…the Bleacherman has entered the debate.
Several weeks ago, the Los Angeles City Council voted to increase the minimum wage for housekeeping workers at larger hotels. The new minimum wage would soon be increased to $15.37 per hour or about $32,000 per year.
On the surface, such a base wage seems not only reasonable but fair. People who are working 40 hours per week deserve to live above the poverty level. But beneath the surface, when one examines the context of the legislation and looks at the issue objectively, one realizes that there is more to the issue then just a fair and livable wage for all workers.
To provide some foundation for my argument, I offer the following:
a/ a starting teacher in the LA Unified School District makes about $38,000 per year. A teaching credential usually requires five years of a college education. Yes, obviously, teachers are underpaid and are not legislatively guaranteed a salary reflective of the positions educational requirements.
b/ the average Registered Nurse makes about $50,000 per year. To qualify, a nurse needs to have (I think) a Masters of Nursing degree – so I would assume it takes four to six years of a college education. Again, there is no legislative guarantee for fair wages reflective of educational and tenure requirements. Market forces drive a nurse’s wage calculation.
c/ the average newly tenured Los Angeles Police Officer also makes on average $50,000 per year. Police officers are required to have at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
d/ compare that to the annual wage of $32,000 for the average hotel housekeeper which requires no formal education or minimal English language skills. The same can be said for many low income jobs; from burger flippers at McDonalds to greeters at Wal Mart.
According to this blogger’s theory of relativity, everything needs to be relative – connected to something else and be defined and understood in context to the environment that supports its existence. Nothing exists in its own unique world. If something exists, it interconnects with something else.
(Obviously, the intellectual gap between this blogger and Einstein is very apparent and quickly recognized.)
A guaranteed minimum wage for hotel workers or any one group of employees does not exist in a vacuum. It is not an arbitrary number whose validity and value exists only on the blackboard it is scribbled on. It is not a stand-alone fact that functions only in the small microcosm that supports its functionality. It is relative and relates to everything that surrounds its presence.
This blogger acknowledges that a minimum wage is an economic necessity for those employees best served by such legislation; however, this good and moral gesture has a down or dark side to the reality it creates.
A minimum wage tries to insure that full time workers are able to live above the country’s current calculated poverty level. But it also takes the value of service and the requisite of needed knowledge and skill sets out of the employment equation. And by doing so, it potentially upsets a basic economic paradigm.
Yesterday, a leading advocate for dramatically increasing the minimum wage suggested that the $15 threshold is only the beginning. When I heard that said in a defiant voice, I began yelling at my television set. Is the minimum wage becoming nothing more than a subsidy for lower income workers? Does a minimum wage reflect something other than providing employees a safety net and a reward of such for accepting as a permanent vocation lower paying jobs? Is there not a need for wages to reflect educational needs and the value of services rendered and provided? Is the value of a housekeeper’s work equal to almost eighty percent (80%) of the value (and educational requisites) of a starting teacher?
If the minimum wage is directly tied to an every rising poverty level, then where is the incentive to better oneself? Where is the recognition that to survive in an ever changing world, a worker must adapt to the increasing education and work skill requirements that this new technology-driven economy is demanding? But if a worker is content with living one step above the poverty level and knows that by doing nothing government intervention will always protect a livable wage; then does this not create economic chaos in the wage structure?
If we tie minimum wages to a constantly upward moving arbitrary scale, then are we not creating an unsustainable pressure to increase all wages? If minimum wages increases to $20 and then to $25 per hour, what happens to the salaries of nurses, skilled workers and professionals that are tied to the reality of the economic realities that drive wage and compensation calculations.
The key, as it is in all aspects of life, is in finding that always elusive ‘happy medium.’ Wages need to provide workers a base for adequate survival but should not be incorrectly applied and received as being an irrevocable commitment by society to always insure that those who flip burgers and mow the lawns or change sheets in a hotel will always live one step above the poverty level.
If we lived in a perfect, utopian world, minimum wages will always be sufficient to provide a decent life for workers and of course, jobs that require education and job skills will also rise appropriately. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Ours is a life of dysfunction and our world is dystopian…at best.
Minimum wage needs to be a temporary or episodic solution to an economic problem. It should not be accepted as a continuous entitlement for an unwillingness to advance and learn.
Sometimes doing good results in bad things happening.
…the Bleacherman has left the discussion