Minimum Wage Hikes Ask One Question: What Does Our Toil Owe Us?

The argument for or against the minimum wage increases is not one easily proven by numbers. A $15 minimum wage in some states would be outrageous given local economies and cost of living adjustments. We all know the obvious difference between the cost of living in Branson, MO; and Los Angeles, CA.

As cities have made the change in part or in full from Seattle to LA, the affects of the change won’t be felt for some time. The models we often rely on prove inconclusive  as to what that cost to businesses and the influx of income for the worker may end up truly costing us.

The factors less mentioned are the strain on the local, small business. Will this lead to fewer jobs? Will it lead to fewer hours for employees? If I’m getting paid as minimum wage employee twice as much, but the business cuts my hours in half, what have i gained? More free time to find another job, one that may be hard to find in a community reeling from wage hikes.

That same future for some is a brighter one. More pay means more discretionary spending, and that money goes back into the community further bumping up the local economy. A worker with more money, spends more money, and they spend in those businesses that were saddled with higher labor expenses. Economies adjust with market changes.

Minimum wage is seen one of two ways. It is either the legally binding least amount of money an employer can pay a person for their time and service, or it is the minimum wage needed to make a living; the living wage.

These have forever been different numbers depending in which study you read. Don’t get bogged down in the numbers, the theories, or the impact before you ask yourself if the minimum wage should ensure a comfortable life or simply protect the least skilled of our workforce from being being paid competitively less than the next guy; a race to the bottom.

Fifteen bucks an hours sounds good. It fits in a headline, makes for a decent chant, a great soundbite, and best of all makes for a solid picket sign, but it is a made-up number, an unproven threshold. I can find 100 different wages we should get paid from state to state, city to city, and based on some arbitrary number that presents the minimum life a person should be allowed to live.

Why aren’t we demanding paid vacation for all employees? Aren’t family vacations and trips of a lifetime something inherently promised in a pursuit of happiness? Why should I need to forego two weeks of paid time off because a business “can’t afford it”? Legally mandate that instead of a wage hike.

What about medical insurance provided by the employer even for part-time employees? The understood rule for avoiding medical and vacation for employees (if it is a company benefit at all) is simply hire them and work them slightly less than the threshold for full-time employment. Hire more part-timers, save more money. Close the loophole and keep our workers healthier; a well employee is a better employee.

We want a better life for minimum wage workers? A bright future is one where work is optional. Mandate retirement planning for all employees, matching their contribution to company 401K’s up to 15% of their pay. Maybe offer high school students or person under 25 that same financial matching for college funding instead. Get creative with wages now for a brighter tomorrow.

From there maybe you require promotion from within companies for 30% of all position changes. Make the minimum wage job a temporary one by definition and educate your workforce to create better employees who are qualified for jobs above minimum wage. Maybe we simply require all minimum wage jobs to include work incentives for bonuses, incremental raises after employment periods for the first few years every six months. Maybe we require profit sharing within a company, a small piece of the net profits of a company you worked so hard for based on your hours and performance reviews.

Has anyone looked into the possibility of these choices or a combination of them? You may argue that minimum wage workers need more pay for their toils, but I argue that the minimum wage doesn’t guarantee a livable wage, it was never intended to do that. It protected the worker from exploitation the same as child labor laws kept children from being worked 16 hours a day.

As with most problems, we are looking for the silver bullet. We are looking for the simple solution that will solve all of the issues surrounding a cause; we don’t make enough money in our lowest paying jobs, pay them more money so that there is less struggle. A novel approach may be to not increase wages, but ease burdens and empower the worker. It is no wonder a company will pay unskilled labor a minimum wage, business is about profit. Instead of changing the minimum wage, lets look at the whole picture, the plight of the minimum wage worker and get them out of that job eventually, or make that job better in a lot of small ways, not just one.

No one can tell you exactly what a minimum wage increase of this magnitude would do, it is be definition unprecedented. Are we making less money than we did fifty years ago? Relatively, yes, but what also hasn’t changed is the rights minimum wage workers have to certain benefits. If we can’t agree that minimum wage should guarantee a livable wage, let’s at least agree that steps can be taken to ensure that the worker is provided the chance for a livable life, some liberties, and a pursuit of happiness for those equipped with the work ethic to go and get it.

These are simply a few hair-brained, unfounded, ideas that represent “anything but a minimum wage hike.” This is an entry in our ongoing series, half-cocked concepts. I have no sources I can or will reference. This is a whiteboard brainstorming session, a drunken debate at a dive bar, and an argument amongst the ill-informed, but that’s where ideas get jotted on to napkins or where a conversation begins. If you’ve got a better idea, we’d love to hear it. If you are just going to send a link to someone else’s idea, stats, or some study, you can keep those. Original ideas to solve an issue, or your personal philosophy for this and other issues are much appreciated though. None of us are scholars or experts, so let’s just speak frankly and see if we can’t find one good idea amongst the garbage ones.

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