DAVID DALLAS: The new minimum wage and our economy

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Published: June 25,2014

Tags: Business, economy, minimum wage, Mississippi, Politics

David Dallas, MBJ columnist

David Dallas, MBJ columnist

Imagine you make $7.50 an hour. Imagine your work week is limited so that your employer does not have to share responsibility for your healthcare costs or provide other benefits. Imagine your having to take a second job where you are also paid $7.50 an hour and work less than 30 hours a week. Let’s say you are fortunate enough to work 60 hours total and make, roughly, $440 a week. Well, that’s close to $2,000 a month. Why, that’s almost $25,000 a year. Who couldn’t live off of whatever that ends up being after taxes? Who couldn’t be a single head of household raising and providing for a family? People have to do it everyday.

As an increase in the federal minimum wage is considered or hotly debated, the lack of empathy for those surviving on less and less becomes horrifyingly apparent. Have you considered how you and your family would survive on a minimum wage? Which would mean your being fortunate enough to find even a minimum wage job in the current economy. Have you taken the time to consider those folks who do survive on the minimum wage? Do you care?

Just as with those living on some form of federal assistance, we have done a good job of demonizing low-income laborers in this country, which probably goes a long way in helping us all sleep better at night. It is also why businesses are eager to support some form of immigration reform. Immigrants are happy to work for more than they could ever receive in their own countries. And we need people who want to work. Of course, they — like us — want higher wages. Who doesn’t?

There must be a justifiable answer for why there are those willing to work for less. If not, they would find a higher paying job. Right?

You hear it repeatedly, “if folks want a better job, they should just go find one,” or “just go out and get themselves a better education.”

Wages have stagnated for the vast majority of Americans, but particularly low-income laborers, since the 1980s. Our dollars purchase much less these days. Todays minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is 25 percent below the inflation adjusted value of wages in 1970, but slightly higher than adjusted value of wages in 2008 which is a small sign that things may, just may, be getting better. If our economy is improving ever so gradually, do we really want to risk increasing the minimum wage now?

Low wages are bad for business and bad for our economy overall, regardless of our inflated stock market. Concerns about the general welfare of our labor force are legitimate, so several states and many communities around the country have sought to raise minimum wages for employees. Boston is poised to raise its minimum wage to $11 per hour over the next three years. New York City and state are exploring an increase. State legislatures in Maryland, Hawaii, Vermont, West Virginia and Minnesota have passed increases as high as $10 an hour.

It is not easy to figure out the problem with such significant hikes. If the minimum wage is increased it could crush many of our small mom and pop shops and make it even harder for medium-sized companies to do business. Some argue that a forced raise in the minimum wage would only end up increasing the economic power of larger corporate entities and thus push even more wealth to the (equally demonized) top one percent. There is no question that the highly profitable, larger companies will be in a much better position to handle the cost increases and adjust accordingly thereby strengthening their hold on the markets in which they operate.

That’s why the time is now to get busy and creative in Mississippi when it comes to building a better and more productive work force. What little manufacturing we have in Mississippi, coupled with our critically-important agricultural production is competing against business interests operating in central America and Asia that pay their workforce much, much less. Those foreign companies also deal with little or no government regulation, oversight, and taxes. If you speak with most business owners in Mississippi you will find that they do appreciate their employees and want to keep them working. They understand that a viable working wage is the best way to ensure productivity and a sense of purpose for all involved.

We can applaud the success of those more prosperous communities around the country and more progressive-minded states demanding a minimum-wage hike for workers. It would be wonderful if we raised the minimum wage to $10 or even $15 an hour here in Mississippi to give our labor force a fighting chance in today’s economy and to encourage people to get back to work and off of whatever form of assistance they may be receiving.

Could our communities and even our state do the same at some point? Are any of our economic leaders thinking about and maybe even offering options other than just digging in our heels, hoping to fight off any form of wage increase? In Boston they are hoping to lower costs for businesses through reforming their unemployment insurance system. Other state legislatures around the country are also working creatively with cities and communities to set standards. These experiments are needed quickly, before a minimum wage hike is likely mandated by the Feds. We must be proactive in exploring how such an increase might benefit labor, business and ultimately build a better Mississippi.

» David Dallas is a political writer. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.

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3 Responses to “DAVID DALLAS: The new minimum wage and our economy”

  1. Steve Says:

    If all these business owners want to give their workers “a viable working wage”, and keep them working, then why don’t they just go ahead and raise the minimum wage they pay their employees on their own? Why do you need a law to increase someone’s pay? If it’s such a great idea, you wouldn’t need a law to force it on businesses.

  2. Cynthia Says:

    Thanks for writing this article with such conviction. I wish more people in your profession would spread this message around the nation.

  3. Richard Lancaster Says:

    If the government had kept it’s nose out of peoples business we would not be in the shape we are in. There should be no Minimum wage at all wages should be up to the owner of the business to set how much there are able to pay not what they are told they must pay if you don’t like being paid a low wage find a better job. If the Unions had not driven wages so high that companies had to move overseas American would still have it’s Manufacturing, instead greed has killed nearly all mom & pop operations & people are so stupid they blame big business when it was big business that made jobs. America created jobs & then the Union moved in & destroyed them, at no time in American history has a Union ever created a job. Where are the Unions now that the Jobs are in the hands of the very people that were in my gun sites in Vietnam. If an illegal Mexican can cross our border & find a job there should be NO WELFARE. instead people of color have become to damn lazy to work when they can make a living off, free food, free housing, free transportation, free cell phones, everything handed to them for what, something that happened over 200 years ago, BS. When a black kid can get a check for SSI from the age of 4 because he is a “Slow Learner” & still graduate at 18 there is something wrong here. When my White 90 yo mother can’t get squat because she worked her ass off her entire life & is not eligible for a damn thing because her SS is too hi she can’t even get help with food, or anything else there is something wrong. When Disabled Veterans go without & are dying from neglect & have to wait years for what they were promised so some POS can collect welfare for not doing a damn thing except scream Racism there is something wrong. When 22% of the Budget is spent on Welfare & less than 2% on Veterans there is something wrong. Hitler even wrote that he would never have to fire a single shot to destroy America because Blacks would do it for him must have known what the future of America was going to become, a welfare state. Stop giving money so people that can’t have a father for their 10 kids money to have more fatherless kids. Make people pay back Welfare so the elderly & veterans can get what they were promised. Make those on welfare move to where the Mexicans are finding jobs, bring back our manufacturing that the Unions destroyed, get rid of the Minimum wage & let business owners pay what someone is worth not what the Unions have forced America to pay out the ass. If you can’t pay your water bill then you should get a damn job & stop making babies you can’t afford. America has gone to hell & the ones to blame are Democrats, Blacks & Unions. Make the damn Unions pay back all the money they stole in dues or else make them bring back the jobs they destroyed & stop letting them go on strike for money that the people they represent are not worth paying, this is America not a communist country, stop catering to the worthless & help those who deserve it. The biggest raciest in America are the very Blacks that scream the loudest that they deserve, BS there have not been slaves here for over 200 years so stop acting like it, get a job stop making babies & stop stealing from the taxpayers that have to carry your sorry asses. Enough is enough. & if you think I an a raciest tuff F#####G Shit I am an American that is sick & tired of the Bull Shit I served my country in war time what the Hell have you done but stick your hand out & want More & More for not doing a damn thing, don’t like tuff shit.

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