Minimum Wage, Living Wage and other Great Misconceptions

I work for minimum wage.

Surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  In fact, I submit that pretty much everybody who receives a paycheck from an employer is working for minimum wage… everybody…, including me, and all of you.  Most employers generally pay employees the minimum amount of money they need to pay in order to get the desired work out of the employee.  For a school teacher that might be $60,000 per year (according to the NEA, in 2012 the average for a Michigan public school teacher was $61,560).  For a heart surgeon it might be $600,000.  For a high school senior working part time in fast food it might be $10/hr.

If someone will successfully perform their job for $10/hr, there’s no reason to pay them $11/hr.  It’s no different than a trip to the grocery store.  The price tag shows a price, which is the minimum amount the store will take for that item.  We don’t step up to the cash register and pay more than the marked price do we?  No, we pay the minimum.  With labor, the employee has a minimum price for their time and effort, and thus the employer pays that price in the form of a wage – a minimum wage.   If the employee’s minimum price is not met, one of two things happens; either the employer raises their minimum offer, or the two go their separate ways.

Minimum Wage Law

Most people do not realize that the concept of mandated Minimum Wage has been around for at least 600 years, probably more.  European serfs generally worked without pay in exchange for a place to live and a field in which to grow food.  A common concern was should they also be given a single coin each day.  Is it really a surprise that someone came up with an idea in the 1400’s and we’ve been arguing about it ever since?  Six hundred years later it remains an issue of HUGE contention within our Society, with countless reasons being argued by both sides of the issue.  Sadly, it seems that most arguments for either raising OR lowering the mandated Minimum Wage usually have everything to do with politics, and absolutely NOTHING to do with appropriate exchange of value.  This too, is of no surprise.

Here in the US, mandated Minimum Wage is such a contentious issue because it’s a Socialist premise trying to fit into a free market Capitalist system.  Minimum Wage is set by a combination of Local, State and Federal laws, in that order of hierarchy.  Per the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (really, 1938!), the current Federally-mandated Minimum Wage (set in 2009) is $7.25 per hour.  In my opinion, this is $7.25 too high.  The REAL minimum wage in a free market Capitalist system is $0.00, just as the allowable (maximum) wage is limitless.  All societies must make a choice:  Do the citizens want complete protection or unlimited opportunity?  With respect to earnings you can’t have both, at least not for very long.  And by the way, it seems unlikely that any in-depth review of Socialist societies during the past century would conclude that above all else, all the citizens were “protected.”  The most protected classes of people in virtually every Socialist society are either members of the Government, or those that really do not want to work, but I repeat myself.

On the surface, the notion of a Federally-mandated Minimum Wage might seem sensible, even noble.  However, in reality it is patently absurd, for the US is far too large and economically diverse for this to make any sense at all.  How can one say a Minimum Wage is valid when it’s the same for Mancelona and Manhattan, Bellaire and Bel Air, Atlanta MI and Atlanta GA?  The difference in the cost of living between even just these pairings should be clear indication that a Federal Minimum Wage is completely economically irrational.

In addition, the fact that Minimum Wage is a premise based upon what an employee is ENTITLED TO from their employer, while completely ignoring the work the employee is RESPONSIBLE to perform for the employer creates all kinds of problems related to fairness, motivation, and even morality.  How can a standard of specific tangible reward regardless of contribution be justified, especially when the reward comes at expense of someone else?   Simply put, it cannot.

Living Wage

Regardless of how many times these two phrases are spoken in the same sentence, or viewed together on the same protest sign, Minimum Wage and Living Wage are two entirely different and separate things.  The premise of Living Wage is determined by a myriad of factors, none of which can, much less should be solved by mandated Minimum Wage.

Living Wage is also a very contentious issue because beyond subsistence, living wage is ENTIRELY determined by CHOICES made by the individual, such as where one chooses to live, how many children one chooses to have and when one chooses to have them, what kind of car one chooses to drive, how much education one chooses to get, which smart phone and plasma TV one chooses to buy, etc.  The concept of what constitutes one’s basic needs is entirely, individually fluid, and is therefore the responsibility of the individual to meet, and NOT the responsibility of the taxpayer or employer to subsidize.

