Sunday, January 17, 2016

Don't Vote for a $15 Wage - Earn It

I am always a little shocked and appalled when I watch politicians wave around some economic policy that sounds good on the surface as long as you don't consider the implications like it's the silver bullet that is going to fix a crisis that has actually been improved within a historical context.  So naturally, I had a gut check reaction when I heard that all three of the Democratic nominees were blindly supportive of this $15 minimum wage. 

Free market economists argue that the ideal minimum wage is $0, and that the market should be free to determine what the appropriate wage is based on supply and demand of labor.  Maybe that is extreme, assuming that some people would not fight hard enough for a wage they deserve, and that large employers may take advantage of desperate underprivileged populations.  But the opposite of no minimum wage has even more dire consequences.  Corrupt employers already pay below minimum wage under the table, so raising the 
minimum wage to impossibly high levels for unskilled workers would only
lead to more undocumented workers and a black market for labor.  In addition, automation of low-skilled jobs is only kept at bay by the cost, but again, increasing the minimum wage to a level that is no longer economical for companies would encourage non-corrupt companies to simply automate more of the work or remove the need for work whatsoever.  Fortune's article suggests one such solution: "Hotels may reduce their tendency to automatically clean the rooms of their guests, and may charge extra for doing so."  There are plenty of other sound, economically-based arguments again the $15 wage, here are a couple articles for reference.  
All that being said, I want to address a very different aspect of this argument.  Imagine a world where you could make the same amount with an associates degree as if you didn't graduate high school at all.  How many young people are going to strive for a degree at all with that lack of incentive?  Then picture this: you go to the store the day after Thanksgiving for Black Friday shopping, and instead of your usual 1.5 hour wait, you are waiting 10 hours to buy that 50% off game system for your oldest son because every customer has to go through a slow, glitchy self-checkout and the store cannot afford seasonal help to assist customers.  Every police officer on duty is escorting customers out of these stores to ensure they are not shot or robbed of their hard-earned presents, meanwhile there are no officers available to attend to that car that slid off the road due to ice, or to check on the house that is being broken into by an armed robber.  What's worse, your teenage daughter has nothing to put on her resume because she was never able to work until she got her bachelor's degree, since stores and restaurants couldn't afford to higher high school or college kids. 

I believe that young people deserve the right to work for single digit wages.  They deserve the opportunity to get seasonal jobs for while school is out to earn some extra money for the holidays or to save up for a car.  They deserve to learn what it takes to earn money, and to learn the value of the dollar. 

Proponents of the $15 minimum wage are assuming that people making minimum wage are supporting whole families on that, and therefore they need more money to do so.  While the premise may have some truth to it, I think the $15 minimum wage is exactly the WRONG answer to this problem.  What we should be looking to do instead is to figure out why people are trying to support a family without having gotten any useful education or employable skills, how we can reverse this problem, and how we can prepare young people to earn more than minimum wage before they have a family.  For example, programmers make well above minimum wage, and there are literally dozens of free resources already available online that can help individuals learn how to program.  What's more, there is a shortage of programmers and they are only
going to be in increasingly high demand as technology becomes more integrated into everything we have and do. 

In my estimation, it would be far less detrimental to the economy to provide an educational stimulus to allow minimum wage adults to take a paid sabbatical to study programming so that adults that truly need a higher wage to find better paying jobs.  Even this seems like an example of wasteful government spending, since these programs are already free and accessible by anyone with a computer connected to the Internet (which is available for free at the library, if nothing else).  But, this makes more sense to me than the idea of raising the minimum wage to unsustainable levels that will inevitably result in another recession. 

And certainly, programming isn't the only field that could benefit from such an

initiative.  I believe that everyone has potential to excel at something, so if people need more than $8 or $10 per hour, they should seek the kind of help and resources that will get them to the wage they need to support themselves and their families, in whatever field they are passionate about and/or will excel at.  If we start handing out $15 per hour paychecks (or any amount that ensures support for a full family) to people flipping burgers or bagging groceries, what incentives will they have to contribute their deeper, more profound gifts to society? 

Before I belabor my point too much, I will conclude that we should maintain service and labor jobs at wages that make sense for the kind of work being performed, and that we should make the abundant and accessible resources to improve one's financial situation more prevalent.  By doing so, we will lift up the nation and raise the entire productivity of the country, rather than dumbing down our society and pretending that we're spreading wealth to the poor while actually robbing our neediest of the opportunity to work at all. 

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