with that sentiment, but I also think there has to be a component of personal responsibility involved in the calculus. If you’re working a minimum wage job, you had better think twice about getting pregnant. You had better consider what it’s like to live in a low-cost apartment in what is likely to be a shady part of town.

In America we have choices to make. We can choose to follow a career path and live a comfortable middleclass life. We can choose to take our chances without job training of any kind and live on the margins. We can even choose a path that might lead to extreme wealth. At the end of the day, these are our choices to make. Where the social safety net should come in is as a stop-gap to help people temporarily (say, 4 weeks or fewer?) sustain themselves as they transition from one type of employment to the next. Minimum wage should be enough for a single person to survive on one 40-hour-a-week job, but it should also be more than unemployment.

If we, as a society, create that scenario, we can then talk about personal responsibility (Conservative value) and providing equal opportunities for all (Liberal value) being in balance. Until we do, both sides will talk about the extremes to motivate voters and then continue to do nothing about the issue from either side.

-B

2 thoughts on “Some Real Talk About the Minimum Wage”

  1. It’s so hard to tell anymore… I’m definitely a liberal as you get socially. I think people should be able to sleep with whoever they want and consider themselves whatever they want to consider themselves, but just leave me out of it. Fiscally I’m a conservative, but the Republicans haven’t been fiscally conservative for years.

    Like

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