Thursday, June 22, 2006


Some For Me - None For You


In 1996, the average cost of gas was $1.15 - ten years later, that same gallon of gas costs $3.19, on average.

In 1996, the average cost of a gallon of milk was $2.60 - ten years later, that same gallon of milk costs $3.79, on average.

In 1996, Members of Congress earned $133,600 - ten years later, Congress just voted to give themselves a pay raise, making their salary $168,500.

In 1996, the minimum wage was set at $5.15 an hour. Ten years later, it remains at $5.15 an hour.

For the average full time employee, working 52 weeks of the year and 40 hours a week, that amounts to $10,712 - and that's gross salary.

In 2003, the poverty threshold for a family of four, established by the United States Census Bureau, was $18,810. By that standard, there were 35.9 million people living below the poverty line.

In 2004, that same poverty line was adjusted to $19,307, due to cost of living increases. The official number of people living below the poverty line increased to 37 million.

The numbers for 2005 will be reported on August 30 of this year, and we can only expect the numbers to once again increase, given the rising cost of gasoline and other goods.

What hasn't changed amidst this? That minimum wage remains at $5.15 an hour. $10,712 a year. The poverty line almost DOUBLES what a minimum wage worker is able to earn in the United States.

Keep in mind - these are not jobs that offer health insurance. No paid vacation. Clock in and clock out for lunch. Have to miss work because a child is sick? It's coming out of your pay. Death in the family? That's too bad. No pay. Can't get to work because the car broke down and it has to be repaired? Go ahead and get it fixed. But no pay.

There are those who would argue that the minimum wage is nothing more than a summer wage for high school kids,. but this is simply not true. 35 percent of those earning minimum wages are sole breadwinners and the typical minimum-wage worker brings in half of total family income.

The Republican-led Congress had an opportunity to remedy this huge problem yesterday, but decided to take a pass and let the problem exacerbate further. I specifically use the words "Republican-led" because the vote, as it has every year for the last ten years, fell largely along party lines. Democrats voted for the minimum wage increase, and Republicans, with some exception, voted against it.

Keep in mind, we're talking about an increase to $7.25 - over the course of more than TWO YEARS. $7.25 an hour. That brings that full-time employee up to $15,080 gross - and that's TWO YEARS from now. It still doesn't bring the family above the poverty line, and who knows where that line will be adjusted to in another two years.

But the Republican-led Senate, in its infinite wisdom, decided that this wouldn't be a good move. Except for four of the Republicans, who voted FOR the minimum wage increase, who also happen to be up for re-election in the fall. Somehow, THEY saw the wisdom in at least appearing as though they were in favor of the increase.

Gosh, wonder why they would want to give that appearance?

The same Republican-led Congress, whose own salary has gone up nearly $35,000 in the last ten years, felt that a $4500 increase for a full-time working parent raising their child in poverty would not be prudent.

The same Republican-led Congress, who can take billions of our tax dollars and throw it at the oil companies in the form of subsidies, all the while watching the price of gas continue to climb, which in turn pushes those under economic strain further over the edge - that same Congress decided that it was best to leave the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour.

There was a popular phrase used a few decades ago to describe communism - "Better Dead Than Red". This phrase seems entirely appropriate to now affix to the Red State Republicans and their utterly inneffectual leadership of this country.

Better Dead Than Red!!!

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Posted by FleshPresser at 1:24 AM /

8 Comments

  • Blogger The Professor posted at 8:31 AM  
    I suppose one could argue that this is a travesty. I think there is something else far worse--the situation that has led to people thinking they should get minimum wage jobs to support themselves. (note, I say it is the situation--not the people themselves.)

    You note that "For the average full time employee, working 52 weeks of the year and 40 hours a week, that amounts to $10,712 - and that's gross salary." Might I point out that, for those families of which you speak--the family of four living off the income of one person earning minimum wage, the "gross income" is actually going to be less than the total take home. Why? Earned Income Tax Credit, among other welfare subsidizing programs increase the actual take home pay and benefits. These programs are there to provide that much touted safety net. I am not saying these are "sufficient" just that they are there, and improve the family's situation.

    What is missing from this, more often than not, is the net that would allow people to get the education (not just the training) that they need to earn a higher wage. Thankfully, as part of the welfare reform movement of the 90s (spurred by the Repbublicans, adopted as his own by Clinton) many states did adopt a training program that didn't penalize people for taking time to improve their situation.

    I am a bit surprised though that people are still working for the federal minimum wage. At least here, in Ohio, my teenage daughters could have easily worked for more than $7 an hour. One daughter doesn't--simply because she prefers to work at a swimming pool, and coach.

    I would like to ask for a little clarification on your analysis. You identify 37 million people living in poverty, and that 35% of the people earning a minimum wage are the "sole breadwinners." Do we know how many of those living below the poverty line are actually working for minimum wage? Do we know which states they are working in? Finally, when you write that "the typical minimum-wage worker brings in half of total family income" how is "typical" defined? (Oh, and honestly, it would have been quite helpful for links to sources for all the data you provided--I am curious where you found all this good information.)

