Wages, Income, Being Poor, Purchasing Power, The Nature of Work


There's this idea that the reason people get paid a minimum wage, is because their work is of no value. They, in effect, *deserve* to get paid so little. That choice, that opinion, that option, is completely arbitrary. We are used to thinking of certain jobs as being low-earners, so we continue to pay those workers low incomes. That's how it's always been, so that means we have to continue it. That may be how it's always been, but that does not mean it has to stay that way. We can choose to pay people more, pay them a living wage even, we just don't. Why? Because someone who is making my food for me when I'm too lazy to make it myself, doesn't deserve anything more than a slave wage from me, because they are slaving for me.

Do we need to change the attitude of how we treat folks in the service industry? Yes, we bloody well do; and, at the same time, stop treating them like they deserve to be poor, and that they should be grateful for it. That attitude needs to change, as much as the idea that inflated wages are necessary for some jobs needs to change.

We live in a culture that has a habit of basing a person's value as a person, their ability to be a part of this culture, on their purchasing power. If you can't buy anything, you can't participate. If you can't pay for it, you can't play. It's not as much about money itself, as it is about being in control of one's own life. While it's nice when people do things for you, and I certainly appreciate it when people do things for me, I would so much rather be able to do them myself. It's about being able to fully participate under my own steam. I feel like I have no control when I can't buy the art supplies I need, or even simpler (and more necessary) things than that - a winter coat, feminine hygiene products, shoes, or food.

So when the idea of a living wage came along, I was all over it. More money meant more purchasing power which means more control and less dependence. It meant that people could do things like put their kids into extracurriculars, buy a couple of new shirts, pay off debts, get better food, go out for a beer with a friend, buy someone a birthday gift - and live like how we view a normal person lives within the culture we all inhabit.

People on lower incomes, you see, are not savers. We are not taught to save, because we can't really do so. There's no room for saving when everything you get has to go right back to something else - a bill, a necessity, a debt, the everyday costs of living. So when lower income people get money, what they will do with it is spend it. They will buy more things. They will make use of more services. And that, my friends, puts all that money right back into the economy, where it can bolster business, create more jobs, and pay more people more money. In case I'm not being clear, what I'm telling you is that the idea that's been bandied about by trickle down types that when wages go up, jobs go down, is bullshit. There is one particular billionaire venture capitalist who will tell you in great detail why that style of thinking is bullshit, and how it's been used for years to enslave people into lower income brackets in order to keep corporate purses fatter.

This man will also point out why it is the middle classes who are the ones that really bolster an economy, because they are the ones that do most of the buying and selling and spending in any economy. So why not give them more power to spend, and give more people more power to spend, by giving them more money to spend?

As an aside: There are some miracle workers who manage to save on a low income, and more power to them, but just because one can, doesn't mean everyone can. That is the same rigidity of thought which causes organised religions not to work - you can't assume that what works for one person, will automatically work for others.

Is it true that some businesses are too badly off to be able to afford a living wage for their staff? Yes, but that's where the idea of the universal basic income comes in. If you simply have the government pay everyone a base wage, then what a person earns at work could be topped up to giving them a living wage, or at least something that's a lot more workable than the minimum wage.

I believe in a living wage, but I think a basic income is better. It would not, for one thing, force businesses to raise prices, as so many detractors of a living wage fear. And for those that fear paying more money out, think of it this way: You're paying now, why not pay and get some back? Like I said, people spend. People spending bolsters the economy. People with a higher income eat better, and are far less of a burden on, again, the public health care system. People with better educations are far less of a burden on the public health care system as well.

Aside: The minimum wage in Ontario, by the way, even with its recent increase, still puts people below the poverty line.

Again, if you give people more money to spend, they will spend more money. They will be able to buy better food, better their health, and be less of a drain on the public purse; because, while before they were merely a drain, now they might still be living on the public dime, but they're putting dimes back into the economy, not merely taking dimes out of it.

Here is a (partial) list of things that need to happen in order to help make this work, and need to happen anyway regardless of the above:

In some Canadian cities, for example, there are students sleeping on couches in public areas on campus, because they can't afford a place to live. Yet there are still people out there who have the idea that because they had to pay for school the hard way, means that everyone needs to continue to do so. Why? That's a miserly way of thinking. I can't imagine how anyone could manage to succeed at school without a safe place to live, and work a demanding job at the same time. Why not remove a burden or two from the shoulders of the folks in question, so that they can succeed at school, be more productive, and live a more satisfying life.

Whether you want to admit it or not, whether you like it or not, it's long past time to realise that we are all on this boat together, and that completely separatist thinking is not going to help anyone in the long run.

And, to re-share thoughts from a previous post regarding the upside of changing the nature of work and the benefits of a universal basic income:

Cutting back on work allows people to, and gives them the freedom to:

And

Will some people abuse it? Of course, but there will always be people that will abuse every system there is. It's not the fault of the system, it's the fault of abusive people. The majority of a culture/society should not be denied or punished just because a handful of bad apples get into the barrel. The good of the many must, in this case, outweigh that tiny percentage of abuse.

The nature of work needs to change, with whole industries disappearing, and people's needs changing. It has to adapt, as other things must adapt. A UBI would be one of the ways in which a more organic, flowing work life could be managed. And, with the number of available jobs vastly out-stepped by the number of people to fill them, having the non-working (in a traditional sense) doing other things to help a society out, is no bad thing. The job should also not be the sole means, nor the most significant means, by which a person is measured. A person still has value, to themselves and the people around them, even if they aren't wage-slaving it at a nine-to-fiver.

The idea that it is solely the fault of the worker that they don't have better employment, is also an idea that needs to go the way of the dodo bird. Let me tell you a story, so you can see a couple of reasons why that kind of thinking is untenable.

Some years ago someone I know who is a bookkeeper by trade, largely-at the time-taking on private clients, applied for a job with a local small business who only needed their books seen to one or two days a month. During the interview it came to light that while the employer in question had their ad up on the Kijiji website, she'd received over 3400 responses and applications to it before she shut the ad down - some from people who were grossly over-qualified for the job in question. It was so far beneath their skillset as to be laughable, but they applied anyhow because people are desperate for work and will take whatever they can get. Now, while the person hired was definitely capable of doing the job, it might have been that she wasn't the best person suited for it, but there's no way to know for certain, because the employer received far too many responses to her ad for her to reasonably go through.

What does this mean? This means that there are too many people applying for jobs, so much so that employers are getting more responses than they can reasonably go through, which means that qualified people may not even be getting looked at because of the volume of applications of which theirs is but a drop in the bucket. It's why so many people are only getting meaningful work by knowing someone. Nepotism gets them over the pile of applications between them and the door in.

And, to reiterate: Whether you want to admit it or not, whether you like it or not, it's long past time to realise that we are all on this boat together, and that completely separatist thinking is not going to help anyone in the long run.

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Number-crunching on the new Ontario minimum wage:

427.50 - weekly pay at $11.40 for 37.5 before taxes
1368 - monthly net after 20% taken for EI, benefits, etc.
800 - monthly rent
150 - phone and other utils
250 - groceries and other sundries
42 - what you have left per week - let's hope you don't need a new pair of shoes, that you can walk to work (because you sure ain't gettin' there by bus), or that you don't have kids as a single-income earner
But if you do buy a bus pass, which costs just over $100 per month, then that leaves you only $17 a week

And you know that life does not follow a script, so...



2016 10 02 - 20:17

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