Minimum Wage Should Be A Living Wage
April 20, 2018 10:20 AM   Subscribe

“Raising the minimum wage does exactly what it should—it raises wages for the lowest-earning Americans, and it continues to benefit them for years after the increase takes effect. Additionally, it looks like raising the wages for the lowest-paid workers could create a cascading effect that generates raises for employees higher up the earning ladder.” a deep data study by the U.S Census Bureau just announced the long-lasting efficacy of raising the minimum wage - so why isn’t it being reported? (Medium - Civic Skunk) Link to report PDF.
posted by The Whelk (54 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
All of this qualifies as forbidden knowledge, both in the sense that the people with the power don't want you to know it and in the sense that they forbid themselves to know it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:23 AM on April 20, 2018 [24 favorites]


It is fucking criminal how low minimum wage is in the US. I can't think of anything more to say on the subject that isn't just an incoherent stream of profanity, but fuck. Anyone who works 40 hours a week should be able to support themselves and stay above the poverty line, period. The real poverty line, too—not the transparently bullshit, artificially-low one that the government uses to make itself look marginally less horrendous than it actually is. Watching politicians vote against raising the minimum wage over and over again over the years… augh I just can't. I have to stop before I have a rage stroke or start just randomly smashing things in the parking lot. It's just awful.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:36 AM on April 20, 2018 [53 favorites]


The cascading effect is really important to communicate, because one of the most common objections to a livable minimum wage is "$15 an hour for flipping burgers! Ridiculous! This EMT with extra training who saves people's lives barely gets more than $15 an hour!" People don't realize that when the floor is raised, everyone is better off. Trickle-down economics is a damned lie, but trickle-up really works.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:39 AM on April 20, 2018 [60 favorites]


Americans are so beaten down, so unfamiliar with unionizing and wage negotiation, that it doesn't even occur to them. When the "burger flipper" earns $15/hr, the EMT should be able to go to their boss and say, "you know I'm worth more than a burger-flipper, pay me more or I find someone who will."

That should be common sense, but so many Americans don't even think of it. "Greatest nation in the world", my ass. We're rotten through. We need a New New Deal, and fast.
posted by explosion at 10:48 AM on April 20, 2018 [19 favorites]


I've even seen people say "Well, if a $15 minimum wage happens, I'll leave my current really demanding $15 job and go work for McDonald's," without taking the next step and realizing that once every job comes with a livable wage, your current job will have to offer livable + extra to keep attracting employees. It's not a hard idea, but at least half the country to oblivious to it--the same half that thinks corporate CEOs will pass on their profit from decreased taxes to their janitors and cashiers out of the goodness of their hearts.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:00 AM on April 20, 2018 [36 favorites]


Yes but great fortunes are derived from suppressing wages, as ultimately every dollar in a great man's fortune is derived from buying labor for less than the value of the product of that labor. The cascading effect of raising the minimum wage is a dire threat to those fortunes, as it could result in a large number of workers actually claiming for themselves a substantial portion of the value of the product of their labor.

Consider that the very right to make decisions in our current system is dependent upon the possession of a great fortune. Why would any of the decision-makers in our society decide to risk their own positions as decision-makers for something as ultimately irrelevant as the lives of workers?

In the final analysis, winning a living wage for workers would require the establishment of a democracy. A democracy in the United States, of all places — the very heart of rule by capital!

It's an absurdity on the face of it.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:01 AM on April 20, 2018 [21 favorites]


That should be common sense, but so many Americans don't even think of it.

Or you have two kids, rent is due and your husband just left. I mean, it's not all 'hey if people thought about this' easy.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


When the "burger flipper" earns $15/hr, the EMT should be able to go to their boss and say, "you know I'm worth more than a burger-flipper, pay me more or I find someone who will."

That should be common sense, but so many Americans don't even think of it.


