Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Day 38 of 365: Minimum Wage

If you ignore those pesky little bits of news like, say, Syria, then one of the biggest stories as of late has been about fast food workers and their demands for better wages. It's a pretty polarizing topic: some are calling for a raise of the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, while others are essentially saying, "Get a real job if you want to pay your bills."

To be honest, I'm a little torn. The current minimum wage we have right now just doesn't make sense. If we had raised minimum wage at the same rate as inflation, minimum wage would be around $16/hour. If you factored in productivity, it would be upwards of $22/hour. On the flipside, college educations have gone up considerably faster than inflation -- upwards of four times the rate of inflation. The nutto conservatives were right about one thing: things were easier in the "good old days," at least in that sense.

The biggest argument against raising wages is, "This isn't supposed to be a job you keep! This is for high school and college students and that's it!" First off, have you ever had a teenager get your order? If you're anything like me, seeing some 15-year-old behind the register gives you a slight sense of dread. Not to mention that, thanks to those pesky "labor laws", people under 18 can't work more than 20 hours per week, or between the hours of 8 and 3. And all those college students who are falling over themselves to get a proper internship or on-campus job would love to do a shift or two at McDonald's instead.

That being said, raising the minimum wage now won't do much good. As my friend pointed out, companies are champing at the bit for a chance to gauge prices. Even though all the giant corporations have boasted record profits for the last couple of years, they'll use a raise in minimum wage as an excuse to raise prices twofold. Either because the standard of living has gone up or because the cost of productivity has gone up. The excuse really doesn't matter, as the real reason is purely to line the pockets of CEOs.

But all this makes me think about the state of wages in general. My friend recently walked away from a pretty horrific job: she was a "marketing research" person, which is fancy-talk for having only a singular black phone on your desk. All day, she had to cold call people and get them interested in whatever product or service the marketing company was hired to promote. And what did this misery pay? $13/hour. I made more teaching, and that's honestly saying something.

We live in a day and age where companies don't just try to get you on board for the least amount of money possible; they try to get you on board for slave wages and then mutter something about the economy when you object. It's a corporation's market out there right now. They can do what they want, require whatever they want, and people will take it because we're all still a little rattled from the Great Recession.

I remember job searching during my senior year of college. One of the job listing was looking for an applicant with five years of experience and a bachelor's degree (but master's preferred). Starting wage? $10/hour. Which is only slightly more what I made as a retail slave in a clothing store.

My friend made another great point: instead of arguing over minimum wage, why not focus on why so many people are trying to support themselves on jobs at McDonald's or Burger King? We've shipped jobs overseas like it's our main export, all the while driving up the cost of college and making it that much harder to get a job. While $7.50/hour is a pittance (and McDonald's "budget helper" for someone working two minimum wage jobs at 72 hours a week is insulting), our focus should be as much on calling for the government to, gee, govern. Give incentives for companies to keep their jobs in America (and taxes for those who don't). Find alternatives to "student loan help" and actually find ways to drive down the inflated costs of college.

That being said, I am for the minimum wage being raise -- but slowly. Just enough that the delicate balance of our fragile economy isn't thrown out of whack. I don't think telling companies to pay their people at least $12/hour is going to drive the economy into the ground; I do think that companies scrambling to make up "hypothetical lost profit" or to capitalize on people's fears with the federal minimum wage will.

We definitely don't live in easy times and, even with companies performing wonderfully after the Great Recession, it doesn't look like things are going to get better anytime soon. And, much like everything in life, there's always more to the story -- a lot more than, "just raise the wages!" or "get a real job!"

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