By Brian Lynch
As it stands now, folks who are paid minimum wages also require tax subsidy to survive. They need subsidized housing or rental assistance, publicly subsidized medical care, food stamps and WIC assistance to feed their babies. They need HEAP programs to help them with their heating bills. They need churches and nonprofit organizations for material assistance to carry them over the rough spots thought out the year. These economic pressures often cause marriages to fail and families to dissolve. Many low wage earners eventually need government social service programs to help them recover when their personal lives spin out of control under this enormous economic stress.
The point is that there are significant publicly funded costs associated with the minimum wage laws. We need to make these costs part of the public discourse. From a cost/benefits point of view, the minimum wage law adds up to a government subsidized labor force that benefits business interests. It drives up the cost of government while allowing companies to keep expenses low and profits high. It lowers the cost of most goods and services, but it does so at the expense of those less able to buy what they need. It is a Faustian bargain between government and business that helps maintain a poverty class in America.
There was a time when business owners in this country assumed some moral responsibility for the welfare of their communities and their employees. The responsibility that business owners had for their communities was a prominent feature of conservative politics in America. Not any more. Our business ethics these days are depersonalized and detached from the communities from which corporate American spawned.
With a living wage law we could once again become a land where anyone who works a full week, sticks to a modestly frugal budget, and avoids major vices (such as drugs or gambling), can be financially independent. Folks at the lowest ring of the employment ladder might even be able to save a few dollars and raise a small family.
Moving from minimum wage mentality to a living wage economy would shift the much of the cost of human welfare from government and public taxes to business and the true cost of goods and services. This is where the responsibility for full-time wage earners rightfully belongs.
As for the cost of commodities, those who have more would continue to buy more. The more affluent the consumer, the greater would be their support for an economy that guaranties a living wage to all who work. This is as it should be.
Brian Lynch is an MSW social worker and social planner in Northern New Jersey. He has been an Internet activisist for a number of social causes for the past ten year and his commentary has appeared in various newspapers around the country.