Working for Minimum Wage & the Push for a Living Wage.

In my early working career, as a teenager, not only did I work for  minimum wage, many of my jobs were for below minimum wage.   I was being paid for my time.  It was spending or saving money…not  money to live on.

I never really thought about  what I needed to make per hour for years, because I was living with other people when I left my  family, and sharing expenses, and I was paid commission.  The faster I worked, the more I made. That’s dog grooming.  In fact,  many of the groomers I worked with felt the same way:  we were not college graduates and had no school debt.  Most of us were either single or living with a guy who paid most of our living expenses (especially for those who had kids), and this was how it was  for  much of the end of the last century.

I didn’t really think about what a living wage was until I returned from Peace Corps and was looking for a job. I could live on ‘not much’ because I had rental income and no kids.  It wasn’t until I got a consulting job, developing projects and  trying to find  other independent contractors to work for us that I started understanding  that $150 per day was a joke to most, and they expected to be paid around $300 a day. This  was because they had to take care of their own taxes and ‘benefits’ (health insurance, retirement) and their families, and  what we were offering was not, generally, steady work:  it was contracts of  three to six months. This was a precarious existence.  If you weren’t a freelance writer or photographer, or had someone else with a steady, regular job supporting you, you could not afford to take the jobs my company offered.

This was  pure capitalism economics:  you want to get these  people who have the experience to  work for you, you have to pay what they expect to earn.  There was a shortage of they types of technical assistance providers we were looking for.

There is another mindset out there.  On the one hand,  because we all believe that capitalism works, and nobody should restrain how much money you can possibly make—any way you can (even poisoning the environment or lying to people—because this is not illegal), we have CEOS (heads of companies) making 1,000 times more per hour that the people they employ actually doing the work.  How is this possible? Obviously, there are  way too many people with not  enough  skills  competing for too few jobs.  Otherwise, they would not have to work for  low wages. They’d find other jobs.

I was raised  by my parents to believe that I had to learn to take care of myself. I might get lucky and get married and find a guy to  keep me in the style to which I hoped to become accustomed, but to not count on it. They strongly urged me to become an elementary school teacher, but I had no desire. My desire was to work with dogs, so I learned as much as I could about grooming, dog behavior, and training, because I aspired to own a kennel (a boarding and training kennel, which I knew could support me).

I was lucky.  I had 2 parents, both of whom worked and saved, and constantly told me what they could NOT afford to buy me (to save my money), and I  learned that’s what I would have to do.  But what if your  parent (you only have  1, for whatever reason) is disabled, or stupid, or a drug addict, and his or her parent was like that, too? What if you grew up in the foster care system, and nobody ever sat down with you to help you budget, so you’d know what  stuff costs and what you needed to live?   What if you never learned about delayed gratification?  What if…you grew up in public housing, and were taught to get on the waiting list and the way to go was to  game the system, and get others to subsidize your lifestyle?   That all you knew was that kind of life? Heck—if you aren’t going to go to an Ivy League school, or otherwise  get a patron to  smooth the way for you into a job, what are your options?

So, is just being poor and having  kids you can’t support a good reason to be paid more? When you don’t show up for work on time…or at all?  When you show up drunk or stoned, or goof around, and sabotage the  system?

I am a supporter of  labor unions.  If you work for a very large company, you need to cooperate with your  fellow workers, and work systematically to get what’s fair.  The thing is, if there are  scabs who will do your job for  what you are currently being paid—and are happy to have those jobs, you won’t win.  There are just too many  unskilled people who are just as desperate as YOU.  Also, the odds are that among the hoards, some will be  a little more ambitious, and add more value to the company than YOU will.  You can’t beat that.

I’ve been a boss several times.  I always offered  at least 30%  more per hour than  minimum wage, and  never had trouble finding at least temporary help.  However, the job tasks were entry-level physical grunt work.  Nobody was going to be able to support a family on what I was offering. So sorry.  It was not that type of job. Some jobs are like that.

So,  have mixed feeling about the push fast food workers are making for a $15 an hour minimum wage. These jobs were always meant to be entry level jobs. They were meant to be boring, tedious, physical, and an impetus  to you to  learn a skill  or further your education so you would not have to do this for the rest of your life.  If you decide to have kids before you can support yourself,  whose fault is that?

I am thinking it is our educational system.  Possibly parents, but  this has been a problem for some time:  people being innumerate &  not having a clue what it  costs to live.   It doesn’t matter whose fault it is that  we have  masses of  people who  can only do grunt work and can’t figure a way out. It is society’s  job to make sure  primary school  children   are in a learning environment where they  appreciate that they have to know this stuff. They teach it in Africa.  I saw kids learning basic business math  when I volunteered in Kenya.  How do we get a life skills curriculum implemented?

It scares me that  people think that just because they go to work, they deserve more per hour.  It is especially worrisome because  their pay will not go up   to be enough to support a family.


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