any amount, in fact I did some work for free just in hopes of getting hired for paid work. Last night I got into a spirited discussion with some of my friends whose views are more liberal than mine re: government mandated minimum wage. Some of the arguments put forward were:

  • Noone can support themselves on just $x per hour! And they certainly can’t support a family.
  • You just don’t understand or care about the people who are struggling to get by.
  • It’s only fair that a person should be paid enough to….(insert anything here).
  • The gap between the CEOs and the workers is huge!
  • How do you expect people to ever advance if they’re not able to survive?
  • We end up having to pay for these people anyway through healthcare and social services so we might as well give it to them through higher wages.
  • ALL workers are worth at least $x! “I don’t think anyone should be paid less than that.”
  • Jim, you’re exceptional, you can’t measure others by your own example.
  • “It’s easy for you to say we shouldn’t have or raise the minimum wage, you don’t have to struggle to survive.”
Got any more? Go ahead and leave brief statements that justify a minimum wage in the comments on this article. Here’s my story: First off, I may be “exceptional” today but that is because I chose to do all the hard work required in order to become exceptional. That took me decades of trail and error and much pain, fear, heartbreak and failure before I finally started to succeed. Even then I still had some crushingly bad times. But I sure didn’t start off as “exceptional.” I’m a baby boomer, born in 1946 and graduated high school in 1964. I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas during the late 1940s & 50s in a working class family of four plus two: Dad, Mom, sister Kathy and me, plus my Grandfather and Grandmother Cathcart. Grandfather Cathcart had a stroke that completely disabled him. He didn’t speak, walk, or get out of bed during the seven years he laid in a hospital bed in our home being cared for by my mother and grandmother. For the first few of those years we didn’t have a car. We took the bus or walked. My father was a telephone repairman and drove a company truck during the day. He often traveled for a week at a time. Kathy and I went to school in our neighborhood, we walked to and from school in all weather but it was only a few blocks away. Mom was a housekeeper, caregiver and child-raiser. She didn’t work outside the home until after Kathy and I were grown. We finally got a car and I remember when Mom decided to learn to drive. Kathy and I were in the back seat as Dad taught Mom to handle the car. We were terrified when Mom would panic and nearly lose control while learning. Dad had to provide for all six of us and there sure wasn’t much money. But we kids didn’t realize it because to us this was normal. And in our neighborhood nobody had much money. Also, this was during the baby boom so every house on the block had kids and their parents were the “greatest generation” that had fought in World War II and survived the Great Depression. So nobody wasted anything: clothes were ‘handed down’ from one kid to the next. Worn out clothes went in the ‘rag bag’ to be used for other purposes. Garbage was minimal because scraps were fed to the dogs (everyone seemed to have one or two) and packaging was ‘recycled’ into other uses there at home. There was an incinerator (a large metal barrel) in our backyard where we would burn the remaining refuse. Not good for the air but we didn’t know that back then. Nobody, and I mean nobody, had a landscape service because WE were the landscape crew. Both my younger sister and I took turns mowing the lawn, trimming the shrubs and raking the leaves or shoveling snow as soon as our bodies were big enough to do the work. Everyone pitched in on every task. There were no “men’s jobs and women’s jobs” that weren’t mutual duties. I remember seeing Dad sewing to repair his pants and I learned to do it too. In fact, when I wanted a “Davy Crockett” costume for play my parents gave me some old clothes and showed me how to create my costume from them. My ‘coonskin’ cap was an actual coonskin, the pelt of a raccoon that my Dad had shot while hunting. By the way, Dad hunted for food as well as for sport. We ate whatever he caught: possum, quail, deer, rabbit, raccoon, turkey, or whatever. And we went fishing in the summertime…for food. I recall asking Dad for some spending money when I was very young. He told me to go earn it. I asked how and he said, “Do things that other people want done and are willing to pay for.” Like? Mow their lawns, trim their shrubs, clean up their garages, wash their car, polish their shoes, whatever they need. So I did. By age 9 or 10 I was roaming our neighborhood with our push lawnmower (no gas machines) seeking work. I’d work for whatever people would pay; 50 cents, a dollar, whatever they had. When I got older and could ride my bike to the nearby businesses I asked for work at all the stores and ultimately found work. I sold doughnuts door to door for one business, swept and stacked supplies for another, shoveled dirt for some and did deliveries for another. Meanwhile I was still occasionally doing yard work. Please note that I was doing menial labor for whatever people were willing to pay and I had no marketable skills that would make me worth being paid more. So my main commodity was my willingness to work because I had no skills yet. Once I became a teen I was able to do more things and I got a job working in a warehouse unloading trucks and boxcars. The way I got that job was by going door to door to all the industrial businesses in my side of town until someone hired me. And my first day on the job I was sitting on the steps at 7am when the boss got there to open the doors. I always showed up early. Then I went to work in a hospital as an orderly. My job was in the Central Supply department stacking, cleaning, taking inventory, delivering supplies, and operating huge autoclave machines that sterilized