A Debate Over the $15 Minimum Wage

USA-Global Fast Food Worker Protest

Every so often, I share with my blog readers a debate I have had. A few months ago, I was in an email debate over Christopher Columbus and whether or not his holiday should be celebrated. Though I rarely post political commentary on here, I want to share this debate I had this morning with my good friend and fellow history graduate at NJCU, John DeSarno. I have known John for three years. We’re both Rangers fans. He’s a nice guy, intelligent, and logical, yet we happen to respectfully disagree on the issue at hand, the topic being whether or not the minimum wage should be raised to $15 per hour. John is an avid Bernie Sanders supporter and is for the idea. I, on the other hand, oppose it. I actually consider myself quite liberal and would support Uncle Bernie over Hillary Clinton just for a shake-up to the establishment, but I do not agree with some of his views.

Debating is core to the Americana of this nation. We’re at a time where when someone does not agree with someone else, all hell breaks loose and they resort to name-calling or talking down to the person. That did not happen here. We actually both see the other’s side of the story, but still do not agree. I actually think it’s a wonderful thing that this conversation happened, and a few people who were lurking, reading it as it happened on Facebook today commented privately to me the same notion. In short, we both want for something good to happen—it’s just a matter of how we go about achieving that.

It all began when I shared this article by Forbes titled “The Ugly Truth About a $15 Minimum Wage”. You can read it or not before the debate, it is up to you. I posted that and also highlighted the following quote: “In truth, nearly 90% of McDonald’s locations are independently-owned by franchisees who aren’t making “millions” in profit. Rather, they keep roughly six cents of each sales dollar after paying for food, staff costs, rent and other expenses.” I also added, “Like similar ideas, it is good in theory. What minimum wage worker wouldn’t want to make $15 an hour? But when put into action, it is just not practical from a business standpoint.” Then the following debate ensued:

DeSarno: What this article, by Forbes nonetheless, fails to mention, is what percentage of that “$2.6 million worth of burgers, fries, shakes and Happy Meals each year” goes to people who already make too much money. The supporters of a $15 minimum are also supporters of taking the absurd amounts of money from the very top and redistributing it to the ones who need it most.

Caggiano: Socialism is very heartwarming. And again, it’s a good theory. But the people at the top making this money, well, it is their money. Yes, they are making absurd amounts of money. Yes, no one needs $100 million a year or more. But it’s their money. Nonetheless, agree with me or not, the fact of the matter is that this will cut jobs. That’s not even debatable. The money will not be redistributed. Instead, they’ll go from 10 employees making $7.25 to 4 employees making $15 and install kiosks/machines to do most of the work. This is not a matter of right and wrong; of who deserves money and life isn’t fair. It’s about job vs. no job. Millions will be put out of work.

DeSarno:  I’ve heard that argument too and it’s totally true, for the most part. It makes sense. That’s where laws come in to limit technology and help promote job growth. Yes, it’s their money. But, and that’s a big but, because I know this strikes at the core of most “American dream” values, it’s too much. For me, morality takes over when it comes to politics, and there is no reason for someone to be making that much, even if they built it themselves. There’s a big difference between a guy who’s “made it” by achieving a high position with high pay, and people who are so greedy that their strive to get the most they can have is having a harmful effect on the people below them. Pay it back to society. Promote growth of fellow Americans, limit suffering. Make lives easier. With great money comes great responsibility. You can call this “big government”, but I prefer to think of it more as looking out for one another as a whole nation come together.

Caggiano: I see your point. Believe me, I do. But you walk a dangerous and fine line when you (and most Sanders supporters) start arguing for the government to limit how much you can earn and/or forcibly take your money and give it to someone else. No matter how “nice” that is, or moral, or whatever you want to call it, it is the potential for an opening of a Pandora’s Box with what the government is allowed to do. That is government at its biggest. I say this appreciating what Bernie is trying to do. I like him. Think he’s a great guy. But it is not practical.

DeSarno: I know you do, that’s awesome. I’m a huge supporter, everyone knows that. Like I said, it’s a moral issue to me. It always is. And it is dreaming big, and he says this all the time. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. People will always disagree, that’s politics. We are the most individualistic nation in the world, meaning we only care about ourselves, in theory. I’ll walk that dangerous line you mentioned, a moral “big government” is fine if it’s doing the right thing and everyone still prospers. No one likes rules, especially in our “free” country. But they’re necessary, in my opinion, to regulate our other core value, the pursuit of happiness. We have to be able to find a point where our citizens can say, alright, I pursued it, now I have it. All of us need that chance.

Caggiano: But for what you’re saying to actually happen, you have to operate under the assumption that the government is capable of being used for good. Republicans and Democrats couldn’t agree on the color of the sky, but now they will come together to regulate and redistribute wealth in a way that is beneficial for all? To quote an old Civil War phrase, I wouldn’t trust our government “to pour pee out of a boot with the instructions written under the heel”, much less conduct a redistribution campaign where they essentially steal money from the rich and give it to the poor. I just want to say again, I see where you are coming from. The ultra-wealthy don’t need that much, and the poor need a lot. But the very same individualist society you said we have will not tolerate that. This country and the people in it are not conditioned to socialism. It is not in our fiber. Who wouldn’t love a world where everyone is happy? Who wouldn’t love a society where no one has to worry about money and everyone is happy and feels cared for? It is a dream, and only that, a dream. Our government is full of crooks and scoundrels. Our society full of people who don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves. So when you start using the word “regulate” for something like happiness, that actually scares me. It scares me because this is the United States government we are talking about, and now you want to put into law something which will seek to make some happy at the expense of others. Even if our population bit on this, we have too great of a population. The Nordic Model works for Nordic countries because they are smaller and apparently not as self-centered as we are. John, you are an idealist. It must be great walking around with such a positive worldview and an assumption that the inner good of man will eventually shine through and we’ll all live happily ever after, eventually. But it is not going to happen. That’s the main problem I have with Sanders. Many good ideas, but none based in practical reality.

