Bill Moyers, the old grumpy liberal of the Lyndon Johnson era, was bemoaning the income gap between the rich and poor in America on Charlie Rose recently. Moyers was despondent enough to advocate the tired remedy of raising (actually doubling) the minimum wage in the U.S. to $15 per hour.
Although I think putting this into practice would be disastrous for working people and the economy, I am sympathetic to the distress in this country over the widening income disparity and a widespread hopelessness of people who look at Wal-Mart cashiers with envy.
College is no longer a pipeline to middle-class America. It isn’t even a guarantee of a Starbucks job. For a job at Wendy’s, it’s probably more important if you can pass a drug test and if you haven’t served time.
There is a strong feeling in the country that there is less opportunity today than my generation had. Sadly, the statistics bear that out.
If the do-gooder lefties like Moyers have no good ideas, I wonder if the smart folks who read my blog are hopeful for their children, grandchildren, and themselves. Or, have you all given up on 21st Century America?
Obamacare, when it finally is implemented, is a lot like the $15 minimum wage. It is a reaction to the insurance hole, where less productive workers reside. If businesses do not respect a worker’s skills enough to provide health insurance, the Federal government will force them into it with Obamacare.
In the past, we could grow our way through the productive work problem, but the cleverness of technology and the blowing away of trade barriers has changed the equation. The $15-per-hour worker will be replaced by a computer, a robot, or a Bangladeshi. Business people will videoconference instead of traveling, the hotdog vender at the Cubs game will no longer waddle through the aisles.
The routine answer to joblessness and the income gap, besides the $15 minimum wage, is “more education.” I believe this is shallow thinking. Employers have difficulty finding people with basic qualities such as attentiveness, honesty, reliability, and positivity. Today’s ideal employee can construct clear sentences, follow directions, and also question those directions if they don’t make sense. Do you learn those things in school — or at home? Do you get them off a computer program? I don’t think so. The sad thing in America today is that so many people who should be teaching the life lessons do not know the lessons themselves. Who steps up? A coach, a clergyman, a gifted therapist, grandma? Will the lost kids find their special role models — or drift though prison, welfare, and despair?
There is no easy alternative to the $15-per-hour free lunch–that actually is no lunch. Bill Moyers is naive, but he is not stupid. The America I see is drifting apart. The social contract that has long been implicit in the fabric of the country is thin and fraying. Government has few answers. Sadly, I don’t think the markets offer much, either. Change, if we ever see it, will come one person at a time. I wish I were a little more optimistic. You?
Question: Would a $15 minimum wage help Americans?
Lloyd Graff is owner and Chief Space Filler of Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert & Co.