Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Stay Divided and Be Conquered

The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a report that's making waves on social media regarding the lack of affordability of housing in the United States, but the story isn't new. The left has been pushing hard for a $15 federal minimum wage, a wage that, according to the NLIHC's report is STILL below the “housing wage” for a renter in 29 states and the District of Columbia. The “housing wage” is defined as the “full time hourly wage a household must earn to afford a decent apartment at [US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)]'s estimated Fair Market Rent while spending no more than 30% of income on housing costs” (OOR2015, NLIHC). Strictly in terms of number sense, a wage that allows paying less than 30% of income for rent seems quite reasonable, but there has been an absolutely ludicrous amount of push back. The rich insist that the poor need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Then there's the outcry that there are worthier wage earners than the fry cook at McD's that make less than $15...

Wait. Rewind on that last one.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 figures, median pay for an Emergency Medical Technician or Paramedic was only $14.91 an hour. These are people who are trained to “care for the sick or injured in emergency medical settings” (BoLS). These are people who literally hold the lives of others in their hands. $14.91 an hour. And you want $15 for flipping burgers?!

This kind of rhetoric is dangerous. Of course it's unjust that lifesaving personnel with extensive training are so hideously underpaid. They work the most brutal of hours, brave sometimes dangerous situations to administer emergency care, and in the best of cases, they save lives; they absolutely should be paid more than that. Realistically, not only should they be paid more than that, they should be making more than the minimum wage. What those who push back against raising the minimum wage to $15/hr seem not to realise is that if the minimum wage is raised, everyone will benefit. If an employer is paying over minimum, they are required to dole out raises that reflect the change in minimum wage. If a profession is making under $15/hr, the solution should not be that nobody should make that kind of money, it should be that we need to reevaluate how that profession is paid.

Another favoured argument against raising the minimum wage is the ideology of throwing back to the golden days of yore... where about a week and a half's wages paid the rent. According to The Fiscal Times, rent in the 50s averaged 56 hours at minimum wage—not 56 hrs/week, but per month—in the 60s, that figure increased to 71 hours, which still isn't quite two weeks' wages. The minimum wage, due to its disconnect from inflation, has effectively decreased by 25% from 1968 to 2012 (Konen, How Well Can You Live on Minimum Wage). At this point, on average, a minimum-wage worker has to burn 109 hours of their paycheck on rent alone, which is still double NLIHC's cited expectation of 30% of income—according to the Fiscal Times piece, the HUD's suggestion is that only 25% of income go to rent, meaning that we're paying more than double what we should. There's no denying it; the minimum wage has been too low since the 80s. It's been raised, sure, but inflation has continued on up with it. The 80s saw renters paying 70% of their income into rent, which is worse, but that doesn't make paying 60% of income to keep a roof overhead good.

We need to stop seeing minimum wage in such an adversarial light, because that kind of thinking only serves to reinforce the status quo. The more we fight amongst ourselves about who deserves to be able to afford a roof over their heads, the less things change. We need to fight for what's in our best interests, collectively. If so many of us weren't living paycheck to paycheck, we'd put more back into the economy. If we weren't barely scraping by, higher taxes wouldn't be such a burden, and maybe, just maybe, we could put a meaningful dent in not just the deficit, but the debt. Don't let toxic, divisive rhetoric turn you against someone else who's just trying to get by. Nobody's suggesting that flipping burgers should buy you a mansion, but food and shelter are basic human necessities, and shouldn't be considered a luxury available only to the rich.

As an aside, the argument I have generally heard is NOT, in fact, that EMS get paid less so fast food workers shouldn't make more, it's that EMSand police make less, an assertion that is not supported by the numbers from the BoLS.