If you don’t want to read my rantings, just go read this (warning, language is a little “mature”):
In fact, even if you do want to subject yourself to my semi-coherent babbling, please do read that link. There is much about the common mindset concerning the poor that needs to be addressed.
In my “Economics, Part 1” post, I talked about the number of man hours it takes to get our basic needs taken care of, and there’s a good reason for that. I chose to treat man hours equally because when you’re talking about basic needs, one day’s work is approximately as good as the next. The tailor needs to eat, and the field worker needs clothes.
I’m not actually a believer in egalitarianism, so I realize many of my constructs may begin to break down as soon as I start adding technology (or reality, for that matter) to my imaginary, basic, agrarian, society. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to drop the egalitarian part, and I’m going to focus on slaying a certain pseudo-conservative “sacred cow”.
A Living Wage is a Must
I really do not like to hear the argument “having a less than living wage is acceptable, because not everybody needs a living wage”. Why, because it’s not true? No, it’s true that a few don’t need a living wage. The problem is how the repetition of this argument is enabling a system to pay less than a living wage to far too many people.
I do not believe extraordinary means are necessary for ordinary living. If a person puts in a full day’s work, and carries their weight in society, I do not see why they should not have enough to take care of their needs.
The Psychological Side of a Living Wage
There’s a psychological side to being paid less than a living wage: it’s discouraging. What’s the point of working if it achieves the same effect (bank account goes to 0) as not working, just over a greater period of time? Employers, it is in your best interest to ensure your employees are not discouraged. It also is in your best interest to have smart employees, and just putting a person into poverty makes him lose IQ due to monetary stress.
Addressing Arguments Against a Living Wage
A common plea among conservatives is “But not all jobs are meant to pay a living wage!” Let’s go back to thinking about that agrarian society. Let’s say a man owns lots of land. He hires workers for the fields for 1 year. During that year, the workers all put in full days working the farm. Nobody works for anybody else, because there simply isn’t time. At the end of each pay period, is the owner going to pay those under him enough to live on, or will he pay them less? Of course he’ll pay them enough to live on!
So if paying a living wage is not even a question in this basic agrarian society, why is it one in our society, where abundance has reached the point where we don’t know what to do with it?
Paying a man less than what he needs to live on is wrong, because it’s telling him he doesn’t need to live. It’s especially insulting when one lives in the land of plenty.
Is the job necessary? Then pay a wage that covers necessities.
The Exception, and Why We Still have a Problem
Now okay, okay, there are some people who don’t need a living wage. Let’s make a small assumption say those are the people who are under 20 years of age. They constitute about 6% of the working population. However, it’s not 6% of the jobs that pay less than a living wage, it’s more like 30%. So 94% of the working population has to fight each other over 70% of the jobs. It also means that 80% of jobs that pay less than a living wage need to raise their wages to a livable level.
That’s called a systemic problem. A lot of so-called “solutions” I hear to “solve” this issue are targeted at the individual, things like further education, adding skills, and working harder. All of these qualities are necessary in our workforce. However, none of them can A), improve the system, and B), the people who do everything they can and still are scratching by are not anomalies.
In addition to educated, skilled, hard working people, we also could really use employers who are very selective about who gets less than a living wage.
Pay the Worker His Wages
For you Conservative Christian stalwarts who still fail to see a problem, here’s a few quotes from the Good Book that address this issue (all are from the English Standard Version):
Leviticus 19:13: You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.
Malachi 3:5: I will be a swift witness against… those who oppress the hired worker in his wages…
1 Timothy 5:18: For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Colossians 4:1: Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
Proverbs 14:31: Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
Ecclesiastes 9:11: Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
James 5:4: Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
Jeremiah 22:13: Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
and does not give him his wages,
Deuteronomy 24:14-15: You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin.
Remember that imaginary agrarian society I mentioned? Well, the Bible was written in that kind of a situation. So when it says “pay the worker his wages”, it’s talking about paying enough to live on. It’s not talking about paying minimum wage. It’s not talking about paying what you can get away with. It says “pay the worker his wages”, end of story.