A Living Wage

That has a nice ring to it. No wonder so many people have rallied around the term. It practically shouts “fairness”, doesn’t it?

So how will we make this noble goal a reality?

Well, first we should define it. Theories can afford to be vague, but when it comes to actually implementing something in the real world, some attention to detail is required.

A Living Wage is…well…the amount of money necessary to live comfortably. There. That sums it up nicely. It says everyone should have enough to live, but it also says “comfortably” so we’re not demanding an extravagant lifestyle. That sounds fair.

The next detail we have to work out is, how much money does it take to live comfortably, but not extravagantly? Is there an amount that would suffice for everyone? Well, no. We all have different needs.

We’re going to have to devise a measurement we can all agree is fair. How about a certain amount for each person? After all, we all have the same basic needs like food and shelter. Once we determine how much it takes for one person, we can easily see how much a household of two, three, four, or any number of people needs.

But the cost of food and shelter varies in different parts of the country. One number won’t satisfy the needs of everyone, so we’ll have to establish different Living Wages for different regions. In fact, we’ll need different numbers for different cities.

That shouldn’t be hard. There are lots of studies that tell us what the cost of living is just about everywhere in the US. We just need to use the data to establish how much the minimum wage should be in every city and town.

What about a national minimum wage? Well, that just won’t work. The amount needed in a big city like New York or San Francisco would pay for an extravagant lifestyle in a lot of other places. No, we need different minimum wages if we are truly going to ensure enough to live comfortably, but not extravagantly.

Well, that’s settled. Now the last step is to see how it will apply in a real-world setting. Let’s conduct a test in a hypothetical fast-food emporium. That’s the sort of place where minimum wage jobs are often found.

Our fictional burger joint has three line workers, an assistant manager and a manager. Management usually makes more than the workers, so we’ll just focus on those three who are making the burgers and fries. They’re all doing the same work, so they should get the same pay, right?

But wait. We already agreed that the amount one person needs has to be multiplied by the number of people in his or her household. The wage has to be enough to support the whole household, doesn’t it? We can’t expect kids to go out and get jobs.

One of the workers is a teenager working after school and living with his parents who have their own income. So he is only supporting himself, sort of (he doesn’t pay rent or utilities). Still, we have to pay him the minimum.

One of his coworkers is a single mom supporting herself and her two kids. Does she need three times as much? Maybe not, but she definitely needs more than a single person.

The third worker is a married man who supports his wife, three children and his aging parents. There are seven people in his household.

I see a problem, do you? We can’t insist that the employer pay each of these employees what they need. They are all doing the same work. If it is unfair to pay a woman less than a man for the same work, it must also be unfair to pay these people different wages.

Maybe I’m just not smart enough to solve this problem, but the only solution I see is to pay everyone enough to meet the needs of the neediest among them. I’m sure none of the employees will complain. The single mom will be very comfortable and the teenager will be able to afford every electronic gadget invented, and maybe a new car, too.

But, the man with the big family is getting a Living Wage while the other two are getting something that just might be considered an extravagant lifestyle. In our efforts to make this fair, it’s turned out to be not as fair as we’d hoped.

There’s another problem, too, although it might not be as obvious. The managers make more than the line workers because they have seniority and additional skills (at least I hope they do, or how did they get into management?) If the workers get a raise, doesn’t management need a raise, too? But what if the manager is single? His wage will be way more than the amount needed to meet his needs. We can’t cut his pay because he is entitled to make more than the people he manages.

And this dilemma won’t be limited to the few people working in this one store. It will affect the people who raise the beef, make the cheese, grow the wheat, bake the buns and the people who transport it all to the store. So the store owner will not just have to pay more in wages, he’ll also pay more for the food. His profits are going to be reduced a lot. So much so that he might be better off trading places with one of the line workers. Before that happens, he’ll probably raise the prices. If he doesn’t, he’ll go out of business and everyone will be unemployed.

If this happens everywhere, the cost of living will go up everywhere. That means we’ll have to adjust our Living Wage figures to match the increase. If we don’t, the Living Wage will no longer be a Living Wage.

Some have suggested linking it to the rate of inflation. That would put the necessary adjustments on autopilot. We’ll never have to deal with this again.

Problem solved? Almost. People on fixed incomes will just have to suck it up. And then there’s this:

The minimum wage worker is still making less than other people. In fact, they are still on the bottom rung of the ladder. Changing the minimum wage doesn’t change their relative status. The only way to actually improve their lot is for them to gain skills and knowledge, making them more valuable to employers. We don’t see too many doctors, lawyers, mechanics or plumbers working for minimum wage. We are willing to pay more for people with skills. Employers are, too.

If we really want to help people, shouldn’t we do everything we can to encourage them to better themselves instead of giving them a raise they didn’t earn? Wages are payment for services provided. They are earned by working. Wages are not something earned simply by living.

A Living Wage is a catchy slogan, but sometimes slogans only work in theory. Theories need to be proven. This one can’t be.

Religious rights vs. gay rights

The debate raging over religious rights vs. gay rights has escalated thanks to a law that is, not surprisingly, applauded by some and condemned by others.

This really shouldn’t be called a debate. Neither side has any interest in seeing – let alone listening to – the other side’s point of view. The only way to get around this deeply held bias is to examine the issue from another perspective, one that doesn’t involve gay people.

