Minimum Wage: The Glue that Sticks People in Poverty

Grassroots in Nebraska Image: Minimum wage

When I was asked to sign the petition to get the question of raising the minimum wage on the ballot this November, my response was, “Not in a million years.” As I discussed the issue with the petition circulator, I told him that not one of the employees working in the small business I own makes minimum wage. But later I realized I was in error. There is one employee working for my business that currently makes less than $7.25 per hour — Me.

Contrary to popular stereotype, most business owners are not fat cats that throw money at an enterprise and spend their days lounging in their olympic-sized pools or chasing a little white ball around a golf course at the local country club. Business owners are people like me who saved money while working for others. One day, in my case relatively late in life, I took a risk and invested my savings in a small business hoping to see it grow and prosper. I am willing to — and do — sometimes work 60 hours a week or more to make that happen.

As I read Beatty Brasch’s comments in the pages of the Lincoln Journal Star1Beatty Brasch’s Local View column, “Vote to give working poor a chance”, Oct. 1, 2014. We’re only giving raw links to LJS due to their content-blocking intrusive surveys so readers are forewarned. in support of the minimum wage hike, I was struck by her sympathy for the plight of people “stuck” in minimum wage jobs for the entirety of their working lives. But even if I accept her assertions as true, that there are large numbers of people in the circumstances she describes, I have to ask her and others who support this legislation one question: Where’s her pity for people like me, small business owners who are just breaking even while paying their employees more than they themselves make?

My formative years were spent living with nine other members of my extended family in a five-room farmhouse with no modern conveniences — no running water and, consequently, no indoor toilet or bath; no central heating or air conditioning; no television; and no telephone. We did have electricity, and I recall sitting in front of an old-fashioned radio listening to children’s programming when I was very small. I was in my early teens before I owned a store-bought dress.

I tell you all of this, not to complain. Far from it. I adored my grandparents, who opened their home and their hearts to my parents, my siblings, and me when my father lost his job and we had nowhere else to go. But I did look around me at a very young age and realize that I wanted for myself, if not a better life, at  least a more comfortable one. I remember looking at the successful adults around me — my teachers, parents of more well-to-do classmates, businessmen my father and mother eventually worked for — and noting something they all had in common. An education.

My brother, sister, and I were the first members of our family in three generations to graduate from high school. I was the first to earn college and professional degrees since my great grandfather became a doctor back in the late 1800s.

It is difficult to find a high-paying job if a person lacks an education, particularly a high school diploma. When they were teenagers, did these adults trapped in dead end jobs decide to ditch the free public education the taxpayers make available to them? Having dropped out of school, did they seek work — any work, no matter how menial? Do they go to that job every say with the idea that they will do everything their employer requires of them and then ask for more? Do they even now seek a handout in the form of an increase in the minimum wage employers are required to pay if they hire them, or do they seek to make their own labor more valuable to their employer through self-improvement, job training, and tutoring to obtain a GED?

Although supporters of raising the minimum wage portray these individuals as victims of circumstance, I see them as experiencing the consequences of their own bad decisions. Insulating them from those consequences only removes the necessary incentive to take personal responsibility for their own lot in life.

See also: Minimum Wage Increases Only Help Big Business, Big Labor

References & Notes   [ + ]

1. Beatty Brasch’s Local View column, “Vote to give working poor a chance”, Oct. 1, 2014. We’re only giving raw links to LJS due to their content-blocking intrusive surveys so readers are forewarned.

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