DeSarno: Totally see where you’re coming from Greg. I’ve thought about all of that, I agree with most of it. You’re right. Nordic countries and European countries are so similar in culture that they’re able to make that happen because they care about each other because they’re the same people with the same ideals. But isn’t universal prosperity something we can all agree on? Yes, people will disagree. And hate. Such is their right in our country, and they should disagree (in a logical and educated way…please). But Sanders and his supporters aren’t expecting this to happen overnight. It’s not him who will get it done. When you promote sanders you are promoting an idea. The more that idea is promoted the more people change their way of thinking and open their eyes to corruption and stand up and use their voting power. It’s a movement, or as he says a revolution. I’ve made the commitment to keep it going. Big dreams, small steps. But stay the course.

Thus ended our debate. I also want to add something else to give you more back-story on where I am coming from. I work a bunch of part-time jobs. One as a substitute teacher, another as an instructor for a local community college, and a third one teaching hockey and inline skating classes. I love them all, though the combined pay still does not add up to much. I am a recent college graduate facing the daunting task of trying to find a history teacher position in a state where there are thousands of applicants and so few jobs out there. As I apply and send out resumes until I am blue in the face, I also find time to work for two restaurants on an as-needed basis.

The first one, I help out with the front of house. My duties are akin to those of an assistant manager. The pay is quite good, but I have a fair amount of responsibility. If I am called in to work, it is because the restaurant is having a large event or some special occasion. In that instance, we are usually swamped and not only am I seating people, but overseeing the servers, helping them out in any way they need in the chaos, checking orders, refilling waters, and sometimes running in the back to help plate. The other job, the pay is, yes, minimum wage. I cook. Just a couple days a week. A chance to get out of the house and make a little extra cash when my other jobs are not in season or in a lull. Even I would not expect nor deserve $15 an hour to work a grill, though I can’t say I would mind it.

For this job as a cook, I work with a very good friend of mine, who has been at the restaurant for three years and makes only a dollar more per hour than me. He works his ass off. The owner who is there regularly told me the other day how they have been in business for five years and have still not turned a profit. She is hoping this is the year. It is a small business. I think maybe five employees. After I heard this, I went back in the kitchen and joked to my friend, “You know, if minimum wage is ever raised to $15, you’re going to be working this place by yourself.” He just looked up at me with not much of a response.

In getting back to the first restaurant I mentioned, that business is a successful one. I don’t want to name either of these places. My friends who may be reading this will know, but publicly, it will stay private. Anyway, for this restaurant, the owner is such a sweetheart. She treats her employees very well and everyone loves working for her. She has a pretty big kitchen staff for a small restaurant. Aside from two family members who do the cooking, there are another two who act as line cooks, two or three cleaning dishes, and a hostess. I don’t know what she pays them, but if she had to start giving $15 an hour to everyone, I would almost guarantee that at least two people are getting the ax. Either that or a serious reduction of hours.

I see this phrase a lot and I am inclined to agree: “Minimum wage was not designed to be a living wage. It was designed for jobs which are stepping stones.” The most logical example being the high school student working at McDonald’s or any other fast food joint. He’s not there for a career, just to make some money before college or before he hits the real workforce. That is not to say such jobs are not real, but until the economy tanked and employment went up, not many people sought to live off a job making sandwiches at Quick Chek. Though it is an unfortunate circumstance, payment has and should always be commensurate with skill level. I’m sorry if that is not what you want to hear. This is not a matter of being nice vs. being mean, but simple business sense.

The current generation is mostly one of entitlement. Sure, many people are in circumstances beyond their control, but they cannot demand or expect the government to take care of them to that extent. Hopefully, the economy will get better, but if it does not that cannot mean we just start demanding high pay for menial labor, because what will happen is that companies will start cutting jobs. Would you rather make $7.25 an hour or have no job at all? Just remember, as you demand more money, you are replaceable. Without a doubt and in the blink of an eye, you are expendable. Keep asking for more money, force these companies to cut jobs, and then you’ll see what kind of hurt you are really in. To use one of Bernie’s own catchphrases, you will “feel the #bern”.

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One thought on “A Debate Over the $15 Minimum Wage

  1. Chuck

    “But Sanders and his supporters aren’t expecting this to happen overnight. It’s not him who will get it done.”

    That’s where I mainly agree with your friend. He’s happy if Sanders would get the ball rolling in the right direction.

    My expectations of a Sanders presidency are more modest: just slow down the bleeding that’s been going on for over 30 years. Not even stop it, but put a tourniquet to it.

    If Sanders can do that, it would be little short of a miracle. But he’ll need a lot of help and it will have to come from the masses, not mainstream politicians.

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