The dignity of a living wage

Across America, labor activists and other progressives are calling for a higher federal minimum wage, often citing the personal financial challenges that confront low-paid retail and fast food workers. The current minimum wage is $7.25/hour, though some states have adopted a slightly higher one. Advocates are calling for a new minimum wage ranging from $10.00 to $15.00 an hour.

Whenever a minimum wage hike is proposed or debated, opponents claim that doing so will reduce jobs. At the far end of that spectrum, virulent opponents of any minimum wage law claim that such government mandates are “job killers.”

Yes, I suppose if you got rid of the princely $7.25/hour minimum wage, you could take the same hourly rate and pay three people $2.00/hour and still have a $1.25/hour as a bonus for the CEO. But that’s not “job creation,” it’s exploitation. Take away the minimum wage and you get a labor situation like that in Bangladesh, where wealthy corporations pay factory workers a pittance and subject them to dangerous working conditions. (After all, American factory jobs moved overseas to avoid paying workers good wages and benefits!)

Current minimum wage and low-wage earners often find themselves having to access public benefits such as food stamps to get by. The low minimum wage means, in effect, that American taxpayers are indirectly subsidizing corporations such as Walmart and McDonald’s and their shareholders by supporting living expenses for workers who can’t afford to live on their paltry paychecks alone.

Above all, we need to frame this debate in terms of human dignity. Okay, so maybe that high school senior from an upper middle class family who works part-time to earn spare cash can get by on $7.25/hour. But for those supporting themselves and others, a full-time job at least should pay for the basics. In fact, let’s remember that Congress’s intent behind enacting the federal minimum wage law during the heart of the Great Depression of the 1930s was to provide a living wage. It’s a shame that we have to invoke the hardship of our last systemic economic meltdown to remind ourselves of that.

One response

  1. Back in 1992, Ross Perot predicted the loss of jobs in this county. He was roundly ridiculed for his “giant sucking sound” analogy. The media portrayed him as a foolish, but entertaining character, despite the fact that we was a self-made billionaire and that he had the integrity and courage to rescue his staff in Iran.

    Unfortunately, most people don’t have the time/energy/intelligence/independent thought to see beyond what is spoon-fed in the media. For decades, American corporations took advantage of third-world countries to maximize profits and minimize people (reading “The Shock Doctrine” was truly shocking). Now, they are freed to treat American citizens the same way.

    What does it take for people to change? We have wonderful third-party opportunities, but most people won’t “throw away a vote” on somebody who has integrity, makes sense, cares about people, is successful, etc. So the entrenched powers remain entrenched while the giant sucking sound gets louder and the American economy falters.

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