In a well-meaning article from MIT, a “living wage calculator” showed the difference between the current minimum wage in various states and the costs of living under different circumstances in the different counties in those states. The project was designed to demonstrate the disparity between what Americans will tolerate as the least amount of money paid for any labor and the least amount of money it takes to live wherever you happen to be regardless of your circumstances.
For example, this image shows the results for Jefferson County, Alabama:
Here is the same chart for Fairbanks, Alaska:
We are left to draw a lot of our own conclusions from this project, because there are a lot of questions that are not answered. For example, why does a single person in Jefferson County, Alabama, spend $600 on housing? I did expect a lot more disparity between Alabama and Alaska, but I’m actually encouraged that the cost of living in Alaska is so low–I may still consider moving there.
There was no objective that I could find for the project. Are we to push for higher wages or greater transfer benefits? Both? The requirements for wages obviously decrease with other benefits provided. For example, if a family of 1 adult and two children is living in subsidized housing, $735 per month is extravagant.
We fall back to the decades-old debate regarding the purpose of the minimum wage, and entry-level jobs. The time to learn to work is BEFORE the children come along. The time to earn more than minimum wage is BEFORE the children come along. The time to gain entry into the workforce and develop skills is BEFORE the children come along. There is no societal reason, with all the advances in technology and education available to all layers of society (I’ll get to that in a minute) for anyone to never advance beyond entry level skills, with obvious exceptions to mental incapacity.
A worker can bring excellence to any position, and will quickly outgrow each position in so doing. Most managers are not stupid. They can spot talent and initiative. Most managers want to find someone who will go the extra mile. They want to foster growth. They want to bring people up beyond entry-level. Excellent employees are pursued by other employers.
There is no reason at all that a two-adult household must survive on 80 hours of minimum wage work. One of those adults can work more than one job, and should. One of those adults may be able to provide greater income working two, or even three, part-time jobs, than one minimum wage full-time job. Part-time work can often pay more than minimum wage, because the employer rarely pays benefits to part-time workers. Minimum wage jobs rarely offer benefits, so working one full-time job isn’t likely to offer any advantage over two or three part-time jobs. A single, childless worker certainly ought to be working more than 40 hours a week if the only work he can get is minimum wage.
We are majoring in minors, drowning in minutiae, focusing on entirely the wrong end of the work/wage string. We shouldn’t be trying to give more money for the same amount of work. Workers should be striving for excellence all the time. They should be demanding it of themselves all the time. They should be encouraging others to provide it, mentoring those new entry-level workers who haven’t a clue what the end of the minimum-wage line looks like.
Our path to this spot is littered with trophies acquired just by showing up. It is cluttered with diplomas received for spending a specified number of days occupying a school desk. The same mindset that has our children unable to deal with difficulties and crises has them blaming society for their poverty. The rise in suicides over bullying isn’t about bullying. It’s about the inability of a tender psyche to get over hurt feelings. Our children are no longer allowed to be resilient enough to deal with their problems.
And therein lies the major issue.
We have padded hard times so they don’t hurt so bad. We’ve made it easier for moms to raise kids without the burden of a permanent man in their lives. We’ve taken away the stigma of divorce so that if it feels good, it is good, and whatever emerges out of it is society’s responsibility.
Frankly, if a student can’t handle getting a bad grade on a report card, it’s pretty evident that the child is not ready for college, let alone a professional position. Until they learn to take some hard knocks at a minimum wage job, they are not fit for anything greater. And until they understand that they are not too good for the minimum wage job, they’re barely good enough for it.