06/12/2014 03:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Income Disparity and the Minimum Wage: Six Degrees of Separation to the Solution

Income inequality is a topic that hovers over our economy like the mother ship from Independence Day. It has a national impact as well as individual impacts to millions of Americans.

The problems are systemic, spread out in a web-like fashion across a wide variety of industries, but there are multiple connections and interactions of the causes and consequences. But if you follow each radius of this web you will find that there is a common solution. All you have to do is follow the degrees of separation from the problem to the solution.

Here's an example: Last year, the CEO of United Healthcare made over $12 million dollars, which is approximately $35,000 per day. By contrast the average salary for all occupation across the country is only $35,200 per year. If you are keeping score, that means that he makes 365 times what the average worker in this country brings home.

The Wal-mart Corporation is still owned by four of the richest people in this country, yet their employees, who are paid minimum wage, do not get health benefits and are forced to either go to the health exchanges or apply for Medicaid. They cannot afford individual policies from United Healthcare unless they have dual enrollment, meaning they have to be disabled or over 65. But Walmart has cut back on senior greeters and have an abysmal rate of employing the handicapped, so the health insurance company who's CEO make more in a day than most do in a year has actually priced themselves out of the market of Wal-mart employees.

So those of us who can afford United Healthcare policies pay more, and then Medicaid picks up the rest. Medicaid is paid by our federal and state tax dollars. The State is fiscally overburdened trying to cover all of these working poor and have to cut back in things like education to make ends meet. Governor Rick Scott had been asked for his reasoning on cutting education by $1 Billion in 2011. "No program has grown as fast and as much as Medicaid, and we must find ways to control the cost," he explained. "If we do nothing, this program will bankrupt our state."

The federal government could be helping out with that cost, but the state rejected the federal expansion of Medicaid in Florida that would have covered 763,890 residents -- and the $50 billion in federal money over 10 years so we Floridians have to absorb that cost.

Our kids get a minimalist or reduced education, which often leads to minimum wage jobs like at Wal-mart, and make less than a living wage so they are forced to apply for federal and state assistance programs.

Their nutrition suffers, too, since they often cannot afford decent food to eat, so they buy less fresh produce and more prepared foods, including McDonald's.


Fast Food workers march in Tampa on 5-15-2014 Photo by Tim Heberlein of FCAN

When people end up working for minimum wage in places like McDonald's they live a life of subsistence and in many circumstances they are less than enthusiastic about their job. Since many have no health insurance and no sick days, they often have to come to work sick (not a great thing to do in a place that prepares food) and feel like they are in an endless trap of working poverty.

Beyond covering the bills and what food that can afford, they spend very little on other things that our country manufactures or pay for very little from our service industry, so our economy as a whole suffers, as does their health, which is often treated with Medicaid dollars, and the cycle continues.

Just when you would think that this train wreck of causes and effects has run out of track, a familiar solution pops up to be proven (again) .

Many might think erroneously that the impoverished city of Detroit has no solutions (they are currently forcing retirees to go to the exchanges for health insurance). But, in the city that brought the first $5.00 work week and the assembly line, a shining light of logic glows in the often dimly lit and wounded Motor City. A place that serves fast food has an answer, and it is one that was in our face all along, if we could see through the dark web. "Moo Cluck Moo", a small 12,000 square foot high-quality hamburger and chicken sandwiches restaurant in Dearborn Heights, a Detroit suburb, is paying their employees almost double the minimum wage. And the light of truth, beyond all the dark apocalyptic visions of those who oppose a higher minimum wage, shines a beacon of hope.

In a world of minimum wage-impoverished fast food workers, they pay their employees $15/hour. However, the burgers still cost around five dollars, unlike the Red-Robin $10 burger or other restaurants who continue to pay their employees less than a living wage.

Yet, the world has not come to an end.

Their employees are paying their bills and their student loans, and sending their kids to softball camp. They are happier, and it shows in their job performance. The customers appreciate it, and the local economy will benefit from it.

So, what restaurant in Florida will follow their lead and prove the state legislators wrong who voted to kill this sessions minimum wage bill?

Just like my move from Sam's' Club to Costco, I'll make the move to that pioneering establishment that supports a higher minimum wage, and I am sure that many will follow.

According to Crain's Detroit Business, Moo-Cluck-Moo co-founder Brian Parker recognizes that his labor cost is 40 percent, and the food cost is 30 percent, yet says they are still making a profit. "I'm taking less money personally," he said. "My question is, how much do we have to make? How big of a pile of money do CEOs have to sit on?"

My guess is not one made of 365 times bigger than their workers.


Gary Stein, MPH, a native Detroiter, worked for the Centers for Disease Control, landed in the Tampa Bay area to work for the State Tobacco program and is now a health advocate and activist and blogger for the Huffington Post. Column courtesy of Context Florida.