Do we value people?

Do we value people?

July_29,_2013_Protestor

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several years (it could be argued decades, but the issue has come front and center in recent years) you’ve seen the image above or something like it. The topic is all the rage across every major news network and social media site known to man. And it is yet another issue that is dividing our country down increasingly divisive lines. Do people who work fast food deserve a livable wage?

Short Answer: Yes. Absolutely

Long answer: Before you roast me over the coals for being a bleeding heart liberal, let me explain why I feel this way. Before I do that, I’d like to ask you to answer my question in the title. I believe that every person has value, and most people’s knee jerk reaction is to say the same thing. But do we live our lives like the people we interact with everyday have value? Do we value the person shoving bags at us through the drive thru window as we rush home to feed our families? Do we value the person ringing up our groceries at Walmart?

Because whether we do or not, that person has value. They have a family. They have bills just like you and I do. They have rent to pay and mouths to feed and a million other things going on just like we do. But some would say that because they don’t have the skills or training that we do (by we I mean those of us who make more than the current minimum wage) that they DESERVE to struggle. They DESERVE to work 2-3 jobs just to support their family. That they DESERVE to have to be on government assistance just to make ends meet. They DESERVE to feel SHAME for their lot in life.

And then the same people who say this also whine and complain about how those SAME PEOPLE are a drain on our system because they’re FORCED to rely on government assistance because we’re not willing to pay them a livable wage. I’m not hear to argue the math behind it, but do you realize that if we were willing to pay just a little more (seriously pennies, nothing ridiculous) for our fast food and groceries, those same people would be making a livable wage. Or even more shocking, if companies like Walmart and McDonalds were willing to take a slight pay cut, their employees would be able to live a decent life.

All this begs the question, why don’t they just get a better job? The reality is, its not that simple. People in that situation don’t have the resources (there’s that word again) to take the time off work to go on job interviews. And because of the abysmal state of paid time off for most employees in the U.S, they can’t afford to. Yes, a better job would be nice in the long term, but a better job in the long term doesn’t put food on the table or keep the lights on right now. And maybe if those people weren’t having to work three jobs just to make sure they keep the lights on, they’d have time outside of their ONE job to go on job interviews for better jobs. See? That’s logic right there. something that seems to be sorely lacking in this debate.

Let me throw some more math your way. One of the arguments against raising the minimum wage is that they should go back to school to be better qualified. But the reality is, school is expensive. Very expensive. For four classes, I have over $3,500 in student loans. And the average two year degree takes SIXTY classes, double that for a bachelors degree. Yes you read that right. Yes, I did have some funding that wasn’t from loans, but if even a third of my classes were paid for by loans, I would be in an astronomical amount of debt. And you want to talk about hamstringing someone before they’ve even had a chance to prove themselves, saddle them with $30-40,000 in debt right out the gate.

But what about small companies that can’t afford to pay their employees more than the current minimum wage? There really is no easy answer to this question. The vast majority of people working minimum wage jobs work for large companies that rake in billions of dollars in revenue every year. I have no problem saying those companies should take an admittedly tiny drop in revenue so the people working for them can make a livable wage.

However. And its a big however. Part of being a business owner is treating your employees fairly and motivating them to work well everyday. So if you want quality work out of your employees, you should pay them a quality wage. And hire quality employees. Why on earth would they come work for you if they can go put in half the work at Walmart and get paid better?At the end of the day, we’re all working for a paycheck. We’re not working out of the kindness of our hearts. We have to put food on the table just like you do. Expecting your employees to do well when they are trying to choose between paying the electric bill  and feeding their kids is incredibly unrealistic. Not to mention heartless.

Another argument I’ve seen is what about the people (myself included), who make more than the current minimum wage? How is it fair to them to make the same money as people who work lesser skilled jobs?

The short answer: It’s not.

The long answer: You should be compensated for the work that you do. My job is admittedly more difficult than ringing up someone’s groceries, as are most jobs that require greater skill than your basic fast food job. Jobs that require greater skill and/or training/education should be paid more than whatever the minimum wage is. Otherwise, what is the point of working a higher skilled job? If I can make the same amount of money flipping burgers, I’m going to go flip burgers. It’s easier, less stressful, and accomplishes the same goals. If employers want better workers, they need to pay better wages. It really is that simple. And the important thing is, the good employers realize that. They understand that even if you love your job, at the end of the day its about the paycheck. And if they don’t understand that, then its on them, not you. At the end of the day, if they want to run a successful business they will understand the value of treating their employees well. Some just take longer to learn that lesson than others.

What all this really boils down to is the question I asked in the title. It’s easy to say that we do, but the reality is, our actions speak far louder than our words. Paying people who are TRYING a livable wage is basic human decency. They could just as easily say screw this and completely live off the system or turn to illegal activity to support their family. But they’re trying. They’re working. They haven’t given up. And we shouldn’t give up on them just because they happen to work a less than desirable job.

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