For example, I happen to think that my earnings are MY problem to solve.  That’s sort of the nature of the beast isn’t it?  Which of any individual’s given problems should be solved by whom?  At numerous points throughout my life I earned less than what was needed to “live” the life I desired.  So I took it upon myself to increase my relative value in the market.  I did things like accepting a lesser wage in order to work to gain experience, and returning to school to increase my knowledge through additional education.  I thought it inappropriate to ask my fellow citizens (taxpayers) to increase my earnings by passing a law that mandated I be paid more, regardless of the value of my work.

Many advocates of raising the Federally-mandated Minimum Wage insist that it’s needed in order to increase Minimum Wage earners’ purchasing power.  Further, these advocates often insist that employers will easily afford the additional payroll expense by simply raising prices of the goods and services they provide, thus taking in more revenue.  This idea fails to recognize even the most fundamental principles of Basic Economics.  “Just raise prices!” actually punishes the very people that mandated Minimum Wage professes to help.  If all companies raise their prices to fund higher wages, the Minimum Wage earner now needs even more money in order to buy that which used to cost less, thus negating the value of the wage increase.

Wrap It Up David, My Brain is Starting To Hurt

Private employers need to compete in the open market for quality employees, and thus pay the going market-driven wages.  Employees need to take responsibility for providing value for their employer that is congruent to the wages they demand.  Private employers need the freedom to hire whomever they wish, and employees need the freedom to work wherever they are qualified to work.  Each of those “freedoms” typically comes with a broad range of costs, and everyone involved must accept those costs.  Many of our societal issues are the result of an unwillingness to bear the inherent costs of our numerous freedoms.  Minimum Wage is no different.

The entire notion of mandated Minimum Wage is incredibly complex, as is the determination of Living Wage.  Economics, societal mores, individual responsibility, political platform, Constitutional law, and acceptable behavior are only a short list of the things that play a crucial role in these issues.  Therefore, it is of no surprise that this cannot be effectively addressed by simply deciding that even though Minimum Wage today is X, going forward it will be Y.  It’s just not that simple, or that easy.

So once again, I work for “minimum” wage, and I always have.  However, I also took responsibility for enhancing my knowledge, skills and willingness to work in such a way that the value that I provide my employer both motivates and enables my employer to pay me considerably more than what the Government mandates that I be paid.  Given the individual economic and lifestyle choices I’ve made, and continue to make on a daily basis, the wage I earn constitutes a “living” wage for me.  I do not need, much less desire, the government to be anymore involved in this financial relationship than they already are, in the form of Withholding Taxes.  Taxes that are used for, among other things, the giving of money to people who staunchly REFUSE to make responsible economic, lifestyle and employment decisions.

And we wonder why the number of people receiving taxpayer-funded financial subsidies and entitlements continues to grow…

Name Calling in Politics, and Football


I have a significant number of friends and acquaintances that ascribe to a political ideology that differs from mine.  We discuss, debate, sometimes argue, and do actually on occasion learn from each other.  I also have a number of friends (and family) who wear a lot of maize and blue, while I wear green and white.  We too debate, tease, and on occasion gloat with respect to our respective football team’s athletic endeavors.  What we do NOT do is denigrate each other, much less call each other despicable names.  Sadly, respectful discourse does not seem to be terribly popular across America today.

Being a reasonable guy trying to gain understanding, I simply have to ask a question:  Does anyone really think that destroying property, insulting fellow Americans, obstructing public event participation, and refusing to accept Constitutionally-defined Presidential electoral results are appropriate and effective means by which to persuade others to change their team loyalty?

To those that think it is, I believe you are wrong, and your beliefs and methods will continue to leave you in your present situation, that being that in all of the political/governmental areas that matter, you are losing the game.  Yes, your team racked up more total yards of offense (the popular vote), but you failed to score enough touchdowns (winning states).  Your team especially failed to score touchdowns from inside the Red Zone (MI, OH, PA, WI).

