God help us, Mr. Rosewater


Assistant Editor Derek Prall challenges oppositions to increasing the minimum wage.

Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.
— Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater

"Can’t Survive on $7.25” read a placard at one of the many fast food labor protests across the country this past December. And it’s true. Experts say that here in Georgia, where the minimum wage is the federally mandated $7.25 an hour, the living wage (enough to maintain a basic, decent standard of living) for a single adult is $10.10 an hour. To support a family of four, it’s closer to $20.

President Obama, in an attempt to raise the federal minimum last year said, “no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.” What a pleasant thought.

About a dozen states raised their min. wage on Jan. 1, but these raises were mostly to keep up with inflation, and those living on minimum wage – some 15 million – have no more buying power than they did before the increases. In fact, in inflation-adjusted dollars, minimum wage peaked in 1968, and has been circling the drain since.

But why? Why can’t we pay these millions of people enough to survive? Well, depending on who you listen to, there are lots of reasons. It might cripple small businesses. It might hurt the middle class.

But if you look at the breakdowns, it’s clear small business and the middle class are already hurting.

Opposition to a federal minimum wage hike is an absolute embarrassment. In our “nation of plenty,” millions are forced to skip meals, and the simple solution to this problem – to pay a livable wage – is demonized as a socialist plot. But this isn’t a Marxist redistribution of wealth, as some would have us believe. It’s simply the right thing to do – morally and economically.

Nearly 50 percent of American families hold no wealth – that is, their debt outweighs their assets. Meanwhile, the wealthiest Americans continue to grab up more and more. Since the late ’70s, CEO pay has increased 875 percent. As a result, 1 percent of the population now holds 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. The Walton family, of Walmart fame, now owns a fortune equal to the holdings of the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined. Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer, yet by keeping its employees in poverty, and therefore reliant on government assistance programs, the megamart ensures taxpayers are left subsidizing the retail giant’s giant profits.

But when we talk about increasing workers wages, “handout” is murmured while monocles are polished.

That is insulting.  

Asking for a reasonable wage isn’t the same as asking for a handout, and it’s disturbing to hear our nation’s leadership draw that parallel. The pervasive attitude seems to be that poor people are poor because of some lack of gumption, and that if they could only stop being so gosh darn lazy, they could all buy yachts.

Case in point, Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston recently remarked to the Jackson County, Ga., Republican Party that the children of the poor should earn their subsidized meals at school by sweeping cafeteria floors. (Kingston’s net worth is around $2.5 million, and he is paid about $180,000 a year in his post on Capitol Hill.)

And Kingston isn’t an isolated case. One cannot turn on the television without seeing some politician or other demonizing a minimum wage hike, while at the same time accepting large campaign contributions from wealthy interests.       
Money is a means of speaking, and, in this way, the poor have no voice.

Listen: Food stamps aren’t killing the American Dream; the current public policy is.


Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Feb 13, 2014

Couldn't disagree more, Mr. Prall. I worked 3 part time jobs as I went to school, one of them was as a waiter at a restaurant, not all that many years ago.

I know for a fact that one can survive on minimum wage. Is it easy? No, not at all, but it can be done, and I know that I am not the only one who has done it. It boils down to a few words that many folks today don't seem to have any comprehension of: Restraint, Frugality, Responsibility.

I didn't have a cell phone. I didn't have cable or satellite tv. I didn't go out to eat. I bought clothes from the local Goodwill store. I drove a cheap car - one that I taught myself how to do basic maintenance on. Today, the thought that someone would have to go 15 minutes without being connected to their cell phone is shocking, I know, but it is possible.

We live in changed time Mr. Prall, and I don't know if we can ever go back. I think it is considered old hat that our basic rights are life, liberty and the PURSUIT of happiness. It seems that today, "the pursuit of" have been completely removed from this statement.

While I hear what you are saying about the "rich getting richer", that has absolutely nothing to do with the minimum wage. Do you really think that forcing, say McDonalds or Staples to increase their minimum wage to $10/hour will come out of the CEO's pocket? I certainly hope you understand that the immediate result will be a significant increase (maybe, say 25%) of your cheeseburger meal or office supplies. It is my experience that labor is generally the single greatest cost for most if not all employers. That money has to come form somewhere.

Although raising the minimum wage may provide an initial surge of buying power for those affected, it won't last long. As the market catches up, higher priced goods and services will slowly out-price these minimum wage earners once again.

What about those workers already making $10/hr? Don't you think they might be a little miffed if they didn't also get a $3/hr raise? Or if they do, what about the $13/hr folks? I could go on & on.

Don't mistake personal responsibility for unequal opportunity. I am aware of far too many young men & women who never leave "poverty" because they have an insatiable desire for the next new thing. The next new thing - a piece of plastic junk that holds no residual value (or wealth), and effectively robs them of the ability to get out of poverty. That is an individual heart problem, not a national fiscal policy problem.

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Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...

Jason Axelrod

Jason Axelrod is an award-winning journalist who has reported for The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal and Mother Nature Network, among other outlets. Jason...
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