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Abolishing the minimum wage
by Charlotte Glover


April 1, 2005

Dear Sitnews,

What a great idea Mr. Branco has to abolish the minimum wage- think of the savings for business owners, shareholders and CEO's. But why stop there? I'm sure none of us would mind working seven days a week for the good of our employers- that 40 hour work week has just got to go. Better yet, why leave the office? Throughout history many well known employers have locked their workers in their place of work so they are unable to leave, even in case of an emergency. That will be hard if you have a family, but waithere's another great idea.child labor!

I know, school is mandatory, but think of the lost labor opportunity the business community is missing. All those strong, healthy young people shut in school all day when they could be working, and since they are so powerless, business owners could pay them even less than adults for the same work. They would be great at cleaning, stocking shelves, sewing, selling newspapersthe possibilities are endless.

And while we are on the subject, you'd better not get sick, or god forbid, pregnant, because your employer will fire you and find a healthier replacement from the pool of willing workers in the free market economy. Lunch, too, should no longer be an option since workplace productivity can be maximized without that pesky break time and besides, on the wages you'll be making, you won't be able to afford to eat three times a day.
If you are a woman, I am sure you won't mind a bit doing the same exact job for less money than your male colleagues, even though you've been on the job longer, taken extra responsibility and furthered your education. Nor will you mind training the teenage boy who just started in your department. He will soon be your supervisor and making twice your salary because his dad is a friend of the CEO or store manager where you work and they talk on the golf course.

Throughout our history as an industrialized nation, thousands of American's have fought and some have died so we could enjoy the workplace protections we have today. And the fight is still not over. From garment workers in Guam, to meat cutters in Colorado, migrant farm workers in Florida, and overnight janitors at box retailers, there are people being exploited because for a million different reasons they need a job. Just yesterday, the Supreme Court gave a major ruling in an age discrimination case, which may have as much impact as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Contrary to popular opinion, minimum wage jobs are not reserved for teens. According to the Children's Defense Fund, one of my favorite organizations in DC, of the 7.4 million workers getting the minimum wage, 5.3 million are adults and many are the breadwinners in the family. Over 1.8 million of those workers are raising children. An individual working full-time at current minimum wage makes only $10,712 a year. Could you live on that? Could you raise a child on that? Poor working Americans experience such deprivations as lack of food, crowded or substandard housing, transportation problems and frequent utility shut-offs. Read "The Working Poor: Invisible in America" by David K. Shipler, "Nickle and Dimed: On (not) Getting By in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich or "The Hunger Epidemic in America" by Loretta Schwartz Nobel to learn more.

Looking at Wal-Mart as a model, pay below the federal poverty guidelines actually costs the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money while the business is able to maximize profits for shareholders, managers and CEO's who take home millions. According to the House Education and Workforce Committee paper "Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart," one 200 person store costs us more than $400,000 annually to subsidize employees who are eligible for children's health insurance, low income energy assistance, Title 1 education costs, Section 8 housing assistance, and free or reduced cost school lunches. It's been documented that Wal-Mart managers actively encourage their employees to apply for public assistance to make up for their meager pay. Considering that Wal-Mart took 9.1 BILLION in profits in 2003, I find it absolutely appalling and immoral that they don't pay their people better. That money is made off the backs of working people each and every day and all of us are the poorer.

Another one of my favorite organizations, Habitat for Humanity, just published the yearly survey by the Low Income Housing Coalition which tracks the wages a full-time worker must earn to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market value. We are lucky in Alaska, as you would only have to work 94 hours a week at a minimum wage job to pay for the standard $887 apartment. Some other states have it much worse.DC, Maryland, New York.152, 146 and 147 hours respectively.

In recent years, prominent economists have been challenging the textbook theory that raising the mimimum wage would cause employers to lay off workers. About 20 different studies by two dozen authors show minimal job loss, if any at all. A landmark study by Card and Krueger in New Jersey in 1996-1997 showed, in fact, that hiring increased when better wages were offered after the last minimum wage increase. A higher wage expands the pool of potential workers, improves morale of current workers, reduces turnover, and strengthens productivity, which offsets the cost of higher compensation. As anyone in business knows, it is very expensive to hire new employees.

And, as anyone who studies economics knows, human behavior doesn't always follow the textbook models. Growth in productivity is not going into wages or new jobs, rather, it is going into corporate profits and CEO paychecksit is buying second homes, luxury goods and yachts.sales of all are at record highs this past year. A survey in yesterday's USA Today showed the top CEO's in the US make from 1 million to 98 million dollars a year. Their benefit and pay packages went up 25-33% last year while the rank-and-file workers made just 2.5% more.not nearly enough to keep up with inflation, rising fuel costs and rising health care costs.

All of us are expendable in today's workforce. American's love the myth of the "self made man" but the fact is that very few people accumulate wealth in any degree without a great deal of family support, educational support, and a few lucky breaks. It is plain arrogance to assume the millions of workers who are underpaid are not motivated or working as hard as some others who make more. We should all be working together to assure that in the richest country in the world everyone is paid a decent living wage and has access to affordable housing.

Charlotte Glover
Ketchikan, AK - USA


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