By G. Michael Dobbs
Have you ever worked for minimum wage?
I know I have. In fact, I worked for less than that standard minimal wage as there used to be different standard for farm labor when I baled hay for neighboring farmers when I was in high school.
I was at minimum wage when I worked at a burger place on Memorial Drive in Chicopee – my first job away from a farm – and started beneath minimum wage when I started working at the Basketball Hall of Fame; apparently at the time when nonprofit organizations were exempt from the law.
The simple fact is that minimum wage is a starting position, a financial beginning and not an end.
Today, for too many Americans, the minimum wage or close to it is not a start – it’s a rut. It should be noted that in Massachusetts the minimal wage is $8. Work a 40-hour week for a year and your annual income is $16,640.
The federal standard for minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which was established on July 24, 2009. There are states that have higher standards than the federal one besides Massachusetts and there are those with lower state rates. Under federal law the higher standard applies.
That amount ensures that you either have to have another job, live with your parents or a variety of roommates and buy the least expensive food and merchandise that you can.
Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor – and one-time candidate for governor here in the Bay State – has set about to at least add to the national discussion about the minimum wage.
He has set up an on-line petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/mcdonalds-and-walmart and intends to have 50,000 people sign it that would urge the CEOs of Walmart and McDonald’s to raise their employees’ pay to $15 an hour. Currently, more than 41,000 people have signed.
Here is what Reich wrote: “These two companies are among the biggest employers of low-wage workers in America, and they can easily afford to give their workers a raise – a perfect way to celebrate Labor Day.
“McDonald’s posted strong results during the recession by attracting cash-strapped customers, and its sales have continued to rise. Between 2010 and 2012, its annual return to investors was 15.7 percent, far better than the Dow Jones Industrial Average. McDonald’s CEO, Don Thompson, gets a big-whopper of a compensation package, valued at $13.8 million – about 800 times the earnings of a typical McDonald’s worker, who earns $8.25 an hour.
“Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, also continues to do well – so well it’s hiking shareholder dividends 18 percent this year. It also pays its executives handsomely. Total compensation of Walmart’s CEO, Michael Duke is now $20.7 million – more than 1,000 times the earnings of a typical Walmart worker, who earns $8.80 an hour. Not incidentally, the wealth of the Walton family – which still owns the lion’s share of Walmart stock — now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of American families combined, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.”
So, could both of these companies afford it? I think it’s not too far of a stretch to see that they could.
Now the spokespersons for both companies have asserted they are not minimal wage employees and that they pay more than the $7.25 level.
I’m sure some people will see this discussion as yet another way the federal government is trying to dictate to businesses. I’m sure some people will have ready arguments about how a company such as Walmart couldn’t possibly afford paying out better wages.
This isn’t about a handout. It’s about common sense. It’s about giving people a chance to succeed so in turn our economy as a whole will improve.
If the minimum wage were increased, the buying power of millions of American would be increased. The ability to get out of debt would be increased. What if we actually coupled a minimum wage hike with additional student loan reform so people could actually better afford to go to college, therefore increasing the nation’s skilled workers?
At $15 an hour, if you work a 40-hour week, that’s $31,200 for the year. That’s a real start toward the middle class for many people. Don’t we want to rebuild the middle class? Or do we want a permanent underclass in this country?
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at email@example.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.