Saturday, June 7, 2014
The Minimum Wage and Economic Mobility
By Kurt von Behrmann
I was up late one night, and just felt the need to get these ideas out and into the world wide web. Several days ago I read a response to an item I had posted. The entry under my original post made me ponder. It also left me a bit angry in that I could not understand the reason behind anyone seeing a negative to the establishment of a higher minimum wage. For decades, wages have remained stagnant. What has not remained frozen are the assorted costs for living. Rent, education, cars, insurances, homes, food, energy nearly anything that can be purchased as risen in price.
I can’t address everything, but let me touch upon some points. There are jobs that are frequently seen as low paying and therefore jobs that require very little. Often the opposite is true. Bus drivers can be paid as little as $ 9.37 an hour. What many may not realize is that the training is demanding. One has to know detailed parts of a bus and pass several demanding exams. They are also responsible for hundreds of lives and must deal with the physical task of assisting disabled passengers, and this requires a great deal of effort.
Walmart is notorious for low pay. One can expect $ 8.86 an hour full time without benefits. These jobs are not easy. One may be required to do everything from moving carts, handling inventory, dealing with customer service and stocking shelves, as well as assisting with shipping. While all of this is transpiring, one may be pulled from the floor for mandatory training. This can take place all in one day.
Fast food may seem like an easy profession. It is not. It is fast paced, requires standing up for hours on end and dealing with customer service. These jobs are not easy. Call center work is the same way. It is fast paced and your bonuses can be taken away at a moment’s notice with incentive programs designed to make sure you cannot take advantage of them.
From personal observable experience, I know of one working mother who works as a server for a large cinema chain. She works long hours, deals with a demanding work loads while standing and is paid $ 5.00 an hour. She depends on tips, and those are infrequent. Let me add, this individual is highly educated, speaks several languages fluently and is also involved in continuing education for another career. At present, in our economy, this is what she could find. Previously she had been a very well paid professional who received a 30 percent raise during her tenure at her previous job. The argument that servers and others are lazy and lack ambition is a fiction. It is not the reality of the present.
There is an argument that people who work these jobs have it “easy.” They do not.
One may also comment on social mobility. Sadly, that is becoming nearly impossible. Tuition hikes are unending. This key stone for advancement is becoming inaccessible. Supplies for courses are rising. Hundreds of dollars are not uncommon figures when it comes to supplies. As the price of an education rises, assistance is going down.
Loans burden students with eternal debt. Without an education, social mobility becomes impossible, or at best highly unlikely to happen. I arrived at a shock regarding my education costs when I attended high school. I was fortunate to attend a very good private high school. My family was able to afford the costs, which were rather high in the 70’s. Tuition for the school then was about $ 2,000.00 a year. Flash forward to now and that same education costs $ 30,000.00 a year!
There is the idea that hard work pays off in terms of compensation. It doesn’t always work out that way. The fiction that hard work leads to economic mobility is simply a fiction. You can work hard and go nowhere. The huge wage disparity between those who perform labor and those that are in ownership positions and management posts where two hour lunches become tax deductible business expenses is in part to blame. Enormous corporations are utilizing the commons, paying below living wage salaries to their workers and then off shore jobs in order to avoid U.S. taxes.
The wealthy become wealthier and the poor become even more destitute.
Our economic system works on consumption. Products are produced with the idea that they will be sold. The more items sold, the better. However, with a destitute majority, goods and services will decline in consumption. Without a viable consumer market, there is no economy. What we have witnessed now are austerity approaches to the economy. As consumption weakens, jobs are lost. While jobs and the attendant lower wages proliferate, companies look for cheaper means of labor. This translates into jobs being moved over seas and stagnate wages on these shores.
There are other reasons for wage discrepancies. The lack of dedication on the part of some elected officials to social services that empower people and assist in their self-reliance are in a large part to blame. Privatization of public education through the establishment of charter schools translates into defunding public education. What is offered as choice, more charter schools, is in reality the opening of poorly funded public ones with the idea that privatization is the answer to the woes of our dilapidated education system. Charter schools are not subject to the same scrutiny as public ones are. These new charter schools are funded by diverting funds that would go to public schools.
If you would like to know more, read what the Alabama Education Association has to say on the topic.
The forces that are creating and maintaining an American underclass are numerous. They are also complex. What compounds the problem is that we have not had a political environment that has addressed the issue of economic inequity in a straight forward manner. What we have is grid locked government because one party, the Republican Party, has made it very clear in actions and in language that they intend to do nothing. They have done just that, nothing.