As interesting as it is to get bogged down with anecdotal information about the minimum wage debate, it doesn’t mean too much in the grand scheme of things. The reason there’s a push to raise minimum is twofold, really:
1) Cost of living adjustment.
2) Post-recession employment sucks.
Let’s address that first point. When I was a minimum wage earner way back in the day, it was something like $3.35/hr. It’s been raised several times since then, thankfully. I recall, back then, a lot of noise from Republicans about the dangers of raising minimum wage. “Inflation! Layoffs! Impossible!” Sound familiar?
Some songs simply do not change. They trot out this number every time a discussion about raising minimum wage ensues. Thus far, raising this standard over the past 25 years has yet to bring the economy crashing to its knees.
The second point is a very important one in this discussion, because the job market today is completely different than the pre-recession job market before 2008. Yes, unemployment rates are higher than five years ago by about a percentage point, but that’s less the issue than the reality that there are less jobs available in the marketplace.
Jobs? What Jobs?
Take manufacturing and construction, for example. These are two of the hardest hit sectors in the American job market. The most current data I could find was from about a year ago and states that nearly 4 million construction and manufacturing jobs were lost in the recession and haven’t come back.
Think about that. That’s 4 million jobs that paid anywhere on the low end of $40,000/year for construction workers and between $60,000-75,000 for manufacturing workers. Jobs with good pay and in many cases, good benefits. Gone.
Now ask yourself this question: where do you think those people are going to find work? It sure as shit ain’t Wall Street. Skilled laborers are left out in the cold in this post-recession economy where CEO pay continues to rise while millions of middle class jobs went away and aren’t likely to come back for another six years, according to economists.
But back to that question: where do all these displaced workers go to find jobs? Where do you think they go? Target, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, etc. In other words, the minimum wage jobs you and I held has teenagers are now being held by men and women with no other options for employment other than a minimum wage job that probably does not include full-time hours or benefits.
The Minimum Wage Earner
How does that compare to the past? In 2000, for example, 31.3 percent of the minimum wage workforce was 16-19 years old. Now? It’s down to 12 percent. In fact, the current average age of the minimum wage worker is 35 years old, and one third are 40 or more.
Clearly, we are no longer talking about teens. We are talking about what we can call The New Normal, which simply means lower wages, less benefits and less hours at a job for what used to be the Middle Class. You don’t have to take my word for it, but the numbers I’ve stated pretty much mete out the facts.
We’re Arguing Minimum Wage While CEOs Truly Get Richer????
The point I’m making is arguing against a minimum wage increase, while perfunctory in nature for some, is counterintuitive if you believe people who want to work should earn a halfway decent wage while doing it. But the deeper problem that no one wants to talk about is how we’ve moved to an economic structure that more quickly rewards CEOs and shareholders than the rank-and-file employees.
When someone says minimum wage should be increased, some folks flip out and heap scorn upon the very notion. Yet when you point out to those same folks the fact that the CEO-to-worker pay ratio is now 273:1, what do they say? “The CEO works hard for it.” And the guy who got forced out of his $50,000/year job and is left to 30 hours a week at Target isn’t? Please.
If you’re in favor of a model that over-rewards CEOs, that’s fine, I guess. But you can’t hold that view and simultaneously argue minimum wage workers don’t deserve more than $7.25/hour. If you support a system where the haves always have more, you are supporting a system that will continue to squeeze out the middle class and force it into poverty.
That’s hardly an overstatement when a full-time minimum wage job brings home $15,080. After taxes, that’s about $12,000 a year. Can you live on $12,000 a year at this point in your life? When you’ve got a mortgage, a car payment, kids in school who need braces and clothes and food to eat? And before you argue, “just go out and get a better job,” re-read what I’ve written about the current job market. In case you missed it, most of the jobs that went away are not coming back. Ever.
The fact that we are having this argument over minimum wage increases is both sad and frustrating. It’s sad that people will rely on myth, lore and anecdotal nonsense about what people are buying at the supermarket as a basis for a policy stance. It’s doubly frustrating when they ignore the statistics and realities that have been pointed out by people much smarter than me.
My Humble Two Pennies
If you ask me, the problem is the corporate-ization of the American economy has led to this widening chasm between the 1 percent and the rest of us. When balance sheets, bonuses and shareholder earnings take precedent over everything else, we are failing. When corporations are rewarded with increased share prices after issuing layoffs, we are failing. When the Middle Class turns on itself and treats those who are left to minimum wage jobs as though they’re leeches on society, we are failing.
It’s time to do better or we lose the Middle Class forever.
And By The Way…
Who the hell has time to snoop through other people’s shopping buggies?!?! Seriously! I hear people too often use this BS argument as the smoking gun against government assistance programs. Never you mind that your anecdotal evidence hardly comes close to who’s really on government assistance (elderly and military, for example). What really bothers me is you think it’s okay to snoop on people and judge them. That’s both creepy and obnoxious. Mind your business!