mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The horrors of a living wage.. you need to eat spagetti...

The Baltimore Sun, always one to find the cloud in any silver lining, has an article about living on the living wage. Maryland has passed a law requiring that government contractors in the Baltimore/Washington corridor pay employees at least a "living wage" of $11.30 an hour.

I think the whole idea of the living wage is silly. Wages should be determined by how much a worker is willing to work for and how much an employer is willing to pay them. When those points come together, a transaction can occur. The fact that this is for government contractors makes it little more than a really inefficient tax program, a transfer from taxpayers to those lucky enough to work for government contractors in Maryland. It's a welfare program, but it's the worst kind of welfare program - instead of finding those most in need, it just pays whoever happens to have a job with a government contractor.

But the Sun wants to show how tough it is to live on a living wage - a wage several dollars above the minimum. Their prime example is the Johns, a family who in order to make ends meet has to budget, and live with their parents. Another family mentioned eats "stews and spagetti".

But that doesn't strike me as poverty. Everyone should budget. I eat cheaply - including lots of pasta - and I make more than the living wage. And lots of people live with their parents.

But the thing about the article that really strikes me is almost everyone sees more money coming to them in the future. Johns' is an apprentice electrician - he isn't making much now, but he's learning a skill that will probably pay off in the future. His wife, now a stay-at-home mom, is hoping to open her own catering business. Other people in the article are going to college or nursing school. Most of them, if sucessful, will make more than they do now.

Whenever the minimum wage comes up, and how you can't live on it, my first thought is that many of the people who make minimum wage don't live on it - they get suplimental income - they are high school students working for gas or the elderly getting something to do and a few bucks to supplement social security. But even at the living wage level, people are there temporarily. They are at that level, but they can and do move up. It's a job, not a career. And if you want to give people an incentive to move up in their careers - to learn skills, to go to school - the best thing you can do is not pay them too much, so that they have a reason to learn those skills and move up.

One other thing that I noticed is that Johns is wearing a rather nice Tommy Hillfiger polo shirt in the pics. Maybe it's his only good shirt, maybe it was a gift or he bought it at the Goodwill... but it doesn't strike me as something that someone hardly getting by would wear.


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