The $64,000 Question: What to Do with Wages?

Everyone’s talking wages these days. Must be holiday spirit in the air.

Striking fast food workers around the U.S. have been demanding a raise from a whopping $7 an hour to $15. Conservatives have been freaking out (“where will it end??” Fox news commentators flipped out):

At the same time, in San Francisco, BART train drivers are striking for a raise from their $70K-a-year salary (including full benefits)…because it’s not enough to buy a home and support a family of four in the Bay Area.

And Switzerland is getting teed up to vote on “incomes for all” – a guaranteed wage for all residents, whether they work or not. Fans say it would replace welfare payments (and increase added value tax – what you pay on purchases – by only 20 to 30 percent…a bargain!).

All of this fringe noise reminds me of the mockingbirds at our home in Arizona: They wanted to get out of the heat into our cool home, so they slammed their beaks into our door frames and windows. Over and over again. Yep, that really worked well. On the outside, trying to get in, using crazy outlier tactics.

Still, $15-an-hour or more than $70K a year seems a bit high to me. Granted, the cost of living in NY or SF is two to three times most other cities — but what the SF BART peeps are demanding (and the fast food workers) is more than I or a lot of my college-graduate friends got paid in those same cities for their first jobs out of school. And we made it work. As my SF friend put it, $70K might not be enough to support a family in a single-earner household…but what’s the other parent doing? Not working. Time to get a job! Between two it ought to be enough (especially if you’ve got benefits!!) to support your family. And buying a home? Maybe it’s time to rent like the rest of us.

As for the Swiss: I’m pretty far left, but they’re talking straight-up communist. And we all know where that goes: threats of war via fax.

On the other hand, in the past 10+ years the federal minimum wage just isn’t keeping up with inflation. When McDonald’s CEO is making $13.8 million a year but his employees, at an average of about $8 per hour, can’t even live paycheck to paycheck — something’s smelling greasy. What to do?

Get the smarties involved! Instead of politicians (who get paid 6 figures a year…you can bet most of them don’t understand paycheck-to-paycheck) bickering about something that’s way too complicated and outside of their expertise, why not throw a bunch of geeky economics professors in a room. Have them look at the cost of living, current wages, and incomes of each company. And figure out what would be the best outcome for everyone. (It should depend on location too – while $7-an-hour might be more than enough to start a 401K in Nebraska, it sure doesn’t pay the cable bill if you’re living in New York City.) Chances are by raising the wage enough so even the lowest-paid workers can afford to buy fresh fruits and veggies instead of Frito-Lay for dinner, the guys with the golden parachutes could still take their annual spring vacation to Paris.

Is that such a crazy idea?

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One thought on “The $64,000 Question: What to Do with Wages?

  1. Pingback: San Francisco v. New York: Crab v. Lobster, Castro v. Chelsea & More | Breaking Blonde

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