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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Minimum Wage Debate Reactivated
Jimmy Moore
September 17, 2002

The New York Times ran a story yesterday citing a book written by an author named Barbara Ehrenreich entitled Nickel and Dimed. In her book, Ms. Ehrenreich details the struggle that many families are having trying to pay their bills on $6-$7 an hour. She explains that many of these low-paid workers, especially ones who have families to support, are forced to take on additional jobs just to live from month to month.

In the undercover research for her book, Ms. Ehrenreich personally took on several different low-wage positions to determine for herself how adults who lack higher education and basic work skills survive. After being employed at Wal-Mart and as a waitress, she concluded that the working poor should be given more assistance from the government by increasing their minimum wage, providing affordable healthcare, giving them assistance for housing and giving these people the respect they deserve (what do they want, an “attaboy” every once in a while for doing a job they are paid to do?!).

Doesn’t this make you want to go out and hug your neighbor while singing the song “We Are the World?” Oh brother, I think I’m gonna gag! We have become so spoiled as a nation expecting a free handout without working for it. Is it any wonder that issues like this prevail year after year? Once again (and definitely not the last time), the minimum wage debate has officially become reactivated in the United States of America.

Proponents of increasing the minimum wage say that asking people to work a 40-hour work week only making $5.15 an hour is a disgrace for an affluent country like ours. They claim that this meager income does not fully provide for needs such as food, clothes and housing. Their reasoning is that there are a lot of families being supported by people making minimum wage. Therefore, we need to pay these workers more money to support their families. I’ve got a German word for that line of thinking: HOGWASH!

Granted, according to the Economic Policy Institute, over 14 million working Americans make less than $7 an hour. In the minds of those in favor of increasing the minimum wage (mostly liberal Democrats who are pandering to their core voting base), their reasoning is that we have to pay people enough money to make ends meet regardless of the worker’s skill level. I disagree.

The reality is that minimum wage jobs are mostly entry-level positions. These jobs are not meant to be an end all for anyone. Teenagers and uneducated workers tend to be the ones who compete for the jobs that pay minimum wage. Workers who perform well very quickly get paid more than the minimum wage. No one who is excelling at their job remains at minimum wage for very long. That is, unless the government starts meddling with the minimum wage again. I have a personal story that illustrates how the minimum wage increase did not help, but hurt me over a decade ago.

It has been so long since I earned minimum wage at a job that it is sometimes difficult to remember how much it is. The last time I remember earning minimum wage was at my very first job in my freshman year in college. I worked as a cook for Shoney’s in 1989 in Martin, Tennessee.

I started off earning the minimum wage at the time of $3.35 an hour for the first 60 days I was on the job. After proving myself during the probation period as a hard working and trustworthy employee, my pay was dramatically increased to $3.75 an hour. I was proud of the fact that I did not remain at minimum wage for very long. Nevertheless, the government was about to burst my bubble with what they did next.

A couple of months after I earned my raise, the minimum wage was mandated by the government to increase to $3.80 an hour. Guess what happened to my hourly wage? One would think that I should have been paid $4.20 per hour, right ($3.80 minimum wage plus the 40 cent increase I had received just a couple of months before)? But when the new minimum wage law went into effect, I only made $3.80 an hour. In other words, I was back at the bottom of the barrel again because the government decided to penalize me and my employer so that entry level workers would make more money to support their families. This was demoralizing to several of us who complained to no avail to our employer about how unfair this was.

I lost out because the price of goods and services increased after the minimum wage was increased, but my pay did not. My employer lost out because this unfunded mandate from the government forced him to cut costs and future raises to pay for the new minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage may help the lowest paid workers in the very short term. But the long term consequences of raising the minimum wage are devasting to small business owners and employees. Raising the minimum wage is about as effective as putting a Band-Aid on a one-foot gash to the chest!

Eventually, I was able to make as high as $4.50 an hour at Shoney’s before I moved on to another job. But I will never forget how it felt to be relegated to an entry level position again after I had proven myself worthy of more money. Raising the minimum wage was wrong then and it is wrong now!

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