Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The value of a job

I thought this editorial about raising the minimum wage was interesting. I don’t know much about author Steve Chapman nor the studies and economics experts he cites, but I do agree there are some real problems with raising the minimum wage.

The idea that wages should be based on what constitutes a "living wage" has always struck me as illogical. Wages are paid for services rendered and should be based on the value of that service, not on the value of the person performing that service. My husband is an excellent spouse, father of triplets, and currently the sole financial provider for our family. While all of these things are valuable to us, they are irrelevant to his employer. When he asks for a raise, he doesn’t ask for it based on any of these factors, even though they are the main reasons why he wants a raise. Instead, he bases his request on the work he does. He either deserves a raise or he doesn’t because he’s doing valuable work for his employer or he isn’t. The fact that feeding a family of five is expensive has nothing to do with his value to the company and we have no right to expect the employer to take that into consideration any more than a single person should expect to make less for the same job just because he or she doesn’t have anyone else to support.

Frankly, there are some jobs out there that just aren’t worth $7.25 an hour, even if the worker is trying to feed a family. That doesn’t mean the person doing those jobs isn’t valuable or doesn’t deserve to earn a living wage, but if one wants to earn a living wage, one needs to find a job where the contribution made to the employer is worth $7.25 an hour or more.

I know that’s oversimplifying poverty. I know there are factors that make finding good jobs difficult for those already below the poverty line. I also know that Christians are called to help the poor, but we have the responsibility to make sure we’re being effective in helping the poor and not applying band-aids that may make the situation worse in the long run. Poverty needs to be addressed at the cause level: how can we help people learn the skills necessary to earn a living wage? Artificially inflating the value of some jobs is not the answer. It’s unfair to employers (who aren’t always rich and selfish but may be struggling to feed their families as well), bad for business, and ultimately bad for consumers, to whom the increased cost of business gets passed on. Last time I checked, "consumers" includes those below the poverty line and increased cost of living only makes their situation worse.

I would be much more in favor of increasing wages on jobs that are underpaid not because workers can’t earn a living wage, but because the service they render is more valuable than the compensation they’re receiving. Teaching is a profession that springs to mine. There’s an area where I would support wage increases, not because I worry about the personal finances of teachers, but because teaching is an incredibly difficult and incredibly important job. Educating our children should have a high value attached to it. Flipping hamburgers at a fast food joint should not.


At 3:25 PM, Anonymous the_methotaku said...

I disagree with you here. I think that "you always have the poor with you" because the root causes of poverty are insoluble except in an eschatological sense. The best you can do is improve poor people's living conditions. Raising the minimum wage immediately improves the living conditions of the working poor, without costing the government anything. You could also make the increase apply only to full-time workers to prevent teenagers trying to supplement their allowances from benefiting.

At 7:04 PM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

I don't think it would improve their living conditions, though. Prices would go up, cost of living would go up, employment would likely go down (companies would hire fewer workes to make up the costs) and we're back where we started or worse.

At 11:31 PM, Blogger the-unintentional-blogger said...

Ahhh...common ground : ) I agree. In an article I read, it stated that the 7.25 amount would be just below the poverty line for a family of 3. Now why should the BASIS of a liveable wage be supporting a family of 3? What about the teen-ager on his first job? He needs to make enough money for a family of 3? I don't think so. Methodist is right: Prices rise, jobs fall, and people complain all over again.

At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is just anecdotal, but in New Zealand, the minimum wage is something like $7 if you're under 16, and $9 after that. The economy is booming and there are more jobs than ever.

You do have poor areas, but there are very few slums here.


At 1:58 AM, Anonymous Mark Temporis said...

I would think 7.25/hr. is below the livable wage for anyone who isn't living rent-free. I barely covered rent and expenses at that rate, and I'm single and have a rent far below market due to special contacts.


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