Eh. I, and quite a few others with MAs and PhDs -- some in real and desirable specialties, unlike me -- make less adjuncting than we do/have/would 'flipping burgers.' I've been a barista, and I've been a college professor, and I can in fact claim the truth of this from my own experience. This is absolutely not an argument against raising the minimum wage -- but that alone won't be enough. The fight will not end there.
posted by halation at 11:14 AM on April 20, 2018 [14 favorites]


I want a minimum wage that's

(1) a single-person living wage (40 hrs pays for 1 person in a 1 bedroom apartment) in the local area, whether that's zoned as city, county, or state - federal standards tie to Washington DC;

(2) tied to elected officials' wages: they are X% of minimum wage; can't give Congress a raise without increasing minimum wage.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:19 AM on April 20, 2018 [41 favorites]


If you wanna drop your stressful job and take an easier one that pays a lower but still livable wage, fucking go for it! It's a valid choice! Tell your asshole boss to get bent and go flip burgers or pull espressos or wash cars or whatever you think would be a more pleasant way to spend your workday! How is that even an argument?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:27 AM on April 20, 2018 [18 favorites]


Anybody who thinks flipping burgers is easy or low-stress has no idea what they're on about.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:33 AM on April 20, 2018 [87 favorites]


"... but cashiers at fast-food restaurants are becoming increasingly uncommon. McDonald's started rolling out ordering kiosks at its US locations in 2015, and the chain hasn't looked back since: by 2020, most of its 14,000 locations will have kiosks installed.

Panera Bread has also committed to digital ordering."


We've just been through a knock-down drag-out fight here in California to raise minimum wage to $15/hr (which is decidedly not a living wage, at least not in the cities). While the idea is nice and all, let's face it: capitalism is going to capitalism. We live near a college with lots of fast food options and we're seeing kiosks all over town. Legislation that only addresses wages isn't going to solve this issue entirely.
posted by vignettist at 11:34 AM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


I want two minimum wages: a full-time (35 hours/week or more) liveable wage, and a part-time minimum wage that is at least 1.25x the full-time wage.
posted by fings at 11:34 AM on April 20, 2018 [13 favorites]


That's totally true Pope Guilty. Neither is being a barista, or really any foodservice and/or retail job, but they're the kind of jobs that the kind of people who make this "argument" think are easy and low-stress.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:35 AM on April 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


And y'know, they'd be a lot lower stress if they paid a living wage, both because then you wouldn't be working full time (or more) in a poverty trap, and also because literally any other job that you could walk into would pay you at least enough to survive on so if things got too bad it would be much easier to just walk.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:37 AM on April 20, 2018 [8 favorites]


I think ErisLordFreedom is thinking along the right track.

The Federal Government has already done something like this with Federal Employee pay. We lowly General Schedule (GS) employees have two parts to our salary: 1) a "base" amount that is the same nationwide, and 2) a "locality" adjustment based on your given metro area.

The method is complicated and has never been fully implemented, but it's a good example of something that already exists at the Federal level, and has been quietly working for 24 years for thousands of employees.
posted by jason6 at 11:51 AM on April 20, 2018 [13 favorites]


I think it should be mandatory for everyone to work a period of time in the service industry (be it food or retail) as an adult and tell me if you can live off what that pays and if it's easy and stress-free. People are absolute monsters and assholes when it comes to food service or retail; it's not enough we have to remember your special coffee drink, but we are expected to wait on you hand and foot because your $5 entitles you to a servant.

/former barista for a decade who got tired of it and also got tired of it being implied that just because that that was job, I must be an uneducated idiot
posted by Kitteh at 11:53 AM on April 20, 2018 [26 favorites]


The restaurant industry did a poll of if people would support rising the minimum wage if it raises prices, and got an unexpected overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage even if it means increased prices.
posted by eye of newt at 12:03 PM on April 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


Not one single news outlet that I can find picked up on this report. Seriously. Go check Google News for yourself, and let me know if I’m wrong. [April 17]

Umm, OK.

April 5, Bloomberg

April 13, Boston Globe

Salon, April 7
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:21 PM on April 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


Americans are so beaten down, so unfamiliar with unionizing and wage negotiation, that it doesn't even occur to them

I propose a compromise.

