NEW YORK CITY, August 31, 2013 — Fast-food workers are organizing, protesting, and striking across the nation for a wage increase. They want full-time work to earn a living wage. Conservatives, above all others, should be cheering them on.
Conservatives often oppose hikes in the minimum wage on the theory that the additional cost will reduce market employment. This would do more harm than good to those at the bottom of the economy.
Increased wages will eventually cut overall employment, but the small increase that is being needed for a living wage is not likely to be a heavy burden on most firms. On the other hand, a better wage for hardworking low-skilled laborers will hit the sweet spot for most centrists and conservatives: It will provide incentives to work.
A Pennsylvania study showed that a person on public assistance can accumulate the equivalent of over $57,000 a year by staying home and taking advantage of all the different handouts from the government. These include food stamps, Medicaid, and Section 8 Housing.
The Cato Institute, using a different formula, confirms that for those who have become government dependents, it is more profitable to reject minimum wage jobs and just stay home on the dole.
An unemployed person in Washington could make the equivalent of $43,000 from government subsidies. In Massachusetts it is $42,000, while Hawaii comes in at $49,000. Consequently, there are millions of Americans pondering the question, why work for 40 hours a week at minimum wage and bring home just $15,000 before taxes? It simply doesn’t add up.
Americans once preferred to do what they could to avoid Social Services because of the stigma that came with it. But that stigma has largely vanished.
Indeed, the Obma Administration is spending taxpayer dollars to promote films and PSAs to convince people that they should aggressively seek out food stamps and any other government subsidy they can find.
One way or the other, those on the lower end are going to get enough money to survive. The question is whether it will come from money they earned or money that is taken from taxpayers.
Isn’t it better to put a working person over the poverty threshold by adding a few cents to the price of a Big Mac rather than having the taxpayers make up the difference when the salary falls short?
Working for minimum wage gets you about $60 for the day. Subtract transportation and day care costs if you are a working mom, and you are working for almost nothing. Where is the incentive? Not all these workers are 17-year-olds, holding these positions for a year or two.
Many of these workers are unskilled, mature men and women who are just trying to scrape by.
We have it all backwards. A recent Fox News segment included an interview with a California surfer who bragged that he thought it foolish to get a job when he could hit the waves all day and then rock out with friends, all while filling his belly with sushi paid for by his food stamp card.
He all but said you’d have to be a sucker to work for minimum wage. We’ve given credence to that opinion by encouraging such abhorrent behavior through our increasingly unchecked welfare state.
Still, there are millions of Americans who refuse this easy way out, because despite efforts to de-stigmatize reliance on the state, they have a sense of pride and self respect. It’s time to throw bums like that surfer to the curb and allow hardworking minimum wage employees know that they can make more than the poverty level if they are willing to work a 40-hour week.
Steve Levy served as Suffolk County Executive 2004-2011, and as a NYS Assemblyman. Levy is now President of Common Sense Strategies, a political and business consulting firm.
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