    Without these questions answered, your argument is incomplete. Is there a correlation between living in a "red state" and an increased likelihood of earning only $5.15 an hour, and being in poverty (or are those workers more likely to live in high density Urban centers so often categorized as "blue states"? I know many states have passed a "state-wide" minimum wage, separate, and higher, than the Federal one. Any research on correlating these laws with the (much over-used) Red versus Blue state demarcation?

    Steve

  • Blogger FleshPresser posted at 10:18 AM  
    Thanks, as always, for the thoughtful comments, Steve.

    Just a bit of housekeeping, first. I will try to go back today and insert links to the information that I used for this posting. It's always curious to me as to whether or not people actually use these links or not - I don't have any real clear way of measuring how much people "click through" to the links that I provide. In this case, at least, it appears that they would have been useful, and so I of course chose this as one of the first times where I didn't actually provide them, for the sake of getting the post complete. :)

    Regardless, I will try to remedy that today, so that everyone is able to take advantage of the information.

    Just as a point of clarification, as well. I was not making my "Better Dead Than Red" statement to imply that folks in the Red States have it better/worse than those in Blue states. My statement was focused on those who support/oppose what is seemingly such a basic piece of legislation - almost every vote on this issue has fallen squarely along party lines.

    While we may argue about who actually developed welfare reform in the 90s, it ultimately doesn't make much difference, does it? Save for the end result.

    Where you and I are in total agreement is the necessity for an "educational net" to allow individuals to better themselves.

    In the spirit of pursuing the notion of welfare reform, I would ask a few simple questions. Republicans are generally in favor of less spending, correct (although you'd be hard pressed to prove that over the last six years)? Wouldn't it make sense to pass legislation ensuring a living wage, in addition to programs aimed at the educational component, which would allow these working poor families the ability to end their dependence on such programs as the Earned Income Tax Credit and other welfare-oriented programs?

    You make a point (and it's a good one) that there are several states that have enacted legislation which has raised the minimum wage to the level where Congressional Democrats were proposing yesterday. There are also, however, MANY states where the wage is actually lower, or where there is no legislation at all.

    This, in my opinion, is precisely why the federal legislation is so important - so that there is NO discrepency between Red and Blue states, urban or rural areas, high versus low population densities, etc. Poverty is poverty, and individuals who are working full-time in an attempt to provide for their families should be paid a living wage... period.

    Again, thanks as always, for the thoughtful comments.

  • Blogger The Professor posted at 10:51 AM  
    Thanks for your reply.

    I would have to point out that conservatives generally are in favor of pushing decisions to the lowest level practicable--putting the decisions in the places that make the decision makers most closely aligned with those impacted. For instance, gun limitations make sense in urban areas where guns are used predominantly for killing other people. It makes less sense to apply such restrictions to states such as North Dakota, where guns are rarely, if ever used in the committing of a crime, and are used daily for hunting.

    That said, I believe that states are passing minimum wage legislation in ways that make sense for the economic conditions in their states.

    As anecdotal example, you have listed at the beginning of your post prices for gasoline, and milk. In the places I lived, the price of both was much lower and I suspect that, for California and other high cost areas, the prices were much higher. (I would be quite interested in the standard deviation on those.) In State College, PA, in 1999, the price for a gallon of 87 octane was still .859. That lasted until March of 1999. That was 30 cents below the average listed by you for three years earlier. Currently, here in Ohio, I am paying 2.559, and have yet to pay over 3/gallon. Again, the cost of living in my areas are lower. For milk, I am still paying around $1.89/gallon, although occasionally I find myself pay *gasp* 2.40/gal, when I have to stop at a convenience store.

    Why these anecdotes? To point out that a national solution attempts to solve problems that are regional. We should continue to encourage the state (and local) governments to pass these sorts of legislative mandates, when they make sense in their regions.

    Perhaps that is my biggest reason for opposing most of the social programs put forward by the left--they are attempting to fix local problems at a national level--and in so doing create problems in regions where they didn't exist previously.

    This is actually one of the reasons why I was curious where most of the people earning a minimum wage live, and which states have passed such legislation. Are the states with the greatest problem also those stepping up to the challenge? Are the states with the biggest problems the "uncaring conservatives" or are they blue states?

    In summary: national averages mask real problems. Real problems are local and should be dealt with locally (state/region).

    Steve

  • Blogger FleshPresser posted at 11:14 AM  
    awwww... and you were doing so well, too. :)

    This is a gross oversimplification of the circumstances. According to this logic, I don't suppose that we would need federal legislation for crimes such as murder, either - just outlaw it in places where it's a problem. But for the sleepy little towns where no one ever gets murdered, there's no need for the law to exist, right?

    Regardless of where you are buying your milk or your gas, I think you'd be hard pressed to come up with evidence suggesting that poverty doesn't exist in all fifty states, or that people working full-time jobs for the minimum wage aren't still in critical situations. The price of milk and gas were anecdotal. Remember... we're talking about families typically with no health insurance, no safety net, and a reliance almost exclusively on what the government sees fit to hand out to them in order to get by. The minimum wage salary alone is only getting them about halfway to the poverty line. Government handouts are getting them the rest of the way - just to the poverty threshold, if that.