We don't raise the minimum legal wage. However, we also repeal Taft-Hartley and allow sympathy and general strikes.
posted by corb at 12:38 PM on April 20, 2018 [12 favorites]


Yes, corb! And let's start actually enforcing antitrust laws.

From the Bloomberg link in Mr.Know-it-some's comment above:

"But the minimum-wage effect posed more of a problem to [supply and demand] theory -- no matter how you slice it, price controls should lower employment in a competitive market. The likeliest reason that this doesn’t happen is that employers have market power -- that it’s so costly and difficult for workers to find new jobs that they simply accept lower wages than they would demand in a well-functioning market. If employers have market power, modest minimum-wage rise will tend not to increase unemployment, because they force companies to move back toward the wage levels that would prevail if competition were working the way it should. In that model, a small increase in minimum wage could even increase the number of jobs.

New evidence is showing that employers have more market power than economists had ever suspected."
posted by materialgirl at 12:40 PM on April 20, 2018 [17 favorites]


> However, we also repeal Taft-Hartley and allow sympathy and general strikes.

If you have to ask for state permission to participate in a general strike, you're not ready for a general strike.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:03 PM on April 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


What does it matter if they raise the minimum wage if all the landlords just slurp it all up? Minimum wage and Maximum rent need to be tied together. 500 sq ft=40 hrs minimum wage, period.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:17 PM on April 20, 2018 [9 favorites]


I think the idea is that if landlords keep raising housing prices, the minimum wage is supposed to go up to compensate (cost of living).
posted by inconstant at 1:23 PM on April 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


If you have to ask for state permission to participate in a general strike, you're not ready for a general strike.

I mean, we could fill an entire book with answers to that, but in short: while acknowledging that any extremely effective use of union power will be met with opposing force and there is a necessity of dealing with that, that doesn't mean it isn't useful to dismantle the pieces of the state apparatus which make increasing union power more difficult - and also, that power exercised is power increased, and thus people who exercise their power in small ways can then exercise their power in broader ways, and so it's not super helpful to be like 'the people aren't ready for a general strike', rather than 'how are the ways to increase union power'.
posted by corb at 1:25 PM on April 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


New evidence is showing that employers have more market power than economists had ever suspected.

It's almost as if people would do anything at all to avoid starvation and homelessness, even if it means not demanding a fair wage for work done.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:26 PM on April 20, 2018 [9 favorites]


raising the minimum wage results in wage-driven inflation, as the cost of goods used by workers (including but not limited to housing) goes up in response to increased effective demand from the working class. However, because prices are sticky, there's a period of increased prosperity for the working class during the temporal gap wherein prices haven't yet caught up with wages.

This is why wage-driven inflation is a good thing, and why indexing the minimum wage to inflation such that a state of continual wage-driven inflation occurs would be a very good thing.

note: Although wage-driven inflation is a good thing, it's not an unalloyed good; people on fixed incomes — pensioners, insofar as pensions exist, people drawing social security in whatever form, insofar as social security exists, and people receiving welfare payments, insofar as welfare exists, will find themselves left somewhat behind if wages increase. As such, although wage increases are good, increases to welfare payments and social security payments are better.

Also note: the arguments that people invoke to argue against increased welfare payments ("grumble grumble why should THOSE PEOPLE get money to sit around when I have to work for a living grumble grumble") are isomorphic to the arguments that people invoke against minimum wage increases ("grumble grumble why should a burger flipper get 15 dollars an hour when EMTs don't make much more than that grumble"). Giving people the option to live decent lives without working improves the bargaining position of people who choose to work, and thereby drives up their salaries.

Increases at the bottom result in increases for everyone above them. But people compensated for their labor at the minimum wage aren't the bottom. The people who make decisions in America — which is to say, the fortune-holders — fear and loathe welfare increases even more than they fear and loathe minimum wage increases, and rightly so: raising welfare payments, like raising the minimum wage, is a direct attack on their power and authority.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:31 PM on April 20, 2018 [11 favorites]


The alternative is, of course, to grant guaranteed universal health care, universal basic income, and other guarantees of a minimum standard of living. Once those are established, then we don't need a minimum wage at all!