So, let’s consider a hypothetical situation: An art enthusiast (who happens to be a Christian) has been buying paintings for years from an artist (who happens to be an atheist). Neither party has been troubled by their different views because the artist has been painting what he wants to paint and the buyer has been buying only what he likes.

One day, the buyer approaches the artist with a request. “Since I have always admired your work, I would like to commission you to create a religious painting. I’ll pay you what you usually charge, but this time I want you to paint what I want, not what you like.”

Since this would conflict with the artist’s world view, does he have the right to refuse?

If he does refuse, would you applaud him for standing up for his principles? Or, would you condemn him for discriminating against someone whose principles disagree with his?

In the infamous case of the baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, the gay couple had been buying cakes and cookies from the baker for years. Neither had a problem with that, since the baker got to bake what he wanted to bake and the couple got the sweets they enjoyed.

Like the artist in my fictional scenario, the baker did not refuse to do business with his customer until the customer decided to dictate what the artist should create. The baker probably considers himself to be an artist, too.

Some people who strongly support gay rights might say this is two different situations, and that the one has no bearing on the other. One thing I’ve learned over the years is no matter how different we perceive ourselves to be, we are basically very much the same. We all want to be treated with respect and we all want our opinions validated by others.

The first part is a reasonable request. In a civil society, everyone deserves to be treated respectfully. The second part is an unreasonable demand.

There is a big difference between acceptance and approval. We should accept everyone because none of us has the right to tell others what to think or how to live. We should show respect for the opinions of others, but we don’t have to agree with them. Approval indicates agreement. No one has the right to demand that. And, yes, that means I hope you have given respectful consideration to what I’ve written, but I can’t expect everyone to agree with what I’ve said.

Anyone who is confident in their beliefs shouldn’t need the approval of others. Believe what you will and live your life accordingly, but respect the rights of others to do the same. If you want the respect of others, behave respectfully. If you can’t live without the approval of those who disagree with you, recognize that you have a problem. Don’t blame others for your problems.

P.S. ~ It may seem as though I’ve sided with the artists, but that last piece of advice applies to everyone.

Sometimes safety measures make us less safe

Recently, parents in California were charged with child endangerment for letting their kids walk home from the park unattended. That’s old news. You’ve already heard it.

But it got me thinking about my childhood. We walked to and from elementary school without supervision. We rode our bikes to High School because it was too far to walk. Back then, I never saw a kid wearing a helmet unless it was on the football field.

After school, we played in the woods across the road. There weren’t any parks. In the winter, we rode our sleds down the icy slopes, weaving in and out, between the trees.
We took chances and sometimes we got hurt – a scrape, a bruise, and sometimes a broken bone or two – but all my friends and all my classmates survived. That is, until we turned 18 and our government sent many of us to Viet Nam.

Maybe someone should charge Uncle Sam with child endangerment.

Life was risky, but with every risk we learned to make better choices. Kids today don’t have the opportunity to make choices. Experience is a great teacher. Without experience there is less learning. How will our children become adults? Maybe a better question is: What kind of adults will they be?

Many young men and women who went to Iraq and Afghanistan came back in much worse shape than our generation did. Could it be because this generation is less equipped to face obstacles?

You might say kids are safer now. Maybe they are, but I wonder if they are as happy as we were. It’s hard to be happy when you live in fear of so many everyday things. We are teaching them to believe security is more important than freedom when we should be teaching them the value of freedom and the spirit-crushing effects of fear.

Those parents I mentioned earlier said they were raising “free-range” kids. The opposite of “free-range” is “caged”. Is that really what we want for our children? It’s considered inhumane to treat animals that way.
Every effort to make us safer makes us less resilient. We are informed of all the potential dangers in order to convince us of the wisdom of whatever the latest safety fad happens to be.

Growing up, I seem to remember falling off my bike was part of the process of learning to ride. Now we have training wheels. Kids have to wear helmets to avoid hitting their heads if they fall. How can you fall with training wheels? I don’t remember anyone getting a concussion from falling off a bike, but I do remember a few broken teeth. Maybe we should mandate face masks, too. I’m surprised we don’t require seat belts on bikes. Maybe that will be next.

We also didn’t have seat belts or air bags in cars. One of my cousins thought seat belts were a great idea. This was in the ‘60’s when most cars didn’t have them. He paid to have them installed in his convertible and gave seat belts as Christmas gifts. He was afraid for all of us.

He was 19 when he missed a turn and ran off the road. His car rolled down the embankment three times before crashing head-first into a tree, The impact pushed the steering column through his chest, but I’m sure he didn’t feel it. On one of the roll-overs, his head had become detached from his body. Decapitated people don’t feel pain.

Without a seat belt he would have likely been thrown from the car. I can’t know if that would have saved his life, but I do know that being securely strapped in killed him. It was a long time before I could bring myself to fasten a seat belt. I’m still not sure it’s wise.

In order to convince us all to wear them, we were told numerous stories of people who died without one. They never told you about my cousin.
Society’s attitudes change within a generation or two. We’ve been overly protecting our children for a while now, so it shouldn’t surprise us that young adults have been more than willing to give up freedom for security whenever they’re told it’s necessary for National Security.

Those who would trade freedom for a little security will have neither. Remember that the next time you’re told to be afraid. And stop teaching your children to be so cautious.
Paul Anthony