The Wages of Sin City

When I got my first job back in 19mumblemumble, I earned the minimum wage of $3.35/hour. The world was a very different place. In my teen years, if you wanted to make a phone call when you were away from home, you had to drop a coin into a (usually filthy) public pay phone and maybe even put your finger into the correctly numbered hole in the dial and turn it clockwise as far as it would go. Do you digital kids even know what “clockwise” means? All this newfangled stuff. Get off my lawn!

The current minimum wage in my state is $9.32/hour, which is significantly higher than it is in many parts of the country. But not high enough. Recently, the People in Charge (PICs) of Seattle voted to raise the minimum to $15.00/hour inside the city limits.

Wow, right? Even for a pinko like me, that seems like a mighty big jump. And establishing a wage structure for a single city is bizarre.

It make sense for Seattle to have a different wage structure than, say, Walla Walla, because the cost of living here is so much higher. But it does not make sense for Seattle to have a higher minimum than the pricey, Microsoftian suburbs to the east. But there it is.

My 17-year-old works about 20 hours per week for minimum wage at the local movie megaplex, inside Seattle. When the PICs started bandying this idea around, I worried that it might cause her to lose her job, because who is going to pay a teen 15 bucks an hour? But you know, the megaplex actually needs all the teens it has. Someone has to stand there and take tickets and tell you where to find your theater. Someone has to shovel the popcorn into the bags. And, Americans being a slovenly bunch, someone has to swoop into the theater after y’all leave and sweep your popcorn off the floor. So they can’t go firing their teens, because the corporate suits do not want to do those tasks, do they?

Generally speaking, in this economy, businesses are not carrying a bunch of extra employees. All the extras got downsized back in 2008 and they have not been hired back. And businesses that use part-time, minimum wage workers are quite adept at ensuring that the costs of business fluctuation are borne by the workers, not the company. If no new films opened that weekend and business is slow, the managers will cut my kid’s shift (and paycheck) short.

In fact, businesses are so good at holding labor costs way, way down that profits are at an all-time record high. Should a business that is bloated with cash pay their workers so little that they need food stamps to get through the month? (Not all minimum wage workers are teens with parents who feed them. And certainly most of the people earning somewhere between 9.32 and 15 are adults trying to get by, and all of those people will get a wage bump, too.) Why should the taxpayers subsidize the sweatshops?

Will smaller business and nonprofits suffer? Probably. The new wage is being phased in on some timetable I haven’t investigated, but seems certain to hurt organizations that operate on the edge.

It’s an economic experiment that will be watched closely. Will Seattle be crushed under the weight of the untenable wage requirements? Or will it turn out that Henry Ford was right, and paying your workers enough that they can afford to buy your products results in more sales? Creating a gigantic underclass, as we’ve been doing since Ronald Reagan turned the clock back on the New Deal, has not been beneficial. A robust economy runs on middle class buying power.

Stay tuned.

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5 thoughts on “The Wages of Sin City

  1. All I can say about that is this: people are coming here in droves, where we have few benefits and even fewer safety nets but lots and lots and lots of jobs and low-cost housing. I don’t know. It just seems to me that if you make it expensive to do business in a town/state/country, business goes where it isn’t as expensive.

  2. i feel there should be a livable wage and that can vary to the type of job that is being done. i’m not sure all business can afford a $15 min. wage for all of their workers. can a mom and pop store afford to pay their workers that much? so? what is next? do we place caps on what can be charged for rent, food, gas, etc? how do we balance how one is to live? do we move into a socialist or communist state? or do we watch costs soar based on the greed of humans? i’m not sure of the answers. are we opening an other Pandora’s box?

  3. My first US job was at $2.35 an hour. At the time, gas cost around $.50, my dorm payment at college was $90 a month (cheap even then), in-state tuition was under $300 a semester, bread cost 0.69, eggs cost 0.69 on sale, chicken cost 0.69/lb, milk was $1.69 on sale.

    I gassed up this morning at $3.35/gal, and milk here costs close to $4/gal. Eggs are about $1.90/doz. Chicken in our part of Florida is usually over a dollar a pound, usually closer to $2. Bread is $1-$2 a loaf at Aldi, more elsewhere. College tuition is at least $300 per course at a community college, probably more. Any kind of housing for under $600/mo is hard to come by.

    Minimum wage definitely needs to come up. I don’t know how much.

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