Turns out, even conservative economists agree that universal health care is good for business.

The opposition to all of these social proposals is never actually a business concern, it's just the rich and heartless digging their heels in.
posted by explosion at 1:42 PM on April 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


> The opposition to all of these social proposals is never actually a business concern, it's just the rich and heartless digging their heels in.

But it is a business concern. It's not heartlessness, it's pragmatism. A universal guarantee of a minimum standard of living would drive up the cost of labor to the point where it would become impossible to make and maintain a fortune by paying workers less than the value of their work.

Which is the only way to make and maintain a fortune.

Keeping the lower classes immiserated isn't just a business concern, it's the biggest, most important business concern there is.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:48 PM on April 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


I'm happy that California is at least taking a good step finally (although $15 statewide has the usual local problem -- thats not bad in the rural parts of the state, but too low in SF or LA -- of course cities _can_ fix this if they want, and LA was ahead of the state on this in general).

And yeah, the idea that pay is somehow based on difficulty or stress is absurd. I have never worked retail/service, but my ex-wife did and I saw how it affected her. My office job, which paid an order of magnitude more, was amazingly laid-back by comparison.

So many of these so-called free market people don't actually understand capitalism. Even in libertarian laissez faire capitalism fantasy land, "working hard" and stress are not actually factors in your pay, only the difficulty in recruiting employees. If the supply of workers is high enough, wages will drop as low as possible. It doesn't matter how much you stress out or how much you spent on your education or whatever, capitalism doesn't care.

(Of course, in the real world you also have racism and cronyism and all sorts of other factors)
posted by thefoxgod at 1:54 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I misspoke. By "business concern," I meant "concern for the health of the economy, an industry, or the continued well-being of an individual company."

Surely I should have adjusted my language to account for the contemporary definition of "business" to mean "lining a plutocrat's coffers."

Relatedly, it grinds my gears that people seem to think a company's purpose is "to make money," rather than "to produce X good or provide Y service," with money as a positive side effect. We've confused the means for the end.
posted by explosion at 1:56 PM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


> Relatedly, it grinds my gears that people seem to think a company's purpose is "to make money," rather than "to produce X good or provide Y service," with money as a positive side effect. We've confused the means for the end.

That's because a company's purpose is to make money, if we're speaking descriptively rather than normatively.

It's not a thing that should be the case, but nevertheless it is the case.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:10 PM on April 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


I think it should be mandatory for everyone to work a period of time in the service industry

As much as I appreciate the sentiment, there is no way to enforce "rich white males need to do some actual work that involves paying attention to other people's needs" without causing a whole lot of drama; there'd be endless complaints about the people who are exceptions: Anyone with a disability that is incompatible with nearby job options; anyone who doesn't speak the local language; anyone whose religious requirements don't allow the kind of work available.

And any jobs that are mandatory - "everyone needs 6 months of X work" - is going to result in opportunists taking advantage of workers at those jobs, because they can't quit. In big cities there'd be plenty of options and some kinds of protections; in smaller towns, not so much - WalMart gets an endless stream of min-wage workers to exploit (no raises, horrible hours, hostile workplace), because everyone's going to work there because it's the only "service job" in a 20-mile radius.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:28 PM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


I am positive that in many cases, paying someone the minimum allowed by law is a sign they'd pay less if they were allowed. Like, they don't think their workers are worth *exactly* the minimum, they're just prevented from paying what they'd really like. Which is, probably, nothing or next to it.
posted by Caxton1476 at 3:56 PM on April 20, 2018 [9 favorites]


As much as I appreciate the sentiment, there is no way to enforce "rich white males need to do some actual work that involves paying attention to other people's needs" without causing a whole lot of drama; there'd be endless complaints about the people who are exceptions: Anyone with a disability that is incompatible with nearby job options; anyone who doesn't speak the local language; anyone whose religious requirements don't allow the kind of work available.

