Ah! The Minimum Wage!

Victor Chininin Buele

Let us not oversimplify the issue.

Earning less than fifteen dollars an hour and trying to live a life on that is very, very, very difficult.  We don’t need to look very far to see overextended Americans working two or two and a half of such jobs and still be unable to keep up.

So, let’s understand that while some may get irritated about having highways closed in protest, something is wrong.

And let’s also understand that McDonald’s is not rolling out self-service kiosks just for fun.  They will replace the labor force if the cost of labor goes up past a certain point.

I would like to start with Proverbs 30, for instance.  You may not believe the Bible is true or is the word of God.  But regardless of what you may think here, the Proverbs are often referred to even in the secular realm as a source of wisdom.  We read there:

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
(Proverbs 30:7-9 ESV)

There is a balance.  Too much leads to complacency, laziness, idleness.  Too little leads to dire need, hunger, problems, even theft.  In relation to God, too much leads to a denial of our need for God.  Too little leads to insulting God as saying He is unable to provide for us. So, we either ignore His provision or we yell at Him for not providing according to our standards. Our view of our needs gets distorted.

There is also nothing inherently wrong with wealth per se, but a self-centered love of wealth is another story.  Or biblically, the love of money is the root of all evils, not money itself.  We can do all sorts of things with money.  And that’s why the minimum wage argument is a very important one. It’s a matter of stewardship – of management of the resources given to us.

Here is the question the politicians are not so quick to want to discuss.  And the question everybody else seems to also ignore.

Why are we being poor stewards/managers/caregivers of the U.S. economy?

My point is this:

  1. We must address the number and nature of the jobs that pay minimum wage in the United States today.  Basically – why are so many people working jobs that pay minimum wage?  We must address the underlying causes that resulted in cyclical jobs becoming permanent jobs for many Americans.
  2. We must address the intricacies that made this discussion a decade late.  For years the contribution of undocumented immigrants softened the blow of the problem.  When Americans had jobs that paid above the minimum wage and nobody wanted the cyclical jobs, American kids and undocumented immigrants were happy to have the opportunity.  When the higher-paying manufacturing jobs left the country, competition rose.  Immigration, free trade, and the minimum wage are all connected.
  3. What will happen to the nation’s poorest?  When McDonald’s changes the ordering system and the competitors do the same to keep up, our food deserts in America will have a significant impact.  The situation is bleak already.  What happens when these sources of employment dry up in our poorest neighborhoods and towns across the country?  That will also have an impact on racial relations already at a boiling point.  The minimum wage and poverty and race are all connected.
  4. Why have we become less entrepreneurial, creative, and innovative?  Yes.  Innovation remains to move us forward, but why is it that we see new shopping malls instead of new start ups?

Is it that in our abundance we became complacent, and while we were asleep, now we have a huge problem of being unable to react to the changes in the worldwide economic matrix? Kids have their eyes glued to tablet screens without wondering for a second how it is that the image they are seeing is being created.  We are all looking at the stuff that we buy at the stores, always on clearance, and never wonder the logistics that make such an impossibility possible.  Let’s wake up.

The solution is not to make the minimum wage 100 dollars an hour.  (Why stop at 15?)  The solution is deeper than that, and it requires a lot more of all of us.  It’s going to be hard. But it must be done.

There are things that are no longer as they were.  Manufacturing.  Energy.  Information technology.  Asia.  Competition.  Free trade.  Immigration.  We can sit and fight each other to death over it.  We can bicker and argue to death.  Or we can face the circumstances and move forward.

It’s a time for creativity.
It’s a time for hard conversations.
It’s a time for meaningful protest.
It’s a time to stop asking others for change but to embrace and own change.

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