By Matthew Allen
NORWALK, Conn. – Minimum wage workers strike across the country for a higher minimum wage. But the problem here is much the same as it is in a number of areas outside the fast food industry. These jobs were never intended to be positions where someone is able to support a family. Or even support themselves as an adult out on their own. These were not designed to be “bread winner” positions. These were jobs that used to be held by kids on a part-time basis, seniors looking to augment their fixed incomes, or others just taking a job for some extra money.
Unfortunately, jobs for unskilled workers are harder to come by. Let’s get real, jobs for even skilled workers are harder to come by given the lousy economic environment, productivity advances leading to changes in hiring needs and an overall tight job market. Hence, we have even jobs like flipping burgers become “real” jobs out of necessity. Is it any surprise the issue arises that the pay for these types of jobs, even ones that provide full-time hours, is insufficient to support the individuals themselves, let alone any who have families.
We face a very difficult dilemma with regard to jobs in this country. It is exacerbated, if not outright created, by the nexus of social welfare and immigration, legal and illegal. In many states, the current minimum wage provides benefits that are below the level a recipient can derive from the cocktail of government benefits related to the social safety net. Between welfare, Medicaid, food assistance, housing assistance, as well as benefits built into the tax code, we have created a system where many are better off simply not taking a job and just riding the system. This is unacceptable. We need to reward those people who choose to work and not penalize them for doing so. But as long as the payout from the government for doing nothing exceeds what can be earned in an entry-level or minimum wage position, that is exactly what we are doing.
Immigration and illegal immigration also play a significant role. We no longer need to import unskilled labor at the rate we once did, if we have to import any at all. We outsource enough jobs overseas that it is almost economic lunacy to think we need to import unskilled/low-skilled workers to our own shores, while paying existing residents to do nothing. We have an excess supply of unskilled/low-skilled potential workers in this country. Likewise, there should be no job that is beneath a legal worker and thus requiring an illegal worker to get it done. No job.
Perhaps raising the minimum wage is not the answer. Or at least not the full answer. If we are unwilling to increase the minimum wage to a living wage, perhaps we need to find a combination of wages plus government assistance that brings working individuals up to that living wage level. If society is unwilling to pay the higher prices for goods and services that will be passed along due to an increase in wage expenses, then perhaps we would all turn a blind eye to the taxes we pay being redistributed to workers at the low end of the scale. The fact is we are already doing that now, except those receiving benefits are generating little to no productivity in return for their benefits. We need to reward legal workers who are willing and able to take a job far more than citizens who are unwilling to take a job.
Further, we also need to stop enticing unskilled immigrants to enter this country and create further competition for these low-paying jobs. As a side note, if you want to significantly reduce the level of illegal immigration into this country, get serious about drying up the primary reason they come here: low paying jobs that some American workers are unwilling to take because social safety benefits exceed their value. It is a vicious, downward spiral that needs to be rectified very, very soon.
One final note: For those party-affiliated readers out there that think this is an attack on the free market system, or conversely, that raising a voice on immigration is taboo, let me remind you both of something. We are paying for this broken system now with our taxes. The free market is already being forced to support an ever growing class of individuals who are unproductive and that is very much not sound economic policy related to a functioning free market. As to immigration, if your party is supporting an immigration reform that will result in the legalization of millions of illegal workers and also not create tight controls to limit the entry of future legal and illegal workers, just know that it is the jobs of the workers who went on strike that these foreign workers are coming for.