Maybe, but then it just becomes another "aw, capitalism, what are ya gonna do?" handwringing. I stand by any white male, rich or not, having to do something they always they think are beneath. Hell, especially white males.
posted by Kitteh at 4:15 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I am positive that in many cases, paying someone the minimum allowed by law is a sign they'd pay less if they were allowed. Like, they don't think their workers are worth *exactly* the minimum, they're just prevented from paying what they'd really like. Which is, probably, nothing or next to it.

When I see businesses--regardless of size--complaining about having to pay their workers the closest to a living wage the law allows for their province/state/country, what you are telling me is that you and your customers rely on people getting paid shit to make your business run. And then those business owners put the onus on the employees (greedy! how dare!) and the government in terms of raising their prices and whinging on FB to their customers.
posted by Kitteh at 4:17 PM on April 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


people drawing social security in whatever form, insofar as social security exists ... will find themselves left somewhat behind if wages increase.

Social security benefits are indexed so that they automatically increase each year with inflation. How accurately the inflation index reflects the increased cost of living is debatable, but to the first approximation, it's pretty good. Good enough that is negates the argument that wage increases hurt retired people.

Likewise, Medicare benefits are pretty well covered for inflation.
posted by JackFlash at 4:19 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


I stand by any white male, rich or not, having to do something they always they think are beneath. Hell, especially white males.

I love the idea. I can't think of any way to implement it that doesn't either add to the oppression of minorities or would be horrifically exploited.

If there's a tax credit/reduction in tax rate for people who've done 18 months of "service labor," rich-white-dude corporations will create a "company coffee shop" in which no actual coffee gets made, but people earn credit toward their tax cut despite never actually seeing any customers. They'll do their normal office jobs and list "Barista for Lye, Cheete and Steyle" on their resumes.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:34 PM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


Wasn't minimum wage actually a living wage when it was instituted? I feel like in the 1970s (Hmm, post-that Lewis letter to the National Chamber of Commerce) was when the meaning of minimum wage went from "a wage sufficient to maintain yourself" to "the amount we business owners can get away with paying people and not violate the 13th Amendment."

Am I wrong? Or has it always been in the US that anyone making minimum wage struggled to support themselves?
posted by droplet at 5:22 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


@ droplet, Minimum wage indeed was intended to be a wage a wage - earner ( usually male ) working at 40 hours a week in one job could feed, house and medically care for a family.
Many right of center people argue that minimum wage is something for teenagers, but FDR himself intended it as an income sufficient for a decent, comfortable life-style. FDR said in no uncertain terms that if a company or business could not or would not pay fair, livable wages, then that company or business did not deserve to exist, or at least did not deserve to have employees.
Sadly there were exceptions for restaraunt workers and agricultural workers.
EVERYONE should get a livable minimum wage.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:42 PM on April 20, 2018 [20 favorites]


Capitalism is fucked.
posted by huslage at 6:01 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


I stand by any white male, rich or not, having to do something they always they think are beneath.

The thing is, it’s not about the work, but rather the social status. For example, I know a lot of guys who spent the majority of their military service burning human feces and picking up cigarette butts off the ground, who would do literally anything, with only the obligatory grumbling, who categorically refused to do janitorial work when they returned, even though it’s actually less gross or hard than 1 million things they did in the Army.

It’s not about the work, it’s about who usually performs the work, and what social class they belong to.
posted by corb at 6:08 PM on April 20, 2018 [15 favorites]


(2) tied to elected officials' wages: they are X% of minimum wage; can't give Congress a raise without increasing minimum wage.

Sure, but Congress is a) so rich and b) so good at cashing in on their positions that I don't think that would be that useful. The founders should've added a provision to the Constitution: anyone who has the honor of serving in Congress must pay .5% tax on their net worth to the capital. (A flat tax! How could Republicans protest?) We'd see how many Darryl Issas thought DC looked fun if they had to pay the city a million dollars every term...
posted by grandiloquiet at 6:52 PM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


Sometime last year I read an article that basically said "there is no county in the US where a person working 40 hours a week at minimum wage can afford to rent a 1-bedroom apartment."

