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When the System Sets You Up to Fail

Corporate Welfare and the Minimum Wage

by JOSLYN STEPHENS

The arguments against raising the minimum wage are bullshit. The majority of Americans including conservatives support an increase yet congress continues to drag its feet on doing right by the people they claim to serve.  The conservative “pull-yourself up-by your-bootstraps” mentality has become an acceptable excuse to justify kicking people when they’re down. The greedy and elitist attitudes of CEO’s and bankers have created a culture of entitlement in this country in which stealing from others less powerful is the best way to get to the top regardless of the social cost.

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009  despite cost of living increases and the fact that Americans are being forced to get by on less pay, food stamps, unemployment, savings etc. Every resource the working poor needs to stay afloat or get ahead is gone or disappearing. The increases we keep hearing about of $9-$10/hr phased in over two years to “prepare Corporate America” will not do much for the working class who need a significant raise now. How is it that no one working a full-time job at minimum wage can afford a two bedroom apt in this country?

Let’s not forget the federal tipped wage of $2.13/hr which is beyond criminal but still in place largely because of lobbying to keep it there by the National Restaurant Association, which brought in $660.5 billion last year. Servers don’t makes hundreds in tips like many assume and often end a shift with less than ten or twenty dollars even if they had a good section; I know that firsthand. Slow business and bad weather on top of tipping out means no money for groceries or rent and a large amount of time spent standing around wasted only to do it all over again the next day IF you’re on the schedule.

There’s a reason it takes congress decades to consider a wage increase (3 times in 30 years) and only days to cut checks to billion-dollar corporations pleading poverty.

The top 4 conservative lies about raising the wage include:

* increasing wages will force businesses to close

* higher labor costs will lead to higher unemployment

* minimum wage earners aren’t primary breadwinners

* unskilled workers and teenagers won’t be able to get a job

First, Costco, the second largest retailer in the United States with 103 billion in sales, is looking to expand their operations after raising their employee pay and advocating the benefits of doing so. GAP clothing store is also proactively increasing their employee pay to $9/hr this year and $10 next year. A number of small businesses have also survived pay increases and remain profitable. What’s purposely overlooked is how often an overpaid CEO’s financial missteps jeopardized company finances to the point of closure or caused serious financial damage.

Second, the one percent has been telling this lie since 1938 and Big Business is doing just fine. Higher pay actually saves businesses money by reducing employee turnover and increasing worker productivity.  Even the Congressional Budget Office’s projected loss of 500,000 jobs is minimal and they acknowledge that increased wages will benefit 16.5 million people and lift 900,000 out of poverty. This report also details why the minimum wage has no discernible effect on employment. Facts and common sense shows that blatant greed, outsourcing, and deregulation are the real job killers.

Third, over 60% of minimum-wage workers are women who are also the breadwinners in 4 out of 10  households. Single mothers, like myself, are also the poorest and most at risk of falling into deep poverty. A living wage would benefit these women and their children the most especially now that congress keeps gutting their safety net and their employers are cutting their hours to not have to provide health insurance or other benefits. Those at the bottom of the pay scale aren’t just bringing in second incomes or working as a hobby; they are running a household and raising a family on one income.

Fourth, the majority of low-wage workers are adults, not teenagers. Neither my lack of skills nor age stopped the billion-dollar, multinational Burger King from giving me my first job at 16 even though they had to pay me a higher wage than they thought I deserved. The fact that low-level employees tend to have the hardest jobs because they’re at the bottom justifies any pay increase due to them. They also quickly develop the skills they need to better perform so they can keep their job and hopefully advance. Someone has to do the undesirable grunt work especially as the first point of contact whether it’s cashiering, bussing tables, serving lunch to schoolkids, delivering papers, picking up garbage, or changing bed pans and they should be paid a living wage to do it.

To those who say entry-level jobs aren’t meant to be permanent, for many the low pay is too necessary to leave and often people can’t advance to a management position without a degree. As for the ignorant remarks about going back to school, much like paying rent in New York City, college is too damn expensive and a degree is no guarantee of escaping or avoiding poverty. How many waitresses, receptionists, call center agents, and truck drivers have diplomas and still can’t find work in their fields of study? As far as the cost of products like food and gas going up, those costs have been going up any way regardless of employee pay and will continue to do so especially given Wall Street speculation.

There’s no easy way to get ahead when you’re doing everything right in a system setting you up to fail.

On the other hand Democrats are just as complicit in all of this. While the working poor struggles, they’re out praising .10 minimum wage increases across the country as progress and compromising our food stamps and Social Security for their personal gain. They don’t want to talk about how they failed to pass a meaningful increase when they had full legislative control back in 2009.  Party leadership is currently positioning members to take back the House later this year by blaming income inequality solely on conservatives; don’t be fooled. It takes two to keep the working poor enslaved and dependent and Democrats are along for the ride.

Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford details why Obama’s executive order to raise the wage to $10.10/hr for federal employees is disgustingly disingenuous. Why must there be an ulterior motive behind helping people? While it’s not the government’s job to provide for all of our needs and wants, it is their job as public servants to ensure that our tax dollars aren’t wasted on subsidizing corporations that can afford to pay more but don’t want to. We taxpayers have no say in how our money is distributed yet Corporate America gets to not only loot the treasury but also shorten our paychecks by keeping more of their profits, profits they can’t receive without the hard work of the working class. It’s common sense that when people earn a living wage less public assistance is needed therefore saving billions in tax dollars. Politicians and corporations also can’t seem to grasp that the economy along with a person’s quality of life improves when people have money to spend. Black Friday media coverage proves that low-income people with money love to shop and not just during the holidays or when things go on sale.

Working-class Americans don’t have money to save or invest overseas like CEO’s and trust fund babies. We have to spend every dollar we have trying to stay afloat and not starve or end up in the streets with our kids. Corporations don’t have a moral compass; they are guided by greed and power. Why should the government intervene in the “free market” to force corporations to pay more? Because taxpayers are sick of being on the hook for their fuck ups. All corporations which receive taxpayer dollars and don’t pay a living wage of at least $15 an hour need to be cut off from government welfare effective immediately. If a corporation can’t stay in business without public assistance, tough shit; they can blame it on the free market. Paying a living wage to the people who run your business is the cost of doing business and “job creators” can either pay it or shut down, it’s that simple. Per our constitution, government is to provide for the general welfare of the  people and corporations aren’t people — damn what the Supreme Court says.

When employers cut our hours, pay, and benefits we are forced to adjust. When they are forced to pay a living wage they will adjust as well. The time to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of at least $15/hr is now, not when Corporate America feels like getting to it. We don’t need Big Government or Big Business, they need us and our tax dollars and it should cost them — dearly.

Joslyn Stevens is a writer, photojournalist, and activist focusing on poverty and politics. She can be reached via twitter @joslynstevens and by email at joslyn@joslynstevens.com