07/07/2014 05:32 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2014

The Ridiculous Minimum Wage Argument


It is nothing short of disgusting that the self-proclaimed "greatest country on earth" is engaged in a vehement discussion on minimum wages. It's particularly offensive when politicians, charged with the will and well-being of the people they represent, oppose it while the rest of the civilized world is not only paying their workers more, but also offering them health care, more time off and earlier retirement. A McDonald's worker in Canada, for example, makes more than $10/hour, in France they make $12 per hour and in Australia it's nearly $15. The average pay for the same job in the Good Ole US of A is about $7.76 per hour.

The unfettered opinions members of Congress spew into microphones, out loud, while cameras are rolling makes me cringe for the people working minimum wage jobs. While much of what they say is shrouded in rhetoric and hyperbole, the message is clear: If you're working a minimum wage job you must be a loser.

[W]hen you raise the cost of something, you get less of it," House Speaker John Boehner railed, when the White House announced its plan to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers. "We know from increases in the minimum wage in the past that hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans have lost their jobs.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made similar remarks, saying, "Raising the minimum wage could destroy as many as one million jobs..."

A million jobs? That's a lot of jobs. While the statements are made vigorously and with great passion, they come backed by no fact or evidence. In fact, real-world experience paints a very different picture.

In 1998, the people of the state of Washington voted to raise their minimum wage and link future increases to the rate of inflation. Today, at $9.32, the state has the highest minimum wage in the country. Earlier this month the Seattle City Council voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in a unanimous decision, making it the highest in the nation. The city surprisingly wasn't infested with locusts nor has there been a mass exodus of businesses from the state.

In fact, Washington's high minimum wage has proved to have the opposite effect. In March of this year, Bloomberg News reported:

In the 15 years that followed... job growth continued at an average 0.8 percent annual pace, 0.3 percentage point above the national rate. Payrolls at Washington's restaurants and bars, portrayed as particularly vulnerable to higher wage costs, expanded by 21 percent. Poverty has trailed the US level for at least seven years.

What's more incredible is listening to politicians talk about abolishing the minimum wage altogether. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have both suggested that we get rid of the minimum wage. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander responded to questions from Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont during a Senate debate:

When Sanders noted that there are "some conservatives who do not believe in the concept of the minimum wage," Alexander jumped in to endorse that position. "So you do not believe in the concept of the minimum wage?" the Vermonter asked? "That's correct," Alexander responded. When Sanders followed up, asking if the Tennessee Republican would "abolish" the minimum wage, Alexander replied, "Correct."

This next gem comes from Rep. Michelle Bachmann, proudly serving the 6th district of Minnesota, with a median income of $56,862 and an unemployment rate of nearly eight percent:

Literally, if we took away the minimum wage -- if conceivably it was gone -- we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level.

Sure, let's just get rid of the minimum wage all together and let the people running the company and their board decide what 10-12 hours a day out of a human life is worth. What could possibly go wrong?

There's an argument in all of those statements that goes something like this: If you're working a minimum wage job, you must be worth the minimum wage. In other words, you're really worth nothing and that's what we're going to pay you. If you didn't work hard enough to become a CEO like I did when Daddy appointed me, then you don't deserve to eat.

I'm not sure when we became a nation of greedy, hateful pigs, but I do remember a time when a business took pride in not only their workmanship, but in the fact that they were creating jobs in their community. They gave people a purpose and a living wage. It allowed a person the dignity of being self-sufficient and the security of taking care of themselves and their family. In return the company got dedication, loyalty and a product or service that others wanted to buy. Henry Ford, one of the country's biggest manufacturing icons made a point of making sure that his employees earned enough to buy a car. Today, we have Walmart workers, who despite working full time are so poorly paid that they have to rely on taxpayer subsidized food stamps, welfare and Medicare totaling more than $1 million per store.

We're being told that job numbers are improving. Employment rose by 217,000 jobs in May, according to the latest jobs report, bringing us up to 8.7 million jobs since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Incidentally, 8.7 million is the same number of jobs that were lost because of that recession. But they haven't come back. They're low paying jobs. Minimum wage jobs. Jobs for people who don't deserve to be paid a living wage.

From Moyers and Company:

So, it's interesting that the recent news of job market 'improvement' doesn't mention that of the ten occupation categories projecting the greatest growth in the next eight years, only one pays a middle-class wage. Four pay barely above poverty level and five pay beneath it, including fast-food workers, retail sales staff, health aids and janitors. The job expected to have the highest number of openings is 'personal care aide'--taking care of aging baby boomers in their houses or in nursing homes. The median salary of an aid is under $20,000. They enjoy no benefits and about 40 percent of them must rely on food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet, plus many are in the 'shadow economy,' vulnerable to being cheated on the already miserly wages.

That means the father or mother with a couple of kids, now looking at the degree they have from some university they probably still owe money to, is going to take whatever they can get to pay for the roof over their head and to put food on the table. They may even need to take two. It also means that the boomer couple who lost their pension, 401k, savings, and home value as a result of the felonious acts of the same corporations who are now opposing a living wage, isn't going to retire when they thought they would and will be looking into landing one of those jobs. That's who members of Congress are giving the finger to. People do what they need to do to survive. It's been that way since the beginning of time and this country has proven time and time again that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, but the argument and the opposition to allowing people a living wage for full time work is frankly embarrassing.

Those jobs supposedly flooding the economy aren't the good paying middle-class jobs with benefits on which you can raise a family. Millennials still living at home, looking for money to buy MP3s and the latest smart phone from a company that evades taxes aren't going to fill those jobs. Those jobs are going to be filled by Boomers who were ravaged by the recession. Next time you're in a Target, Walmart or Home Depot look around at the average age of the person working there. Most of them are older than 50, who sucked it up and took what they could get in order to support their family, in what may now be the second, third or fourth act of their employment history, and dumping what little they earn back into the economy by buying food, gas, clothes and other necessities -- are we really going to tell them that they're only worth $7.50 an hour?

What's more flabbergasting is the people who continue to vote for legislators who are clearly working against their best interest as if they're not affected by this argument. That somehow the issue of a minimum wage doesn't apply to them. "That's for lazy people and kids," they say. "Anyone can make it in this country, if they just apply themselves."

Try applying yourself when the only job you can find is collecting carts in the Walmart parking lot for $300 per week. See how far your positive attitude gets you when you're humiliated and degraded by an 18-year-old pimply boss.

That being said, to be fair, if collecting carts in a parking lot is what you want to do or all you can do, for whatever reason, we need you and you deserve the same dignity as the next person and should be paid a wage that will allow you to live.

There's an underlying sense in this country that anyone can make it if you just "work hard enough." That attitude and premise worked when a second job wasn't needed to just simply survive, but meant being able to afford a little more and maybe move up and out. When corporations offered pensions, paid vacations, time off with the family and a living wage people were loyal to the company because the company was loyal to them. Today, many people are living paycheck to paycheck if they're lucky. Retirement funds, savings accounts and pensions have been eviscerated by the very people who proposed and promoted them. The average income of families has fallen to an all-time low and we're still voting for the same people who continue to stick it to us and think that a raise in the minimum wage will destroy the country that brought you the Walton family of Walmart. They are currently worth over $100 billion -- more than the combined wealth of 40 percent of the country's labor force who probably make about $7.50 an hour working at Walmart.

I leave you with a line paraphrased from John Steinbeck: Poor people in America don't see themselves as an exploited proletariat, but as a temporarily embarrassed millionaire.

As long as we continue to think like that, corporations and Congress will continue to do what they do and we will continue be paid exactly what we're worth.

Cross-posted from Complete Senior.