A couple weeks ago I read that "there is no county in the US where a person working 40 hours a week at minimum wage can afford to rent a 2-bedroom apartment."

I read that as a media spin on a harsh statistic.
posted by bendy at 7:48 PM on April 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


A couple weeks ago I read that "there is no county in the US where a person working 40 hours a week at minimum wage can afford to rent a 2-bedroom apartment."

I've seen that one, and apparently there are a few places where minimum wage can barely afford a 1-bedroom apartment in the local area. "According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, there are only 12 counties in America where a minimum wage earner can reasonably afford a one-bedroom apartment."

12 counties. Out of 3,007. A bit less than .4%.

Six in Washington state, three in Oregon, two in Arizona. (One more I could not find.)The total population of those 11 counties combined is just under 190,000 people, ranging from 4k to 46k each. (Two of them have over 40k; the rest are substantially smaller. I have attended concerts with more people than some of those counties.)

But the team that put together the report knew damn well if they said, "there is nowhere in the US where minimum wage can support a 1-bedroom apartment," some asshole would comb through the numbers and say, "you're a damned liar! corrupt liberal agenda!" because one two-thousandth of the population could theoretically work for minimum wage and pay for their own housing. (Not that that's actually true, because not all of those 190k people are able to work at all; some are children; some are elderly or disabled.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:07 AM on April 21, 2018 [11 favorites]


>Raise minimum wage [here in California] to $15/hr (which is decidedly not a living wage, at least not in the cities)

But this is the problem I've always had with the clumsy sledgehammer of the minimum wage. California is an EXTREMELY diverse state in terms of cost-of-living. I'm intimately familiar with both ends of the scale, having grown up in a rural poor part of the state and lived for years subsequently in San Francisco.

In parts of the state like where I grew up, you can buy a decent house for well under a hundred thousand dollars. So after your down payment, you are looking at like 350 bucks a month for a 15 year mortgage, or a bit over 200 for a 30 year. Your costs will be, needless to say, a couple of orders of magnitude higher in San Francisco or Marin. I have a friend who rents a whole multibedroom house for l think three hundred bucks up in Humboldt. And when he takes his car to the mechanic, the guy charges him a third of what I pay in SF. In rural Modoc or Imperial or even Humboldt, you get by on a lot less in lots and lots of ways, than you do in the urban coastal parts of the state.

To me, it doesn't even make sense to talk about statewide minimum wages in California, unless it's a really low floor that wouldn't even be relevant in San Francisco or Santa Barbara.

Is the solution a really granular county by county or even municipality by municipality minimum wage?
posted by jackbrown at 2:24 AM on April 21, 2018


Yes, minimum wage should be based on the cost of living index for your locality. Of course it should. But then the same people who made our spiffy new complicated tax laws would say that that's "too complex," or, in the words of Chief Justice Roberts, "sociological gobbledygook." And a lot of people would eat that right up because many people are completely awful at math and are naturally suspicious of anything with an equation attached,
plus it's harder to sell an equation in a five-second soundbite than it is to sell just a number. So politically speaking it would be a lot harder to get through, even though it's very clearly the only sane way to do this. It's dumb, but we live in a dumb world.

Anything would be an improvement over the current situation, though. Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour? Do it. Make it a living wage that's linked to local cost of living? Yes. Create a federal jobs guarantee that gives anyone who wants it a government job paying real money? I'm in. Convert most of our social safety net into a simple UBI system that ensures that nobody is ever without the means to support themselves? Absolutely, let's make it happen.

Some of those solutions would be more transformative than others but they're all improvements and I'd enthusiastically vote for any of them, if I were allowed to.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:04 AM on April 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


Is the solution a really granular county by county or even municipality by municipality minimum wage?

That, or making the state minimum wage tied to the average or median cost of living and rents, adjusted so that it skews toward the higher populations in the high-cost urban areas. That would mean the rural areas get a huge boost - followed, no doubt, by inflation as the extra money pours into the local area and eventually stabilizes.

