Feb 16, 2013

Like many people, I was surprised to hear the President propose increasing the minimum wage to $9/hour in his State of the Union address this past Tuesday.  It made me think of a conversation I had with my class last fall.  We were talking about societal values in terms of salary.  They guessed the salaries of various jobs and I asked them if they thought those wages were fair.  The whole point of the exercise was to help them determine what their individual values were to help them determine what would be important to them in choosing a career.  The exercise did not go as I had hoped.  I was surprised at how the current system was already ingrained in them and accepted by them. In and of itself, accepting the current system is not entirely bad. Based on their responses though, it appeared to me that they have yet to independently determine their values as individuals.  Initially I took the instructor privilege and did not personally weigh in on the topic, but they eventually asked my opinion.  My response was that the minimum annual salary should be $60K.  I think that a person can be assured that their basic needs will be met.  They can probably find a decent apartment in a safe neighborhood and take care of the necessities.  If a person gets married and both work, they automatically have a six-figure household income.  Assuming there are no other major expenses, a six-figure income is enough for them to be comfortable and perhaps feel secure enough to have a couple of children.

My ultimate value is that no one should be in poverty.  As President Obama said, no person working full time should be in poverty.  All roles are important to society.  No role should be "de-valued" such that a person can not have their basic needs met.  When basic needs are not met, a person can never fully actualize their potential.  I do not claim to be a psychology buff, but I happen to agree with Maslow's Hierachy of Needs.  When basic/foundational needs are met, then we can go on to focus on other things.  We can begin to think of having more meaningful relationships and discovering our purpose in life.  When basic/foundational needs are met, certain things, like illegal activity, are not as tempting.  When a child has food in his/her belly, the child can actually be a better student.  When the bills are paid, families can enjoy a night out and not wonder if they will be in jeopardy of losing power or being evicted.  A certain level of peace comes with having our basic/foundational needs met.

After the State of the Union address, the topic of increasing the minimum wage has been debated. With the exception of the small businesses that only employ a handful of people and have modest revenues and profits. I do not see any merit in opposing an increase of the minimum wage.  The extra money goes directly back into the economy.  Outstanding bills are now more likely to be paid.  It is not like those receiving the increase will now be in the lap of luxury.  The new minimum only equates to $18K/year.  How people survive on $18K is beyond me.  The fact is they are not faring well.  They do the best they can all while being looked down on and caricatured as lazy.  In no way are they lazy.  They can probably out-work anybody.  Somehow they possess the courage, work ethic, and pride to perservere day in and day out holding their heads up high knowing that they have put in a hard, honest day's work. It baffles me how those in opposition to the increase believe the stories they tell themselves.  An increase most definitely is not a financial cure-all. But I do think it is a step in the right direction of leveling the playing field and letting people know that there is value to their work.

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