To review the problem of wages in America is to revisit the concept as three parts in which the possibility exists for fairness, equity and morality. While the possibility is 100%, the probability for change depends upon the willingness of the American citizens, through our representatives, to understand the three basic levels of wages and then act with fairness, equity and morality.
Currently, we have a legally mandated level one minimum federal wage of $7.25 per hour — barely half of the current poverty level. It constitutes a bare subsistence requiring governmental subsidies and providing no dignity.
Elected officials are now working on level two of increasing the bare minimum wage to a functional minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2025 to pull 34 million people out of poverty and subsistence living.
When this occurs we can turn to the concept of a level three living wage and move beyond the unholy wage of a worker in America, where the CEOs of corporations, from small to large, receive an average of 300 times what their workers earn. Some CEOs receive 3,000 times that of their workers; that is truly unholy.
In 1776, Scottish moral philosopher and economist Adam Smith published "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” More commonly called “The Wealth of Nations,” the book established Smith as the “Father of Economics” and the midwife of modern capitalism. While his free-market philosophy and idea of the “invisible hand” of the economy made him the poster boy of conservative capitalists, he believed that an economy must provide “justice, equity and a living wage.”
Smith calculated that a living wage for one worker should be two times the amount for the basic, minimum, biological needs for a family of four. He didn’t believe free-market capitalism and social justice were mutually exclusive.
MIT currently calculates that a living wage should be $16.54 per hour, per worker, per family with two workers. This would allow a family of four to secure the basic necessities for a decent living, a decent life with dignity and pride.
In 1933, the New Deal emerged not only to fight the existing Depression but to combat poverty, reduce inequality, enhance democratic life, regulate common economic systems and commerce, provide jobs, refurbish and modernize the infrastructure and protect the environment. President Franklin Roosevelt and his allies knew the country needed at least a minimum wage and to empower the labor unions in their quest for a living wage.
In 1935, corporate taxes and regulations were increased to begin to expand public works, employment, the Social Security system and democracy in the workplace. These efforts allowed the United States to confront the Depression, help win WWII, and make America the strongest and most prosperous nation in history.
It soon became self-evident that a living wage should be a constitutional right with its own bill of rights to “useful, remunerative jobs in the shops and farms of the nation; earn enough to provide adequate food, clothing, recreation and other essentials; allow every farmer to sell products at a price which will give his family a decent living; every businessman to compete in a fair environment; a decent home; adequate medical care; protection from fear of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; a good education.”
Does not this constitutional right already exist within our values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? FDR indicated that freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence from fear and want, when he said, “Necessitous men are not free men.”
This concept of a living wage is not a new idea of America in the 21st century. It is as old as Mosaic Law, the writings of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, the inquiries of an 18th century Scottish economist, our own Declaration of Independence and the New Deal. It is as old as the needs of all humans and as new as the needs of all humans; as old as yesterday, as new as tomorrow, and as needed as today.
Too many people in America exist in the daily struggle just to subsist and survive, with not even dreams of hope; a living wage can help change that to hope for their dreams ... it's about changes.
Glenn Ballard, of Frankfort, has 40 years of experience in administration in the areas of mental health, health care and education. He is retired and "a repurposed citizen for commonwealth and country." He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org