But the key thing to focus on, is fixing something: raise minimum wages in the direction of "living wage" even if we can't figure out the details of "Should SF's minimum wage be higher than Yreka's?" Increase medical coverage even if that's through weird insurance sign-ups instead of gov't single-payer; start eliminating the NIMBY "no more than four unrelated tenants" laws even though that doesn't directly address homelessness, and so on.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:30 AM on April 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


what's wrong with people in yreka getting paid well?

shit, raising the minimum wage statewide to a living wage in the most expensive cities in the state is a key step toward reversing the problem of population decline in rural towns.

raise all wages for all workers everywhere.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:59 PM on April 21, 2018 [9 favorites]


what's wrong with people in yreka getting paid well?

Unemployment. There's a complex relationship between minimum wages and unemployment, but at a certain inflection point, mandating a wage increase means certain people will be priced out of the market. If we raise the minimum wage from 7 dollars to 70 dollars an hour, it's pretty clear we'd have widespread unemployment, the question is whether the effect is linear if we go from 7 to 14. I haven't yet read the study in question, perhaps it has answers, but the civicskunk.works article didn't focus much on the qusetion.

shit, raising the minimum wage statewide to a living wage in the most expensive cities in the state is a key step toward reversing the problem of population decline in rural towns.

One imagines the rent these days would have a similar effect, and it has not. Instead, at least in some places I've seen, wages go up -- McDonalds and In-N-Out starting employees at 15 bucks an hour. If I had to guess as to why people aren't leaving for rural cities, I'd say it's because large cities have a network effect: for a city population of size N, an additional person can better match their skillset to employers, adding an value of say log(N). In other words, in a big city, even small niches can be catered to. So a person deciding between Yreka and Oakland naturally leans towards Oakland, and the size of the intervention needed to reverse rural population decline is likely punitive. And this logic pervades into many areas of life: recreation, love, religion, culture, services, food, etc.

To say nothing of whether reversing rural population decline is a good thing on non-economic terms, like perhaps the environment. Or whether Yreka is prepared to lose white majority status that any mass migration out of the city would entail.
posted by pwnguin at 11:13 AM on April 22, 2018


> Unemployment. There's a complex relationship between minimum wages and unemployment, but at a certain inflection point, mandating a wage increase means certain people will be priced out of the market.

Are you talking about the market for labor here? You're saying that certain people who want to buy labor in Yreka will be priced out of the market for labor in Yreka if the minimum wage is above a given point?

That is indeed the stock argument that the labor-buying classes muster against increases in the minimum wage in general — that raising the minimum wage prices labor-purchasers out of the market, always. It's understandable that they'd think of the labor market in this way, because they imagine themselves as "job creators."

This argument fails to take into account the effect on employment of the increased effective demand available in areas with higher wages. The presence of effective demand tends to create supply — when workers have more money in their pockets, this is an opportunity for capitalists to make money by selling stuff to them, and when there's an opportunity to make money, some capitalist or other will generally take that opportunity.

If you're looking for the real job creators, look for working-class people with extra money in their pockets.

Your argument only holds if the wage increases come as a sudden shock — suddenly wages double and enough labor purchasers suddenly stop buying that the effective demand local to Yreka (or whatever) fails to increase. But do observe that even the minimum wage increases pushed for by legit socialists are phased in gradually.

There may be some point at which increasing the minimum wage suppresses employment even discounting the effect of sudden shocks. But 15 dollars in Yreka is nowhere near that point.

And, just to make clear what we're talking about here, if indeed the minimum wage level that produces widespread unemployment is below a living wage, this is in practical terms an indictment of capitalism — a sign that capitalism only works through producing immiseration among workers, and must be replaced by economic democracy.

