Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Those Pesky Minimum Wage Increases.

If you want a healthy chuckle, just try bringing up the idea of raising the minimum wage to a room full of 14-year olds in the exurbs. Kids are generally a direct reflection of their parents' values, and you'll see no exception in this case. Upper middle class people are, by majority, against the idea of a minimum wage... let alone any increases. The same people that whine about tax revenues being directed toward social programs like welfare are quick to speak against any type of "living wage" standard. To me this reeks of contradiction.

I've actually read position papers that argued that minimum wage increases hurt the poor because welfare recipients are consequently attracted by better-paid work... and with the resultant rise in labor supply, there is more competition for jobs. Of course that argument is quickly discarded when they communicate their opposition to welfare programs. The people who offer such "considered concern" for the poor, whenever it suits their political agenda, never seem to get around to offering pragmatic alternatives for addressing poverty. They trot out their purely symbolic support for education. Yet they are always in the vanguard of opposition to public school funding. This sentiment is echoed by their children, when they assert that if the poor just went to college then they could make something of themselves... and not rely on a low wage job. These positions are effortlessly inherited with assurances that their parents will subsidize their higher education.

Finally we get to the real reason these folks oppose any type of wage increase (excepting their own "justified" demands for higher pay)... Prices are going to increase. These exurbanites benefit from cheap labor. They'd quite like to continue enjoying a consumer system built upon the sacred right of cheap labor. Yes, they'll continue to testify to their belief in the "free market"... while they feed at the trough of a system that exports jobs to foreign workers that will toil for pennies an hour. Of course Third World labor costs are an "artificial benefit", just as Western labor costs are an "artificial cost"... but that fact is never acknowledged. Neither is the aggressive foreign policy of their chosen leaders seen as an affront to the "free market trade" of oil. And the military costs that make it all possible? Well... never mind that. Maybe I'm getting a bit off the subject.

The next time someone tells you that they are against the minimum wage, ask him/her to sit down with you and work out a budget for a low wage worker. Here's a sample...

Here is a healthy twenty-something single male with no dependents, and no prior debt. He works 40 hours a week (whenever the company gives him that many hours.)

Makes 40 X $5.15/HR (current PA/federal hourly minimum)= $206/week= $824/month
Less 15% taxes = $700.
-$125 health insurance (catastrophic only) = $575
-$75 heat (budget monthly... very cheap) = $500
-$35 electric (budget monthly... cheap) = $465
-$140 food (peanut butter and ramen noodles) = $325
-$60 bus pass (month) = $265
-$25 (thrift store clothing) = $240
-$240 (rent -a - room) = $0

All these costs were deliberately set low. Notice what is missing... No phone. No cable. No internet. No car. No contraceptives. No beer. No movies. No videogames. No eating out. No gifts for friends and family. No emergency fund. Nothing for education. No savings account.

And what happens if you have a kid?
Good Luck, and welcome to America!


Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Educating the "working poor" is somewhat of a red herring. Education doesn't mean a thing when the class ceiling is in place. It isn't just a matter of having a degree. It's knowing the appropriate social responses that gets you ahead. The only way a member of the working poor can get ahead is through incredible luck or pure viciousness and no amount of hard work in the education system is going to change that.

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way to go, Merge. I look Forward to Your entries.Says it like it is.MP

11:05 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Thanks MP.


You bring up some good points. There are, in fact, some vestiges of affirmative action left in the system that work toward the advancement of a few individuals. But social mobility is certainly not as common as many would have you believe.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous rob p said...

This is a perfect example of a power structure's ability to reinforcing the status quo.

Those middle-class fourteen year olds and thier parents have been taught by education and the media to dogmatically believe protecting the ulta-upper-class they in fact protect thier interests. Few have the incentive to critically analyze the existing power structure
and implement some sort of change.

Perhaps this the Internet will provide more meaningful dialoge.
This new form of media is a way to influence people by the people for the people. No conglomerates or corperations sponsored media will try to change the existing power structure that benefits thier interests.

Did the simple math mean anything to the kids?

Education and media/communication are the way to create change. Or violent revolution. Perhaps a little of both.

This was one of my favorite articles. Try to publish it some where.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

rob P.

I'm glad you appreciated the post, and even more glad that you took the time to construct a response.

In the case of those 14-year olds, their opinions are formed several degrees away from actual experience. In most cases their parents aren't even prepared to form an opinion from any actual base of knowledge.

I agree that the internet provides the most democratic form for individual commentary. I have several online sources that I trust way more than I'd ever trust a "mainstream" source.

The kids were definitely moved by the math. All I ever hope for is to plant a seed of cognitive dissonance. Just so they register an alternative to whatever beliefs they have inherited.

Thanks for the suggestion that I publish this elsewhere. I'd have no idea where to go with it. Perhaps a letter to the editor?

9:41 PM  
Anonymous rob p said...

Next time wage increaase is major news send a letter to the editor in a few papers.

2:52 AM  

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