Friday, January 07, 2005

The 2% solution- Part four

Okay, so far Matt Miller's gone over health care and education. What's the next step? A living wage. Now for me this is kind of a personal issue because I've lived with low wages most of my life. Only in the last two years have I become what you'd call a member of the middle class. So when I hear ivory tower pundits talking about "living wages" they are usually talking about what they think is a decent life, not what us working stiffs see as a decent life. Now us working stiffs aren't likely to complain about people wanting us to have more money, but we should. Because those well-meaning advocates end up doing things that hurt us more than help us much of the time.

I favor the minimum wage. Does it cost jobs? Probably. But reasonable increases in prosperous times tend to cause little impact to the economy overall, yet have a huge impact on the living standards of minimum or near-minimum wage employees. So all in all, I'd say it's worth it. As someone who has been a manager at a company that hires a lot of minimum wage employees, I can tell you that if minimum wage just goes up a little bit, we simply shuffle around money here and there and we make it work. When it went from $4.25 to $5.15 about a decade ago, it was all right.

However, I find that for the last few years, a lot of people have been calling for a "living wage" that varies from $10 to $15/hr. That's just ridiculous. That's not a living wage, that's a middle class wage, unless you live in a really expensive area like New York or California.

Here's what I think a "living wage" is, and what minimum wage should be: It should be what one person requires to pay the rent, feed him or herself, pay the electric bill, clothe him or herself, and get to work. News flash: phone, cable, car, and internet are not needs. Until 1999, I had never made more than $8.50/hr(and was below $6/hr from 1992 to 1995) and got by just fine, although I won't try to say it was easy. Currently, $5.15 doesn't cut it, so we are overdue for a minimum wage increase. But we don't need $10 or $12. $6.50 to $7 is sufficient. Then index it to inflation so that we don't have to keep having this debate every few years.

However, Matt Miller does have a useful idea that deserves to be considered. He proposes rather than placing the burden on employers to pay a living wage, which would cost jobs, the government should supplement low wage workers' incomes on a sliding scale. Here's Miller's proposal:

If you make $6, you'd get a $3 subsidy, which would make your wage $9/hr.

If you make $7, you'd get $2.29, giving you $9.29.

$8, you get $1.65, for $9.65.

And it goes all the way up to $14, where it is a mere 6 cents per hour and becomes $14.06.

Now the idea here is to give everyone, as Miller says, "a minimally decent life". This isn't typical liberal social engineering. It's not a handout. These are all hand-up type stuff and it lets the market work for a mere 2 cents on the nation's dollar. This is not economy busting stuff like we see in Europe with their bloated welfare states that reward sloth and punish success. You have to work to get this money. And it's much more efficient than the Earned Income Credit which it would replace.