Which is to say: Raise the minimum wage. Raise it as high as you possibly can, everywhere. And if by some fluke you get to the point where increases in the minimum wage really are suppressing private-sector employment, supplement private-sector employment with public-sector employment until unemployment once again reaches acceptable levels, or else directly bolster effective demand through state-provisioned welfare measures.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:40 PM on April 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


I get that it's complicated and different locations have such different costs that it's hard to come up with a reasonable minimum wage for everywhere. But I bet we could find a baseline for each state, based on averages or medians, such that minimum wage is a living wage for 80% of the people there. (I'd love to say "for 100%," but that's likely to be too drastic statewide--a living wage in SF is almost $20/hour, and I doubt it's reasonable to just make that the base for the state.)

So: Pick a base minimum that's likely $15 or above, based on "a single person can afford rent at 30% of this, and pay for food, transit, healthcare, general upkeep (clothes, toiletries) and a modest amount of savings." Every year, increase it with the inflation index - or every few years, increase it by 50 cents, to match inflation. Every ten years, review the statistics and confirm that it's still a living wage.

There would, of course, be some difficulties adjusting. Some places would go out of business. Bookstores, especially, are hard-hit by minimum wage hikes, and communities that want to keep their bookstores will need to come up with ways for them to make money. But a whole lot of other places would wind up doing more business than they ever had, because min-wage employees suddenly have enough money to spend on something other than rent and bills.

Heh. If we're being really subversive, we could have sliding-scale minimum wage based on the number of employees a company has. Under 10: Baseline minimum wage. 11-50: 10% higher minimum wage. 51-250: 20% higher minimum wage, and so on. If you're working for a company with 5,000 employees, minimum wage is double the standard, because presumably, that company has efficiencies of scale that allow it to make more money per hour worked, and that additional income should enhance the workers (and their communities) before the shareholders.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:36 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Under 10: Baseline minimum wage. 11-50: 10% higher minimum wage. 51-250: 20% higher minimum wage, and so on.

So if I'm say a nationwide movie theater, who contracts out overnight cleaning to a 3rd party, are the local cleaning contractor agencies obligated to pay double? Even if each of those agencies is say under ten people? Or if I license a subway franchise and my shop runs at under 10 staff, am I at the low rate or the super high rate?
posted by pwnguin at 5:21 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Off the top of my head - these are spitballing ideas, not a serious economic plan - franchises pay based on the number of employees of the parent company; they're counting on that name to bring income that a Sam's Sandwich Shop wouldn't get. Result is probably a lot fewer franchises. Alternately, how many employees count for a franchise may depend on the type of contract it has with the parent company.

The movie theatre that contracts out its cleaning may be getting a bargain; I'd think the 8-person cleaning company doesn't pay higher minimum wage, regardless of where they clean. However, right now, most companies that hire contractors rather than just having employees, are counting on large contractor companies: they don't just want someone else to do the hassle of payroll; they want someone else providing them lists of potential workers who fit their the theatre's standards, and a company with 8 employees may not have that.

A theatre may want to hire out its overnight cleaning, but that cleaning company's only going to have a small number of clients, and their workers are mostly solidly scheduled. Contracting with a company of 8 workers means that if one of them quits, there may not be another available for several months; the theatre may have to find another company, negotiate new contracts, and so on. With tiny companies as contractors, they lose a lot of the convenience they were hoping to get by not just hiring staffers themselves. (There's the possibility of shell games, where they create a "separate" company for just this purpose, but that falls under standard tax dodge laws if they get caught.)

Alternately, don't have minimum wage pinned to company size, but have low-end wages pinned to top wages: CEOs (and anyone else) can't make more than 50x-100x a company's lowest-paid worker, and make sure it adds in a value for vacation days, company car, and various other perks. (With $15/hour minimum, a 50x CEO would make $1.56m/yr; this should not be a hardship for anyone.) This would mean sports teams and Hollywood studios would probably have to pay their receptionists more than minimum wage.

The idea is to find some method of requiring that the profits of a company - the money made beyond wages and supplies - should not all accumulate at the top. The exact mechanics for that would need a lot of consideration, and since they all start with "pay workers a living wage," I'm not fretting the details until we have that as a starting point.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:33 PM on April 22, 2018


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