Let's Talk About: Minimum Wage
Ahh, minimum wage: one of the most divisive topics that tends to fly under the radar. It's pretty rare to get on the same page with someone else regarding minimum wage because it isn’t a simple fact-based argument. There are a lot of philosophical factors, cultural/religious teachings, and personal beliefs to consider. There is no "right" answer. So the best any of us can do is discuss it, openly and without reproach, and try to come to a fair consensus to move forward.
I started working as a caddy back in Ohio when I was about 14 years old. It was a great job for my age. I got to hang out with fellow caddies, play games, and eat terrible food at the Caddy Shack until my name was called. Then it was about four or five hours of hauling a bag around for (hopefully) a $20 tip. No hourly pay. No benefits. Just $20 if I was lucky. And I was thrilled with that! That could (almost) buy a new video game!
I tell you this story not to say "you should be happy that you're getting paid at all". I'm not telling you this because I'm an old-timer reminiscing about how much better and happier I was working for next-to-nothing. I'm telling you this because compensation is all relative. $20 for 5 hours of work was awesome as a 14 year old. Not so much as a 35 year old.
So without trying to bore you, I'd like to quickly discuss some different factors that influence people's thoughts on minimum wage, my personal views on the topic, and what I'd like to propose when I am representing you in Columbia next year.
"Pull yourself up by your bootstraps". When I was younger, that was my view anytime anyone would complain that they didn't make enough money. “If you aren't happy with your job or how much you're making, why don't you find another job or just work harder?". Back then, this made perfect sense to me. Just put your head down and bust your butt, right? That's what I did and I was compensated more because of it! The more I traveled the country and world, speaking to new people and learning about their lives, the more my perspective began to change. For most jobs, I still believe in putting your head down and working hard to move up the ladder. That's how I run my businesses and I'm glad I do. I've never needed to hire an upper management employee from outside the company because I have given them the tools and confidence to work their way up. That philosophy usually works for "career" jobs. It doesn't quite work as well for "trying to just put food on the table" jobs. These are the situations too many people find themselves in without even realizing how they got there in the first place. These are the people who maybe didn't have an opportunity to get an advanced education, or maybe simply chose not to. It's easy to turn your nose up at someone and ridicule their precarious position because they stopped advancing their education or specilaty job training. The hard part is figuring out, and empathizing with, how they got there.
People end up in tough financial situations for a multitude of reasons, too many to list here. But anyone with an ounce of compassion and introspective thinking knows that many, many times, living paycheck to paycheck isn't all these people's fault. Some, sure. But let's not be boorish and think that's the "rule", because it's not. It's clearly the "exception". So what happens to the people who can barely, or barely not, make ends meet? They end up struggling for years, usually work 2 or 3 jobs, and are often away from their children and/or other loved ones. They don't have time to sleep, let alone go back to school. It's a perpetual cycle that seems impossible to break. Is it their fault they are in this cycle? Frankly, it doesn't matter. It may be my bleeding-heart talking, but I don't think we should want any of our neighbors to be in this situation.
If you think that because I can appreciate the plight of the minimum wage worker that I want everyone to make at least $15 per hour, you're mistaken. There are two sides to this coin and I am, after all, a small business owner. There is zero chance I would be where I am now if I had to pay every employee $15 per hour. I've probably employed over 500 people over the last nine years. Those are 500 jobs that would have never been filled and 500 peoples’ worth of tax revenue that wouldn't have gone to government services. I usually paid my employees about $8-9 per hour when I started out. As a new small business, that's all I could afford. Many of my employees made more than that, but it was incentive driven. The workers with the drive were compensated more, and it worked.
So where does that leave us? You can't pay people $7.25 per hour (current federal minimum wage) because it's next to impossible to survive, and you can't pay people a boatload starting off, because countless business would never get off the ground. People should have an incentive to work harder (capitalism at its finest), but don't people also have a right to feel provided for if they work 40 hours a week? There is no right answer. We just need to do our best.
So how about a "living wage"? A "living wage" for Beaufort County is speculated to be $12.89 (link) for one adult and $11.78 in Jasper County (link). I'm going to go against the grain of many of my fellow Democrats and say that I do not believe our state's minimum wage should be a "living wage". I want people to have comfort, but I also want people to inherently have that desire to work harder for a better life. Maybe my views on this will change as time goes by, but I truly believe we need to have a balance. Enough income to get by, but not enough to be comfortable. I say that not only as a small business owner, but also as a father. I want my son to work hard, excel, thrive. I want him to have that burning desire of accomplishment. And sometimes it won't be fair. Sometimes he won't get that raise when he deserved it. But that's what gives you mettle. That's what pushes you to keep digging.
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 and hasn't been increased since 2009. I'm not going to sit around and wait for the federal government to help raise our families out of poverty. I propose establishing our minimum wage at $8.75 per hour. I also propose that we tie the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index. The CPI is basically a predictor on how much increase or decrease real-world goods and services cost year over year. It is generally regarded as a better indicator than simply following inflation. Our CPI usually goes up 1-2% every year. So that would mean that our minimum wage would generally go up 1-2% each year. Now, there are times when the CPI can go all sorts of crazy, such as during a recession. So I also propose that we put a 4% cap on a CPI increase or decrease per year.
There is one last part of my proposal. As a small business owner, I understand the difficulty of getting off the ground in those first few years. I also understand that there are a lot of business out there that employ young workers and, specifically, young family members. So with this considered, I propose that a business may be exempt from the state minimum wage and only pay the federal minimum wage as long as they GROSS under $300,000 in revenue per year.
Thank you for making it to the end! I'm sure I upset some people, surprised some people, and lost some people as I kept going off on tangents. My views may not be the best answer, but it's the best answer to how to increase minimum wage that I can come up with. And as always, I'm always open to suggestion.
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