Saturday, August 05, 2006

Do We Have to Put Up with Even More Minimum Wage Nonsense?

The left end of Congress, and some in the middle, think that all American employers should consult government on the amount of wages to pay their employees. They must be assuming one or more of the following:

- Employers are too stupid to figure it out for themselves.

- Employers will wring every last penny out of their personnel for their own personal profit.

- Employers do not have to compete with other employers when bidding for laborers.

- On the other side, employees will take whatever the first employer will offer them, and have no alternative choices.

- Many employees are earning the minimum wage.

I can reassure them from personal experience that none of the above is true; but of course no one asks those of us who are actually involved in the fray.

Jane Harman puts it this way:

"Indeed, as most Americans believe, exploitation is contrary to democratic principles - and hard work should be rewarded with a decent and dignified standard of living." Jane Harman, e-mail circular, 08/03/06

Now, I have no quarrel with that statement. But to make the leap from there to the above ridiculous presumptions is quite a stretch. What she doesn't realize is that any small business owner paying bottom wage (and I'm assuming that's who most of them are) has not single-handedly forced anyone to join the company, and couldn't if he/she wanted to. Slavery went out of fashion a few years ago. And to block the next reactive idiocy, they don't collude with all the other small companies in a community, agreeing behind everyone's back to pay below a "decent and dignified standard of living."

Next, very few people are actually earning the minimum wage; and some of those may be newcomers, apprentices, and people who will move up the ladder if they mind their Ps and Qs for a month or two. Why shouldn't a beginner receive an apprentice's wage, if that's where salaries are, marketwise? (Oh-oh, there's that boogyman word "market" again!)

And here's an interesting thought: Small companies make up a good portion of the job providers in the market, and to force many of them to pay more than they can afford for unskilled beginners will put them out of business.

Ms. Harman quotes Franklin Roosevelt: "No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to exist in this country." I guess she believes it's much nicer for the worst-paying businesses to shut down, so they can send their minimum-wage employees back to the unemployment office where they belong.

But maybe that is Congress's goal. It's called S&M Politics. Get'em down on their knees, begging for food. Then give them a crumb. Make them think they need you. They'll thank you by giving you their vote.

[Thanks to for the image.]


Anonymous mortalez said...

You are right to a degree, while employers dont force people to work for them others do.
example: The bank that holds your morgage, the apartment complex that you live in, the local electric company, the water company etc etc etc....

You see the economy swings back and fourth and right now we have a lousy economy and what makes it lousy is the fact that we a currently in a labor surpluss(more people than jobs) during a good economy(more jobs than people to fill them) what you say may be true but many are forced to take whatever job they can find(hence being forced to work at said job).
No person who has the drive to get up every mourning and drive, ride bus or walk to a job and be treated like a slave, less than human or just another cog in the machine should have to live paycheck to paycheck.
The days of walking out the doors of your highschool and into the doors of the local factory working 2 years then marrying you highschool sweetheart then buying a house after the first kid is 3 and having 1.3 more kids buying 2 cars getting those 2.3 kids through collage and retiering on the company retierment fund buying an RV, after getting your new son inlaw a job at the factory you worked at for 30 years are long gone.
why? because many of the people who worked at that factory (as did their father and grandfather) have lost those jobs (thanks to big business moving the plant to aubu dabi) and are FORCED to take minimum wage jobs.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Katy said...

Thank you, Mortalez, for your comments, and I willl try to give you my views point by point.

The way I see it, no one forces us to work, although I admit the other alternatives in today's society -- i.e. to beg for a living (or eat out of garbage cans), or to move to a different society or outside of society altogether -- are not appealing to me. I prefer to live in this society and work, and so do you, most likely; but we do have other options. I disagree that anyone forces me to choose this option.

Lousy economy? Not yet, not in my opinion. Unemployment is only at 4.7%, give or take a few percent for statistical error. I cannot understand why people say we now have a bad economy. There is no labor surplus in America, as far as I can see. Personally, I know no one who is not working, and who would like to. I'm sure there are some, 4.7% in fact, or perhaps a little more.

Taking a job one does not like, or one that is paid less than one would like, can be one of two things. I can be defeat (slavery), or it can be motivation to learn, and to advance, and to move on to a better job. It's all a question of attitude, and aptitude. (Yes, very very few are incapable of moving ahead. Life is not fair; and if you have great empathy for those people, you should take some of your own money to help them out personally, or contribute to an appropriate charity that will do so. Government should not be in the charity business -- in my opinion.)

This human who you claim is forced to accept "to be treated like a slave" by living "paycheck to paycheck" -- would you rather he live unemployment check to unemployment check? That is the defeatist's alternative, that is to say the alternative chosen by those who have no hope for laborers, and who thinks that people who take entry-level jobs are stupid and can't advance in life. I do not believe that, from personal experience. Every person I have ever employed has advanced, if he willed to do so; and so did his salary.

