I have work to do today — I have in fact been up since 5:17 working, but there is still more to do. #1 daughter told me yesterday that she hasn’t had a day off in so long that she feels like she’s about to have a nervous breakdown. I’m not planning on having one myself, and am in fact feeling fairly serene this morning in the thunderstorm, but I get where she’s coming from.
We need days off.
However, when I have to work weekends I am at least doing things I enjoy. This is not true for all workers. We’ve been discussing the question of minimum wage chez fibermom. We’ve been talking about this off and on since President Obama called for an increase, so I might have written about it before. However, it continues to be an interesting topic.
First, of course, I was in favor. Who could be against increasing the minimum wage? If you work full time at a minimum wage job, you earn about $15,000 a year, which is totally not enough to live on. In fact, people who make less than $20,000 in the U.S. are significantly less happy than those who manage to earn $20,000. At the very least, our right to the pursuit of happiness should lead us to offer a minimum wage that could lead to happiness.
Look more closely. Who works for minimum wage? Some 2% of workers. Mostly women, but mostly also adults, and most have finished high school and even a little bit of college. These are unfortunate people, for sure, but they have agreed to take those jobs. Perhaps they are working their way up, and perhaps they are unable to find anything else, but there must be some reason they’ve agreed to work for so little.
I’ve never paid anyone minimum wage, but let’s imagine that I did. If I have a worker who is worth so little that they’re willing to work for $7.25 an hour and I suddenly have to pay them $13.00, won’t I figure that I could instead hire someone as good as my $13.00 worker? This seems reasonable to me. Employers would let their erstwhile minimum wage people go and hire more educated people with fewer problems getting to work or less history of substance abuse or whatever it is that makes those folks work for minimum wage.
But wait — # daughter points out that if the minimum wage were $13.00, our $13.00 workers would no longer be willing to work for that amount. What self-respecting worker will work for minimum wage? Everyone would get a raise, and that would mean we’d all have to raise prices, and the minimum wage folks would be right back where they were before.
#1 daughter also suggests that not all work is equally valuable.
Personally, I would be totally okay with a system in which everyone who works gets a nice place to live and a reasonable amount of money in their bank account, possibly from the government, but elves could do it and I would be fine with that. I am not at all convinced that some work is intrinsically worth more than other work. People should do what they love and are good at, and get their needs met in exchange.
But even under such an unlikely system, there are jobs that probably be done by machines. Ticket takers at movie theaters? What is the point of that? A card-swiping machine at the door would work just fine — or a phone app. Fast food workers? We would be better off with far fewer fast food restaurants. I don’t know who else works for minimum wage, but surely we’re not paying people that little to do things we think are important.
Look closer again. People earning minimum wage are living in poverty, unless they are kids working after school. They are therefore getting government assistance, funded by taxpayers. We are therefore subsidizing the low-paying jobs for greefdy corporations that make plenty of money and could share it around a bit. I don’t shop at Walmart or dine at McDonald’s, but my tax dollars make it possible for their underpaid workers to live. Is that right? I pay my workers decently, so Walmart and McDonald’s sure as heck can afford to do so.
There are only minimum wage jobs because people take those jobs. The solution may be to get an education and be worth more than that. If no one will work for $7.25, then no one will be paid that amount.