    Wouldn't it be nicer to give these people a sense of self-reliance? How about some economic dignity? After all, if Congress argues that their salaries need a cost of living increase, why would they argue otherwise for others? Since 1997, when the minimum wage was last raised, it has lost a fifth of its real value. Because of inflation the $5.15 wage today is the equivalent of $4.23 in 1996 -- lower than the $4.25 level before Clinton raised it.

  • Blogger The Professor posted at 12:20 PM  
    Awww, and YOU were doing so well... ;)

    It's only a gross oversimplification of you don't read carefully. My argument was simply (not, over-simply) that legislation should be passed at the lowest level possible, appropriate to the conditions.

    And isn't it ironic that, in response to my call for greater analysis, rather than a simple national solution, you respond that I am being overly simplistic?

    Here's the argument, more succinctly:

    If it would take a minimum wage of $15/hr to reach "poverty" in a high cost state (say, New York) and it would take a minimum wage of $7/hour to reach that in, say, Mississippi, the national political solution would be to raise it to (perhaps) $11--split the difference. This would create a situation where we still won't resolve the problem in New York, and the folks in Mississippi essentially create other problems associated with such mandated increases.

    Doesn't it make more sense for each state to match their minimum wage increases to the economic conditions in that state? Another alternative would be to pass a Federal law that ties the minimum wage "simply" to a cost of living measure, computed on a state by state basis, without any specific dollar figure mandated. Of course, that puts too much control in the hands of the executive branch--the branch most likely to be required to determine the figures and publish the "real" dollar amount each year.

    Actually, this gets to the heart of so many problems that our Congress tries to solve, namely, the place fixed dollar amounts into legislation, and then fail to peg it to an index. AMT (the alternative minimum tax) is the most visible legislation that does this. It has become the insidious tax, sucking more and more people into it simply by allowing people's COLA payraises to slide them into the AMT category.

    I remember, back at good ol' DHS, taking the government course, when I first learned that the tax structure was, at the time (1979) a fixed structure, where the brackets were tied not to inflation indexes, but rather fixed dollar amounts. So, as inflation creeped into the late 70s (remember the Carter years?) one fount that double digit inflation, and COLA raises, pushed one into higher and higher tax brackets. That was one of the motivators behind the tax reform of 1986.

    Now, dealing with your argument ad absurdum, actually, many fictional (mostly Sci Fi) stories have been written about the Utopian Societies where there have been no laws for such things as murder, because murder had never been a part of that society. In those fictional accounts, it is the introduction of humanity that creates such havoc, and the necessity for such laws.

    And on we go!

  • Blogger FleshPresser posted at 9:17 PM  
    And of course, we are human, and as such, require laws to ensure certain behaviors that we deem appropriate. Don't worry... I read what you wrote carefully - I was, of course, being sarcastic.

    The point is this - as we speak, the following states have NO state minimum wage law:

    South Carolina
    Tennessee
    Alabama
    Mississippi
    Louisiana
    New Mexico

    Beyond this, Kansas has a state law that is actually LOWER than the federal law.

    If federal legislation didn't exist, and we simply left it up to each individual state to decide what their minimum wages were, what would happen to those who simply chose not to comply?

    There's another example - one taken from when YOURS TRULY was at "good ole DHS" (though it was many many years after you were there...lol)

    Drinking ages were different from state to state, depending on what each individual state decided. In Maryland, it was 21, while it was 18 in Washington... the result? Kids would drive 40 minutes to DC, get drunk, and then drive home.... not me, of course. ;)

    It was necessary to enforce a national drinking age to prevent similar problems across the country.

    Almost half of the states have state laws that are equal to the federal minimum wage law. But if that federal law didn't exist, who's to say what they would choose?

    If you want to tie a federal minimum wage to a COLA, I think that would be just fine... you and I can get together, hammer out the particulars, and have it on the desks of Congress by the close of business tomorrow.

    Whaddaya say?

  • Anonymous Angel posted at 12:03 AM  
    How right you are. I'm 21, with a 1 and a half old daughter. At the price of just daycare alone, a minimum wage job would just barely pay for gas and daycare. Actually, at $6.50 an hour - 31hours a week I had to beg her unemployed grandpa to watch her so I wouldn't have to pay the $100 a week... and that didn't cover weekends (which I did have to work). Sure I would have been able to get government aide for daycare under different circumstances (I'd rather not discuss), but I can't. So my goal is to find a job that would pay me enough to afford daycare, to move out of my moms home, bills, gas, and any repairs my car needs... Around here the only option is a factory job. It's quite sad.

    Angel

    p.s. I found you through blogexplosion, just so you know =)

  • Blogger Ricardo posted at 10:38 PM  
    Let's face it this alleged big increase is nothing once you divide it up over the span of 10 years. It's merely an adjustment for inflation.

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