The good old days you mention are not gone; many people are living that very lifestyle as we "speak." You are talking from your fear, not from your knowledge of the way things really are. This is not to say that manufacturing workers have not been forced to undergo some difficult changes in today's shifting work climate, and I understand their reluctance to do so. But personally I believe change is good, and that the labor market will absorb anyone willing to adjust, learn and apply themselves. (Frankly, compared to what I've earned in my lifetime, I think that those "good old days" you mention were a pendulum ride over and beyond the reasonable limit, and now the pendulum is finding its balance again. Union workers continue to make much more than I do, and I'm not unhappy with my situation, even if it is a humble one.)

And cite me some names of people who lost their job at those golden factories, who were "FORCED to take minimum wage jobs." I want names and e-mails, so I can check up on you. I don't believe your statement.

Thanks for your interest.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous mortalez said...

not a lousy economy?
have you missed the 90's.
most of the 90's was an example of a good economy.
And That 4.7% unemployment is missleading because a blanket figure of who is and is not working does not paint the whole picture.
As in what percentage of jobs pay OVER the poverty line?

Are they $15.00hr + jobs or burger king jobs?

In 1996 I was making $14.87 an hour working for a small ISP, in 1998 I was making $15.00 an hour working for a factory making boxes that software goes in. in 1999 I was makeing $16.00 an hour working for another ISP, and in 2001 I was making $6.50 an hour as a security guard.
many of the people I have worked with in the last 6 years have had high paying jobs in the 90's.
And yes even in this economy I have had higher paying jobs but they were unstable,have to travel, back breaking or dangerous and never to the level of pre 1999 jobs I have held.

And yes I am pro union for just the reasons stated above, right now the handful of good entry level jobs have more people dropping off resume's than they have openings(the GM plant here has a 5 year waiting list and so does the lockheed marton plant)

If you have trouble finding people to work for you maybe you want too much for too little.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Katy said...

You must be a young 'n. You must not remember that the early 90s were bad, real bad -- or at least they were out west. The late 90s, on the other hand, were a bubble economy, in my opinion, leading up to the dot-com bursting and the recession of 2000-2001.

But there have been ups and downs from the beginning of history. That's the perspective that you don't seem to have. I'm older.

What percentage of jobs pays over the poverty line? The statistics about wages can be obtained at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the website for the latest figures is:

There you will see that few people are making minimum wage, and most of those are people who also make tips (waiters, barmen, etc.) You can also find out exactly how many working people are making over and under the poverty line. Please keep in mind that the "poverty line" in the US includes two cars, three TVs, cellular phones, washing machines, microwaves, etc., whereas in China, even some of those living well ABOVE the Chinese "poverty line" live in earthen-floored homes with no running water. In other words, it's all relative, especially when you consider that only a few decades ago, no one in the world even had hot water on tap, or electricity.

So, you went through some hard times. And what are you making now, may I ask? How long did your stint at $6.50 last? And you are courageous to have taken such a hit in pay rather than go on unemployment. I applaud you. I wish there were more like you.

I also know several people who were earning great money in the late 90s, but I believe it was a "windfall" bubble economy, and it has spoiled some of us into expecting that it's normal when it is not, or at least was not then. (Some day in the future, it may truly become normal again as things progress.)

As for GM and Lockheed, well, I just love to travel myself, so I would have no problem getting up and moving the family to some town that has jobs. Why stick around on a waiting list for 5 years? That's ... well, I won't characterize it, because, I guess to each his own.

Who said I had trouble finding people to work for me? I don't think I said that. I said that there is not a surplus of labor. Yet I have never had trouble finding excellent employees after a good search.

I realize that you will never change your mind; and as I've said in the past, I'm not likely to change mine either. That's just the way humans are built. We tend to stick with the attitudes of our parents (or react violently against them.) But I love to learn, and to hear your opinions and experiences. Thanks.

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If an employer does not have the capital to employ their labor force (paying a living wage), what in the world are they doing attempting to operate a business? I thought this lesson was taught rather harshly to the business world by H.Ford decades ago...

Awaiting your enlightened response.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Katy said...

Dear Anonymous,

Here's my interpretation of your statement:

'In order to open a business, a future employer must guarantee that they will pay no one below a "living wage," i.e. a wage that is well over the present minimum.'

That is the equivalent of mandating a sizeable increase in the minimum wage. If all businesses were put to this litmus test, you would eliminate a notable percentage of them (I don't know the exact figure), and along with them the minimum-wage jobs they create.

Are you recommending that these businesses never open, that the unemployed stay on unemployment, and that everyone presently earning the minimum wage be put on unemployment with them?

If that is correct, then I do not understand your point, my dear anonymous friend, because reducing the number of businesses that hire people will reduce the tax base that pays for the unemployment benefits in question.

This is not a viable option. You must not bite the hand that feeds you.

Please read the above exchange with Mortalez for further argumentation along the same lines.

And what was Ford's lesson? I guess I missed that one.

Thanks for the interest. - Katy

3:44 PM  

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