In addition, what’s with all of the vitriolic name-calling?  I’ve read that there are 3,144 counties in the USA.  Virtually every major news source agrees that President Donald Trump won a little over 2,600, and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won about 490, resulting in the final State tally of 30 vs 20.  What in the world gives you right to label ALL of those who voted differently than you as stupid, hateful, sexist, bigoted and racist (just to list a few)?

How is it that you are SO much more intelligent, compassionate, and rational than nearly 63 million of your fellow citizens?  Is this really the way we want Americans (football fans or not) to demonstrate tolerance, intellect, insight, understanding, and knowledge of the true nature of the culture in which we live today?  And by the way, all the intellect, insight, understanding, and knowledge in the world doesn’t mean a thing if nothing is actually accomplished for the greater good.

To that, I’m not impressed by political strategy, game plan, what plays are called, or even total yards.  I’m more interested in positive outcomes, successful results…, touchdowns!  And I really don’t even care which team within the House, Senate or Executive Office has the ball, as long as AMERICAN touchdowns are being scored.  Unfortunately, today in America it seems that Democrats are completely offended by Republican-scored touchdowns, even when liberal, or working class, or inner-city constituents benefit.

One final thought: Lately it seems that the ONLY way to be sure that you don’t OFFEND anyone, is to NEVER take a stand on anything.  Two of our fellow Americans have been very politically outspoken over the past several months, offering up all manner of opinion and solutions.  At the risk of once again being vilified by many, including members of my own family, I am going to take a stand: I really do NOT believe that America would be a better place for all under the “guidance” of Rosie O’Donnell and/or Snoop Dogg.

If, because of my stance you find me offensive, I’ll respond with the simple, yet poignant words of Shane Falco: “Yeah.  Yeah, I can live with that.”

Veterans Day


Veterans Day…

A day to show respect and gratitude, a day to demonstrate genuine appreciation. However, before we say thank you, we should take a few minutes to truly contemplate the meaning of the day, and the measure of our gratitude for those for whom the day is named.

Sadly, and with no intended disrespect, we’ve gotten pretty comfortable throwing around the word “Hero.” We often label the unusual or exemplary actions of those in uniform as heroic. Unfortunately, more often than not, the uniform upon which we’re focused is emblazoned with a number on the front and back, rather than an American flag on the shoulder or over the breast pocket.

We need to re-think that.

The person who wears the uniform bearing the flag puts on that uniform and swears an oath to risk the life they have to protect the life that we have. THAT’s a Hero! They take the risk, we reap the reward.

“Semper Fidelis”               “Semper Paratus”

Though politicians and newscasters seem compelled to constantly make judgments (usually after the fact) as to whether the risk is worth it or not, the person in uniform did not have that luxury. In fact, they often had very few luxuries, because committing one’s time in uniform to honor, duty and sacrifice leaves little, if any room for luxury.

“This We’ll Defend”         “Aim High…Fly, Fight, Win”

We all have our favorite “teams,” and even favorite uniforms. Let’s remember that the praiseworthy individuals for whom Veterans Day is named really are OUR team, and therefore it is for them that we should cheer the loudest. And not just on a single day, because for them, every day they were in uniform was potentially a BIG game.

“Semper Fortis”       “Always Ready, Always There”

The calendar says November 11 is Veterans Day. However, let’s consider making it OUR duty to take the things we associate with Veterans Day (like recognition, respect and gratitude) and seize every opportunity to demonstrate those attributes on a daily basis for the benefit of the men and women of the United States Armed Services, past and present. They were and are our Team, and we owe it to them to be committed, supportive and grateful fans.

The REAL Student Loan Debt Crisis

You read it here first: The student loan debt problem is NOT what you think it is.  Wait, check that, there’s some pretty smart people who read The 5×5.  Ok, the student loan debt problem is NOT what you are being told it is.  It is in fact, much worse!