surgical equipment. I occasionally had to make deliveries to the morgue. Ugh. Oh, and at 13 I had a paper route for which I got up before 5am and delivered papers for miles of customers before breakfast. Then I went to school. I learned to become responsible and dependable. I also made a number of childish mistakes and took responsibility for making things right whenever I messed up. One requirement of the paper route was making door to door calls to sell subscriptions and another was making calls in person to collect payments. Nobody mailed in their payments back then. And they certainly didn’t pay on line, there was no online. (Darn I sound old as I’m talking about this!) You may be wondering what this has to do with minimum wage. Here’s the deal: wages are what people get for doing something worth paying for: completing a task, providing a service, saving time or money or effort in some way. The “things worth paying for” are valued at different levels. Some aren’t worth much, others are of great value. So it makes no sense to pay, say $15 for something that only has about a $5 value when done. Enter…the government and it says, “People can’t survive on just $5 so the business must pay $8 at least, no matter what the work is!” Now the business has a new decision to make: do I hire or keep the person who is only doing $5 worth of work and over pay them (thereby taking the $3 extra out of my own income) or do I just do the job myself or buy a machine that can do that work? I wanted work and I was willing to learn and improve so that I could earn more. In fact, my main goal was to develop the skills that would make me worth enough to become self-supporting and independent. I didn’t want to have to live with my parents, or continue to have to get two or three roommates in order to afford my own place. I didn’t want to ride the bus or hitch rides with friends anymore. I wanted my own car. One of the main problems in our society today is the abscence of the desire to become self-sufficient. When people become willing to make “qualifying for a government entitlement” their goal then we become a dependent society that is…frankly, doomed. That kind of society cannot sustain itself so it will degrade into an authoritarian state such as communism or worse. Why did I keep learning new skills, seeking out better jobs, going back to school or reading books to learn something new? Because that is the only way I could become worth more and ultimately earn more. If you remove my incentive to be worth more by providing me with higher pay at my current skill level then naturally I won’t strive to advance. In my family it was assumed that our goal would be to pay our own way, be worth our pay and be able to live independently, and ultimately to own our own homes. So that’s what I did. So did my sister. Even in her 40s, after re-learning the hard way that money must be preserved (she declared bankruptcy), Kathy was working harder than her coworkers and taking on more responsibilities. She lived with my wife and me and worked in my company for awhile as she recovered financially. Then she found 2 roommates and moved into a place of her own once she got a new job. In that job she advanced rapidly and ultimately headed up their event planning department. The point is, she did not seek a government bail-out. She reached out to family (me) and took whatever work she could find at whatever wage was available. Then she was able to get control of her expenses and find a new higher paying job for which she was well qualified. None of us is invulnerable to hard times. When I was newly married with a child at home and starting out in my career I failed to earn enough to pay my rent so we moved in with Mom and Dad (at my age 26) for about 3 months to save money and eliminate debt. That humiliating experience was enough of a blow to my pride (though my parents were nice about it and supportive to me) that I never put myself into that position again. I had left my job as a mutual funds and insurance agent after 2 low income years and sold my car, moved in with Mom & Dad and took the first job I could get, as a car salesman making $400 a month plus commissions. I didn’t do well there either. So I went to work in a friend’s family grocery store stocking shelves and sacking groceries…after having sold investments…in order to put food on our table. My goal while there was to do whatever I had to do in order to become self-sufficient again. I applied for work in a bank trust department at every bank in the state of Arkansas and many neighboring states, using direct mail and a pretty lame resume’. That produced only 3 replies and one job interview, which I didn’t get. So I took a job as a government clerk at the Housing Authority for $525 a month, a job I didn’t want in a career field I didn’t plan to pursue. Only then was I able to pay my own bills and rent a house of my own. I did my work better than I was being paid and subsequently was promoted twice and even elected president of the employee’s association. That’s when I made the discoveries that led to my current career in human development and my entire life has been better since then. But none of this would have been likely if I had relied upon the minimum wage or aspired to keep an entry level position for an extended time. Without the personal aspiration to improve everyone tends to stay at the lower levels of the economic food chain. And mandatory minimum wages don’t stimulate that desire to improve. Companies should pay what work is worth, and not a penny more. If the government intervenes to mandate an artificial “value” that they impose then the system is corrupted and the natural laws of commerce stop working. When entitlements try to “level the playing field” by making it easier for some than for others (which, by the way, isn’t “level”), then the incentive to improve is diluted. In conclusion let me answer some of the challenges more directly:
  • Noone can support themselves on just $x per hour! And they certainly can’t support a family.
