Two articles came out in the Deseret News this morning regarding a potential hike in Utah’s minimum wage. The first takes on the issue from the perspective of employers with the usual griping about how raising the minimum wage will hurt business owners, cause prices to go up, and result in layoffs, while the second follows the typical template of finding someone who’s suffering, in this case a working mom trying to support her kids with two minimum wage jobs, and then using her as the sole example for the story despite the fact that she might not be representative of more than a fraction of those concerned.
What’s interesting is that both articles provide evidence that a minimum wage hike won’t affect anyone but politicians who can use a hike as evidence of how much they care for the downtrodden, in which case I have to think, who cares?
“Utah employers disagree on a minimum-wage hike” says the first article. Again, quoting the article:
Mark Knold, senior economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said that if there’s a time to contemplate raising the minimum wage, with an eye toward doing the least harm, that time would look a lot like the present.
Raising the wage “probably would have very minimal effect right now,” Knold said, “because with the labor market as tight as it is, the unofficial minimum wage is already well above $5.15.
But by his own logic, if the unofficial minimum wage is already above the mandated minimum wage, doesn’t this prove that there isn’t a need for having a mandated minimum wage? Doesn’t this prove the market takes care of minimum wage workers on its own? If raising the minimum wage would have a “minimal effect” then why bother doing it? Politics, of course. Here is a chance for politicians to look good in front of those who give only superficial attention to political and economic issues without doing any damage. It’s win-win!
The article goes on to say that those hired to work bussing tables at the Training Table restaurant and as employees at 7-Eleven typically get paid more than the minimum wage, not because their employers are forced to by the government, but because they are forced to by open market economics. Simply put, if they only offered the minimum wage they would have trouble finding employees, and so they choose to pay more, either in order to more easily find employees, or to find the quality of employees they want.
The second article focuses on how life is a nightmare on minimum wage, and what better subject to focus on than a working, single mom with kids? What could be more piteous? Here’s a mom who worked one full-time job at minimum wage, but had to work another job 25-30 hours per week to make ends meet, which she still couldn’t despite putting in all those hours. And in case we need to feel any more sympathy for the subject she’s also a recovering addict. There’s just one problem–she’s not on minimum wage anymore.
The mother, Amy Madrill, got a new job as the manager of a Gandolfo’s and apparently makes more than the minimum wage now. Problem solved, again, without government intervention.
While I’ve never been a single mother and a recovering addicts working two minimum wage jobs, it’s not that I don’t have compassion for someone in Madrill’s position or that I don’t have a clue what they’re going through. I have worked for minimum wage before and I know how slowly the money adds up. In fact, I’ve worked the last four years for much less than minimum wage. I’ve known a healthy share of addicts, both those in recovery and those still addicted. Some of them are relatives of mine. But would raising the minimum wage really help these people, or does it do more damage than good in the long run?
Madrill has taken a step up, and she can claim that she did it without government assistance. Isn’t that worth something? Sure, if the minimum wage had been hiked two years ago her life would have been easier, but is life supposed to be easy? Madrill claims she isn’t looking for a handout or for pity, but raising the minimum wage to a level that is artificially high, that is above what the market provides, is a handout. It’s another form of welfare. As for pity, Madrill might not be asking for it, but the author of the article sure is. The article is a textbook example of focusing on an individual instead of the larger picture in order to make us assume that the majority of people working minimum wage jobs is like Madrill, rather than high-school students, as I suspect. Unfortunately neither article gives us insight there and I am left to my assumptions.
Regardless, I believe the market does a better job of taking care of workers than the government does or can, and as long as we have a minimum wage I believe workers will suffer more harm than good. I believe having a minimum wage creates an artificial level of what an acceptable wage is for both employers and employees. Employers assume people should be willing to work for the minimum wage, and inexperienced employees, rather than realizing their power, buy into it. Workers like Madrill, who should be looking for jobs that pay more than the minimum wage, learn to wait for the government to step in and help them, rather than getting creative and finding ways to improve their situation on their own, which would probably result in a much better situation for them in the long run than the government will ever provide.
Personally I believe all of us, employers and employees, would be better off with no minimum wage whatsoever. It would help get rid of the entitlement mentality that enslaves the poor, robs them of their dignity, and keeps them from using the talents they have to improve their lives. It would ensure that a fair wage is paid for services provided. And it would be political suicide, which is why it will never happen. The older I get, the more I see that politics is based on short-term, superficial results, and proving that removing the minimum wage would help workers is a much more difficult task than raising the minimum wage and taking the good publicity for helping out people like Madrill. The way I see it, raising the minimum wage equates to politicians buying votes from the ignorant who look no deeper than what the newspaper tells them.
But then again, why should I care? Raising the minimum wage will only have a “minimal effect,” meaning not much will change either way. I wish we could do more to help those like Madrill, but somehow I doubt enough people will ever take the time and effort to research and understand what truly helps people in these situations to force a change in legislation. It’s easier to read a newspaper article that wrenches the heart strings, vote for those giving handouts, ignore the consequences, use deragatory and meaningless names for anyone who disagrees with you, and then sleep well tonight, knowing how compassionate you are.