Image: cheeseburger
CCFUN FACT: The average cost of one burger is higher than an hour of minimum wage in Seatlle, Nashville, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Washington, DC, San Diego, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. (Credit: JoenomiasCC0 Creative Commons)

Minimum wage discussions need to include the distinction between minimum skill versus minimum effort.

Trickle Down Economics Got Us Here

In the 1980s, conservatives proposed trickle-down economics. This would be the pathway to financial freedom in this country. Reagan-era Republicans pushed taking care of businesses and corporations and securing their existence as the road to higher wages. With increased profits, workers would also see benefits and the ability to plan for retirement through tax deferred savings.

What could possibly go wrong?

Over the past 40 years, wage disparity has grown at such a lopsided rate that 90% of wage increases have gone to the top 10% of Americans.

Businesses did an “end run” around the Minimum Wage Act. enacted in 1938.

The legislators’ intent was to establish a baseline for wages so every worker could become self-sustaining. Society benefited as well as workers would not have to rely on government assistance to help make ends meet.

Employers did this so they could steal the labor of some of society’s most vulnerable – that is the young, the poor and the unskilled worker. And now those workers need government assistance to survive even with a full-time job. Washington politicians look to the public – and not business, for a solution.

Minimum Skill and Minimum Effort Are Not the Same

Businesses adopted the term “minimal skill” get around the law to suppress wages.

Employers claimed a living wage was unfair to the business owner. They argued that flipping a burger did not require skills beyond that of the average high-school student. By claiming these individuals didn’t have a family to support, they pushed the idea that these workers didn’t need to be paid like their adult counterparts. The public accepted this pernicious lie and it spread to many other industries well beyond food service and retail. Pretty soon, a large swath of the working class saw themselves screwed by the same dynamic. More and more full-time workers were forced into low-paying job as higher wages were permanently lost to automation or corporate downsizing.

Flipping burgers does not require much skill. We ignore the amount of effort that goes into flipping burgers for a work day.

It is not an easy job to stand all day and sweat over a grill while having to deal with the public. Yet, the fast food industry earns billions of dollars annually. It does this through the efforts of its workers, not their skills. We do not punish corporations for earning profits from low-skilled industries, but we do punish the workers that make those profits possible.

Raising the Minimum Wage is the Only Solution

Make no mistake, if business could pay workers less – or not at all – they would leap at the opportunity. It is up to the public to demand parity.

It is time to change the narrative. The public needs to have a dialogue about where the profit lies. Does a worker have a right to share in the profits of their labor? If we want equity, the wage scale be allowed to balance in favor of both parties.

We can return dignity to the American working middle class again. Workers should be paid a wage that allows them to live without public assistance. It is what is right. It is what is fair. Corporations should be responsible for paying a decent wage. The taxpayer should not have to subsidize giant bloated corporations.

Raising the minimum wage will make the economy rebound, and we will see retirement savings grow. The word “enough” will be finally reinstated in our economic process.

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Gene Smith

Gene Smith is a Chief Campaign Strategist living in Arizona. He is a Juris Doctor, and host of the podcast "Hanging With Uncle"


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