I read an article today filled with misplaced sympathy, false tragedy, and more hand-wringing, nail-biting and genuine worry than the waiting room of the Free Clinic the week after Spring Break.  Politicians on all levels are getting involved, including the Presidential candidates.  The message being spread loud and clear is that one of the most pressing domestic issues facing the USA today is student loan debt, and more needs to be done to save these poor, exploited victims of modern predatory Capitalism.


Just for the heck of it, let’s consider these FACTS:

Like ALL other LOANS (mortgages, car loans, etc.), the terms of all student loans are clearly spelled out PRIOR to acceptance.  BEFORE they sign, it is the lendee’s responsibility to determine whether they will be able to repay the loan according to the expressed terms.  What is NEVER explicitly expressed in any of the terms, either from the lender or the educational institution, is that the borrower will graduate to a “high-paying” job that will make it easy, convenient and entirely painless for borrower to repay the money that the borrower asked to borrow.

Given these facts, can someone please explain to me how these individuals are being victimized or exploited?  They knew the deal going in, and when the time comes to start paying back, suddenly it’s just not fair????  Since when?

  • Did the student ask for the money? – YES
  • Was anyone forced to take the money against their free will? Were they somehow conscripted into borrowing? – NO, and NO
  • Are they being asked to pay back money they did not receive? – NO
  • Are the interest rates even close to being that of a credit card? – NO
  • Are the interest rates at, or even below market rates for unsecured loans at the time the money was borrowed? – Yes
  • Is the lender entitled to have THEIR MONEY returned to them under the terms of the agreement explicitly expressed prior to any money changing hands? – YES

So I ask again, where is the injustice?

I had student loans.  I could not have attended college without them, and I did not graduate to a “high-paying” job (whatever THAT means).  In fact, I was unable to find work in my chosen area of study, and ended up working in entirely different fields, changing careers now 5+ times.  Regardless, it was still my responsibility to pay the loans back (as promised), and it took me about 20 years to do that.  Ironically, my final payment was made right about the time MY children were entering college.  Yes, college now costs more, a LOT more.  As a result, WE now have loans (Parent loans and Student loans) to repay, which we are doing.  But again, like me, my children could not have attended college without them.  We each did what we needed to do in order to embark upon the path of our choosing.

There is indeed a student loan crisis, and that crisis is this:  There is a growing segment of our society that thinks they should be able to forsake their responsibilities the moment any aspect of a given situation starts to go against their liking.  What ever happened to that very simple premise, so simple that it is routinely invoked by toddlers, wide-eyed and disappointed, pleading… “But you PROMISED?!?!”

The REAL crisis is an amalgamation of labor law, government regulation, tax code, trade agreements, immigration enforcement, foreign policy, political ideology, and public perception.  The only reason student loans get dragged into this mix is because it’s a lot easier to show a sympathetic public the sad faces of poor, fearful, financially-strapped former students.  Note the use of the word “former.”  Why are we not seeing pictures of, or hearing from current students in the midst of enjoying their higher education experience?  For the same reason we don’t hear people bitching during the middle of a party.  The bitching starts when the party is over and one has somehow become obligated to stick around and help clean up the mess.  They would have much rather foreseen the future an hour earlier: “Thanks for the great time, but I gotta go!”

Like former students with acquired debt, and entry-level workers who do not yet earn enough money to buy the latest iPhone AND plasma television AND vacation in the Tropics, we continue to add more and more “classes” of people to the roster of the “oppressed.”  We even have political candidates promoting the notion that somehow we will be a much better society if we simply relieve everyone of their unpleasant responsibilities.  Really?  Will that premise also apply to firefighters and hospice workers?  Military personnel?  Pediatric Oncologists?  Sanitation workers?  And by the way, regardless of whether the topic is student loans, tuition, or healthcare costs, those politicians aren’t really erasing the responsibility, they’re just imposing it onto somebody else, feeding into the ever-growing premise of “I don’t care who takes care of that particular need of mine, as long as it’s NOT ME!”

