Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Desperate Living Wage

This is sort of a continuation post from last week's post named Second Wave.
Taken out of historical context, many debates can seem to be no more than petty complaining. One in particular has been rife with misinformation (on both sides of the argument.) I am referring (again) to the minimum wage discussion. The majority of those pleading for a higher wage are desperate to survive; the many who are against it spew vitriolic labels, such as lazy and entitled. However, I believe, perhaps naïvely, that if said historical context was brought to blend with current situations, more agreement would be found. Just as I do not believe all drivers are malicious to cyclists, neither do I believe those of dissenting views are malicious. To start, the wage.

In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was established to set a minimum wage in the USA. The goal of this was to reduce the exploitation of laborers and provide a decent standard of living. As the country was coming out of the Great Depression, this helped ensure stability. The USA was not the first to enact such a law, as it was preceded by Australia in 1907 and even a decree from Pope Leo XIII in 1891 for support of living wages. In the USA, FDR himself was a major proponent for the law. He believed workers deserved not just a minimum wage but a living wage. In one of the earlier instances, in Australia, this was initially set at seven shillings a day, to allow for “frugal comfort estimated by current standards.” This eventually changed to be based off a price index of household items, like the ones you find on sites such as Best Places.

Directly tied to the minimum wage was the 40 hour work week (along with provisions for overtime pay and more.) The push for this did start much earlier, in the 1700s, as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The laborers were working 12-16 (or even more) hours a day for barely anything survivable. Various attempts were made, such as eight hour and ten hour days as well as 40 hour weeks. The establishment of the hour limits was seen as a primary method to avoid the exploitation of the workers. However, the hours movement would mean nothing unless the wage was set to where that 40 hours a week was livable. Nowadays, $15 per hour might be doable, but $7.50 per hour is certainly not. As I've outlined previously, $15 per hour is on the bare minimum side for families with one child.

We have kept the 40 hour work week, and that is great. Unfortunately, the minimum wage has fallen deeply behind the economy and inflation. As such, there are two options for those with lower than optimal pay. The first arguments are that “the minimum wage is not meant for a living wage” and “you're not supposed to stay at that pay.” Reality check: 1. Yes, the minimum wage is supposed to be a living wage, according to those who enacted it. 2. Upward mobility is not always possible, even for high performers. For example, there are approximately 500 representatives at my call center, and around 100 non-representative positions. As those positions are currently filled, even if a few of them open up, the probability of representatives advancing is extremely slim. Sure, there are sometimes yearly raises, whether at call centers or elsewhere. However, a 1-5% yearly raise hardly accounts for the current rate of inflation, especially when you're already starting low.

The second argument is for them to get a second job. However, if someone has to work more than 40 hours a week to survive, what's the point of the minimum wage law? Why keep the 40 hour work week? Everyone seems to love the axiom to learn history so it does not repeat itself. Yet almost nobody practices this! No, people (at least in the USA) generally do not live in the squalor found in the slums of Manchester, Ghent, or London during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, many are barely scraping by and having access to indoor plumbing does not imply a living.

Currently, we are one of those families dependent on either overtime (aka more than 40 hours a week) or a second job to meet our bare necessities. Recently, I was able to find a part time job with $15 per hour. This was not simply to meet the necessary budget, but to pay for other needs. We are not looking for a 4K TV, a sports car, or a trip to Europe. While we wouldn't object to having those, we are looking for more basic “luxuries.” Luxuries such as those that would be out of reach without the second job such as new clothes for us and especially Dante (growing kids, anyone?), better food, vehicle maintenance, and even medical costs. This doesn't even touch on a spare vehicle, preschool or other education costs, saving for a house down payment, or the costs of adoption if we do that again.

These are real issues affecting real people. Though there are essentials we need, we are still not the worst off. The greed of the few has yanked the rug out from under the feet of the lower and middle class. Underneath is not a solid floor but a pit with unclimbable sides. I will not pretend to know the solution. However, I am solidly a democratic socialist. I believe those elected should represent those doing the electing, not the desires of the lobbyists paying the most money. I believe the funds collected through taxation by the various levels of government should serve those being taxed. (In a way, taxation with proper representation.) I am fully against the oligarchical capitalism found in the USA and other countries. The oligarchy is the side that allows those with the deepest pockets to shape the policies that will most benefit themselves. The capitalism is not the good economic system allowing a person to make their own way in the world. It is the ruthless system of destruction whereby people and corporations and even other countries crush anyone in their way of climbing to the top.

Whether in the USA or Europe or anywhere else in the world, with the level of globalization we have experienced, the situation everywhere should be better. There should be some way at this point that we can see the converse of Paul's saying in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We should not so rely on machines or other mass productions that there is not some job available for every able bodied person on this blue marble. We have cured small pox and polio and other diseases deemed to be impossible to beat. What of the epidemic of poverty? To solve this would require not just a simple $40 check each month. This would require a radical realignment of our values. Yes, toys are fun, whether they are RC cars or the Tesla Model S. However, they pale in comparison to not having to worry about your neighbor down the street or around the world having enough food, clothing, education, or medical care. We claim to care, people of all religions and belief systems. Why don't we revamp our system and put our money where our mouth is?

I am not delusional, I do not expect this to happen overnight, if ever. Rome was not built in a day, and this would be the equivalent of tearing down a thousand established Rome's and rebuilding from the ground up. As I see it, with all the beauty of true socialism and egalitarianism, they are but utopian ideals. Even the father of Communism, Marx himself, seemed to urge people to forget the ideas of utopia. However, while I expectantly await the great utopia to make itself part of our current world, my family will do what we can. Globally, we will continue supporting World Vision, Mwangaza, and World Bicycle Relief. Domestically, we will be supporting organizations and policy changes. However it is all in the hope of a better tomorrow, for all generations now and to come.

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