Entry level wages aren’t intended to be support-yourself wages. They are “get a job” wages to get you started.
  • You just don’t understand or care about the people who are struggling to get by.
The heck I don’t! I’ve been there and I totally get it what it feels like to be broke, desperate, humilitated, depressed, and afraid.
  • It’s only fair that a person should be paid enough to….(insert anything here).
Fairness has nothing to do with it. Wages are about paying for the value you actually provide.
  • The gap between the CEOs and the workers is huge!
That’s irrelevant. I never knew or cared what the owners were making. I only cared what I was earning. And that’s really the only thing that today’s workers care about too. It’s the politicians and activists who are concerned about pay gaps.
  • How do you expect people to ever advance if they’re not able to survive?
The same way I did: share expenses, take the bus, hitch rides, walk to work, do without a TV or car or Soy Latte for breakfast. Live with relatives or friends for a while if you must. That’s what the rest of the world does. Teach yourself to be worth more, and don’t wait for the schools to provide it for you.
  • We end up having to pay for these people anyway through healthcare and social services so we might as well give it to them through higher wages.
Prove it. Get the actual numbers and show that this MUST happen lest people die. It’s just not true. Stop the entitlement mentality!
  • ALL workers are worth at least $x! “I don’t think anyone should be paid less than that.”
You and I don’t make these decisions, the marketplace does. If it doesn’t have actual value then it’s not worth paying for.
  • Jim, you’re exceptional, you can’t measure others by your own example.
I didn’t start out exceptional, I made myself exceptional and others can too. I was an overweight C student with no advantages other than being born in America to a family that loved me.
  • “It’s easy for you to say we shouldn’t have or raise the minimum wage, you don’t have to struggle to survive.”
Yes I did, though we weren’t starving there were times when a bologna sandwich was all we could afford. I have walked to and from work through dangerous neighborhoods late at night alone and in bad weather. I’ve been a bill collector who had to repossess log trucks in the Ozark mountains at age 22. I’ve unloaded more trucks and boxcars than I can count and I’ve worked in bars, washed dishes, mopped floors, cleaned bathroom floors, served concessions in a drive in movie theater, and shoveled dirt and gravel for days on end for less than “minimum wage”. THAT is how you become a motivational speaker! A level playing field is the same as football, where no matter what handicaps or difficulties you have, you must learn to do the same things the other players do, or find another game. Some people don’t belong in some games. Find what you are suited for and get better at that. And give more value where you are while looking for a better place. We should go where we can provide value, not where the government has made it easier for us. For those who claim that I was born into “white privilege” I’ve got to say, “Really? You are actually trying to convince me that I didn’t have it as hard as a working class black kid or hispanic kid? Save your sympathy for the people who truly had hard times, the oppressed and persecuted people, not the privileged working class American residents of all races, ages and genders. I refuse to sympathize with someone in this country who whines about prejudice and historical stains while watching their own television and driving their own car and having indoor plumbing. Let’s all grow up and go to work at whatever we can in order to make this world a better place. Then we won’t have time for whining or imposing our wills on others via the government programs. (Please note that our country has completely lost the long standing “War on Poverty” because we made it more comfortable for people to remain poor.) OK folks, those are my opinions and my facts. Now it’s over to you. Can you really make a case for why our government should mandate a minimum that people should be paid regardless of the value of their work?]]>