With respect to this issue, it’s time that certain members of society grow up and face reality.  Students who borrowed money are legally and morally obligated to repay the debt.  They should stop the “not fair” whining, because the rules of the game were well known before the game began, and they still CHOSE to play.  They need to just figure it out, make a budget, have a plan, and buy only what they can afford.  They may need to work more than one job, even a job they don’t really like, and don’t tell me how hard it is, because I know exactly how hard it is.  I’ve worked as a substitute teacher, a door-to-door salesman, a private cab driver, a handyman, a telemarketer, and a janitor, all AFTER earning my Master’s degree.  Along the way, I managed to pay back every single dollar of my student loans, and if a near-sighted, follically-challenged product of the Flint Public Schools can do it, then anybody can.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – An Every Day Man


It took me many years to finally understand and appreciate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was 6 yrs. old when he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I was only 10 when he was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. During the ensuing years of junior high, high school and college we learned about him and his role in the struggle surrounding the American Civil Rights Movement.

Given the magnitude of his influence on our culture, it’s hard to believe he was only 39 when he died. However, along with his much-publicized efforts to guide America to a better place, there were also accounts of his (normal, typical) human flaws and failings. Initially, I chose to focus on the latter, not because I was white, but because I was lazy, and it was easier.

Dr. King challenged us, all of us, in ways that often made both his detractors and his supporters uncomfortable. He asked…, no, check that… he demanded that we look more closely at things that we either could not, or would not see, both in our culture, and in the mirror. This all seemed like it involved genuine dedication and even outright work, and at the time, I just couldn’t be bothered.

I had to grow up to appreciate him. I had to age, experience life, and thankfully along the way, learn. I had to mature, to even simply wise up in order to recognize the significance of this amazing man and his noble mission.

Growing up in Flint during the 60’s & 70’s, I experienced both the best, and the worst that Flint had to offer. However, many years later, after leaving Flint and living in too many places to count, there are aspects of that time in Flint about which I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been pleased. LONG before the word “diversity” was even a small part of our vernacular, we had cultural diversity and acceptance for each other as individuals, especially within our age group.

That state of being was NOT in deference to political correctness, because that phrase didn’t even exist. The robust, blended milieu was absolutely real, not this watered-down, homogenized, sensitivity-laden drivel that we see misguided do-gooders trying to create today. We had respect for each other, and we also held each other accountable. We did it because we lived it every single day, and we didn’t need some clueless, pretentious bureaucrat showing up to “empower” us with some sort of vacuous “program.”

I think Dr. King would have liked much of what he saw in Flint, and even more of what he saw in us. I believe that had he lived to further his mission, we would certainly have at the very least, a much more clear understanding of what racism is, and what it is not. I believe that he would agree that much of what is now labeled as racism is simply opportunism on the part of the racism accusers. Dr. King would be angered that his Dream has been hijacked by people who have forgotten that his Dream was for ALL people.

Were he here today, I believe he would be disgusted by our constant bickering, finger-pointing, and self-righteous indignation. He would be angered by our use of diversity as fuel for divisiveness. He would admonish us to spend considerably less time being offended, and much more time being effective. His niece, Dr. Alveda King (author of the book The Spirit of a Dream) recently said “I really believe he would ask us to communicate without fear, without hate, without rancor. I believe we can still do that in America. I really do.”

There have been many great Americans throughout history who have, by example, shown us that we as a people do indeed have a great deal of work to do, and though it will not be at all easy, it will most certainly be worth it. Though the third Monday in January has become the day we set aside in his honor, to truly give honor, we should strive every day to remember that Integrity is more important than intellect, that Responsibility is more important than riches, and Character is more important than color.

It took me a while to come to appreciate the man we now know as MLK, and I can only hope that more and more of America will eventually get there as well. Rest in peace Dr. King, may we one day be so very fortunate as to properly understand, embrace, and ultimately achieve your Dream.