Republicans, always ready to oppose any idea that helps ordinary people, are voicing opposition to President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage. Predictably, John Boehner, Marco Rubio, Eric Cantor, business organizations, and others, standing with the “takers,” are peddling the long discredited story that raising the minimum wage costs jobs.
Study after study has shown no impact on jobs. The Center for American Progress reviewed the various studies of an increase in the minimum wage and its impact. Their conclusion – raising the minimum wage does not raise unemployment. Raising the minimum wage did have positive results: a reduction in employee turnover, increased worker productivity, and an increase in demand for goods and services. The Council of Economic Advisors and others have also found no effect on unemployment.
The battle to stop an increase in the minimum wage gives new meaning to the “makers” and “takers” argument. For too long poor folks, low income workers, disabled people, the elderly, and others have been bashed for being “takers,” for feeling entitled to programs that sustain them in the absence of an adequate income.
But these “entitlements” pale next to the sense of entitlement exhibited by the “job creators,” the so-called “makers.” They’re employers, the people who hire others to do the work that builds wealth for themselves. They are the real “takers” who feel entitled to the labor of others at whatever wages and benefits, or lack of benefits, they choose to pay.
For job applicants who cannot negotiate their wages (and that’s most workers), it’s here’s-what-the-job-offers and take-it-or-leave-it. In hard economic times, when workers exceed available jobs, “leaving it” is not really an option.
In exchange for the wage paid, the employer then owns the employee’s labor on the job. The owner dictates the work, working conditions, when work begins and ends, what one can and cannot do on the job. The employer also determines the safety or risks inherent in the work and workplace, in effect, controlling the health and safety, and in some cases, the life of workers. In 2010, 4, 690 workers were killed on the job and about 50,000 died of occupational diseases, while 3.8 million were reported injured on the job, estimated to be at least half the actual number (BLS).
Employers, of course, argue that because the person is getting paid, they are entitled to that employee’s labor and its control. But when that labor is gotten without adequate and just compensation, the employer appropriates something to himself he is not entitled to.
It’s about justice and reciprocity: I give you X; you give me something equivalent to X. Since a worker is “selling” himself/herself and the wage literally enables a worker (and family) to live a human life, it must be a just and adequate wage. This means, at the least, a living wage which enables the worker to provide necessities, minimal comfort for self and family, and savings for retirement and unforeseen emergencies.
Yet typically employers do not feel obligated to adequately compensate workers. Employers, first and foremost, seek to maximize profits. Invariably this means the less one pays employees, the greater the profit. As corporate profits have soared, workers’ wages have stagnated or dropped – the annual median wage of U.S. workers is an appalling $26,364.
As workers have lost ground, employers (CEOs and executives) have raised their compensation (salary, benefits, pension plans, stock options, bonuses, etc.). So we have CEOs taking millions annually (nobody “earns” five or ten million dollars a year, but plenty of people “take” it). Meanwhile, they pay workers minimum wage (or slightly better) with few or no benefits – workers who make the product or provide the service that actually generates wealth. So the “job creators” have become the wealth takers, while the wealth makers, workers, are consigned to poverty or economic deprivation.
Employers, of course, will tell us that they cannot afford to pay more than minimum wage, or whatever they pay. In some cases, especially with really small businesses, this may be true. But true or not, employers are not entitled to the labor of workers at inadequate wages. If an employer hires a worker at minimum wage, say $7.25 hour for 40 hours, he/she is appropriating an employee’s labor for $290 a week. That is not a living wage for anyone. Now suppose a living wage for this person is $14 hour. That would mean that the $290 the employer pays only entitles him/her to roughly 20 hours a week of that employee’s labor. The other 20 hours a week, the employer feels entitled to appropriate for free. It’s akin to having $500 to buy a sofa, yet extorting the shopkeeper to give you the $1,000 sofa.
Meanwhile, forget about a living wage. Heartless Republicans and their wealthy taker friends battle against the minimum wage.