Sunday, September 06, 2009

Some Labor Day Thoughts

Last month, my son got a 9.6 percent raise.

Before you lump him in with the Wall Street miscreants who are still laughing all the way to the bank, let me explain why he is getting such a seemingly big raise in these hard times.

Michael is now receiving $7.25 per hour, as required by a three-part legislated increase in the federal minimum wage. His past pay was $6.55 per hour, so for his 20-hour work week as a library aide, he will now receive $14 more weekly.

There is a big difference between the federal minimum wage increase and the “living wage” that investigators have determined is necessary to pay basic costs in certain demographic areas. To see the 2008 “living wage” for Union County, click here.

For a single adult with no dependents, the estimated self-sufficiency wage in Union County is $12.74 hourly.

Michael’s personal story includes a school career in special education under a variety of state classifications. Still, he graduated from Watchung Hills Regional High School with his class, even enjoying the prom experience.

Counselors tried to help him gain competitive employment in a bank back office, a Westfield business and a supermarket, but all produced challenges that could not be overcome.

At present, he is marking 18 years in the library aide position, obviously a good fit for him. He came into the job by volunteering to help with a project involving placing bar codes on all the books. His general reliability and work ethics in the volunteer role led to a job offer. It is interesting that in the recession, with a 9.7 unemployment rate, people out of work are advised to look into volunteer opportunities as pathways to future employment.

The gap between the minimum wage and a living wage still means that minimum wage earners can't afford their own apartments and most likely depend on public transportation. Workers who make below the minimum wage in illegal employment must share housing, leading to overcrowding.

On this Labor Day weekend, give a thought to the 2.2 million people who work at or below the minimum wage (click here for a March 2009 report). When the minimum wage increase was first proposed, opponents called it a threat to the economy and a burden to business owners. Little did we know the real danger was from the top of the salary scale, where some very well-compensated people saw fit to gamble with the money of others, bringing about the global fiscal crisis.

Every day, those on the lowest rung demonstrate the dignity of honest work, while aspiring to self-sufficiency. Perhaps they are the quiet heroes we should honor on Labor Day.

--Bernice Paglia


Blogger Jackie said...

Minimum wage earnings after 18 years, challenges or not, seems to be a sad predicament. Kudos to your son for hanging in there and doing his best!

I recall back in my college days (early to mid-70s), I was actually supporting myself, my apartment, and my new car on just about 15 cents above the minimum wage for the time. Yes, I had a scholarship and college loans for school tuition and books. But just a smidgen above minimum wage kept the roof over my head and other living expenses.

You can't do that these days, especially in this area. To be honest, I don't think it can be done with the wage you mentioned for a single person (the $12.74). Perhaps the wage issues combined with housing, transportation, and other general living issues is what's keeping adult children home in the nest with their parents.

It was a rite of passage to move out on your own as young as you could in my days. I recall earning 2.25 an hour and paying $165 (utilities included) for a full floor apartment, $84 a month for my brand new Ford Maverick, and 29 cents for a loaf of bread. I didn't save up much money, but I lived fairly decently.

Wage increases have in no way kept up with the actual cost of living. My rent now is more along the lines of 1,000 per month. Gee, that flat in Albany was a lot nicer!

My own workplace generally starts off entry level folks at $8.00 an hour. But, they also have stopped hiring full time entry level. So, anyone trying to support themselves have to work more than a single job. I'm glad I'm beyond that level, but I can't help but feel a bit for the young folks trying to get started these days.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this perspective, Bernice.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In all due respects to the non-TV viewers of NPR realm, some people feel that minimun wage is unfair as they can then not afford, cable, cell phones and wheels. I remember long walks to employment and was thankful to make the minimun wage to pay for food. Paint me historic, but some want so much more than a chicken in their pot, without a hard day's work. God Bless you and your son's advisors for helping him get to a productive position in this Great Society and not settle for the free ride he probably could have.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Couldn't have said it better Bernice! ( the threat to the economy actually coming from the top )

7:12 AM  

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