AUTHOR’S NOTE: Some people are going to be put out by this post. To those people, I invite you to read the whole post and read it a second time. All too often people read rhetoric into statements and judge what is being said before they really know what is being said. Take some time and read the words and let them sink in, you may not agree with the principle but you’ll be hard pressed to fault the conclusion.
There is a lot of debate recently about raising the minimum wage in this country. The two sides like to boil the issue down to two factors:
- Is minimum wage a livable wage for an adult in this country? (No, let’s raise it)
- How would unilaterally raising the minimum wage impact our economy? (Disastrous, let’s keep it as it is)
Enemies of position 1 consider it’s advocates to be “bleeding hearts”. Enemies of position 2 consider it’s advocates to have “no heart”. I would like to propose a third option because neither one of those two options are workable.
3. Offer training opportunities to minimum wage workers, unemployed persons, and any other citizens who are interested for the jobs that available and needed today.
I know, I know…it sounds so simple, that’s because it is. It sounds like it might work, that’s because it does. It sounds like something we would do, that’s because it’s something we already do and have done (in this country) ever since public education began. Unfortunately we stopped doing it in many areas and schools in the 1970s and 80s and we’re paying a heavy price for that now. Education serves two purposes…broaden a person’s thinking/understanding of the world, give them skills that are useful as an adult. It would be nice if you could get a Master’s degree in Kickball, but it’s not practical as an adult so no university offers it. Still it’s chilling how many Master’s degrees you can get, that have very little correlation to the jobs of today. It’s down right scary how many people graduate high school knowing the names of the U.S. Great Lakes, what Rhombus is, and what the Periodic symbol for Iron is but don’t know how to manage a checkbook or write a resume. Why is that?
Well, we’ve changed the focus of education. Whereas we used to teach valuable skills for being an adult, now we teach valuable skills for being a college student. Then clearly the answer is college, right? After all if we’re grooming children toward this path to college, college should teach us what we need to know to be an adult with a thriving career…right? Well, ask most college graduates over the last six years how well that worked out. Two main things changed:
- We started educating people as though college is the be-all end-all for preparing a person for adulthood.
- The economy of producing things left our country and went to places where you can get the same work done cheaper.
Many people like to try and poke holes in the second point but consider this. As of 2007, the starting wage for a crew member at McDonald’s in China was $142/month. Yeah, translate that out to an hourly wage and it comes to less than $2/day. Oh yeah, and that was after McDonald’s raised wages 21%.
You can read more about that here:
McDonald’s raises wages in China
You might say well, that’s McDonald’s but you would be missing out on the fact that every McDonald’s around the world is run exactly the same way. A crew member here, making US minimum wage or better, does the same thing as a crew member there, making less than $2/day. Minimum wage is there as a protection because if companies were able to pay you a globally competitive salary while you work in the US, you wouldn’t survive.
Some people like to point the finger at Wal-Mart (and big box stores like them) for driving down wages. Ok, let’s look into that using our Chinese comparison. In China a full-time Walmart store employee makes 1500 yuan ($245 US)/month. While this is better than the McDonald’s workers were making, this still equates to less than $10/day. The current minimum wage is still more than 6 times what a comparable worker in another country gets paid to do the same work. By the way, workers in China are fighting for higher wages too.
Read more about Walmart in China here:
As Wal-Mart Swallows China’s Economy, Workers Fight Back
Still, that is looking at a global level. Let’s look a bit closer. A McDonald’s crew member, or a worker at Wal-Mart, or a cashier at a gas station…these jobs have some things in common. They hire teenagers with no work experience, people who don’t speak the local language well (immigrant or otherwise), and people with special needs. These are all good things and reflect positively on the employer but they should also tell you that this job doesn’t require a lot of skills. If it doesn’t require a lot of skills to do the job, why should a someone pay you more to do it? The current minimum wage would pay you $60/day (before taxes) to do what someone in China was doing for less than $2/day. If more than 30 times the wages of someone doing the same work isn’t enough for you, I don’t know what to tell you.
Now all of that still ignores the issue of education…if a local teenager with no previous work experience can do the work, what is that saying about the able-bodied, fully-functional American adults in the same position at the same level? I’m not going to answer that question, I’ll let you answer it for yourself.
My solution is to put the time, effort and money that people are proposing go into raising the minimum wage, and put that into job training for those who want to advance their career or change careers to make a better wage and improve their quality of life. There will be people who take advantage of that and there will be people who won’t. I don’t have a problem with a person making that choice, it is their right. That said, we have no obligation to hold a person who makes that choice to a certain standard of living. To any fully-functional adult who really has no aspirations to do more as a working adult than what a high school-er would and could do, I have no interest in making you financially solvent. Beyond that, I’m not going to adversely impact the private economy and small businesses of this country to make you financially solvent.