Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Perhaps a product of the American educational system?

The New York Times today published a number of letters in response to this editorial from last week. I was impressed with this brilliant piece of work.

To the Editor:

Yesterday I was offered a tech-support job for a publicly traded company. It pays a paltry $9 to $10 an hour. When I squawked that this is not a livable wage, I was hesitantly offered $11.75.

There are no benefits, other than the fact that this is a “great company” and would look “good on my résumé.” Oh, did I forget to mention a company picnic each summer?

I added up the cost of the two-hour-a-day commute, a mortgage on an average home, health insurance that kicks in only if I am at death’s door, home and auto insurance and utilities. The break-even point was $10.35 an hour. Take into account laundry, groceries, clothing and other basic expenses and I am working at a deficit. No more movies, concerts, sporting events, family or friends because I simply cannot afford them.

Why are some in this prosperous nation of ours so challenged when it comes to comprehending something as simple as paying workers a livable wage? Pay workers sufficiently and they will be loyal and dependable. Stiff them with low wages and they immediately begin to look for something better. Workers are this nation’s greatest asset.

Or is this all a ploy to hold workers hostage between their low-pay jobs and debt so they don’t interfere with the lifestyles of those who have more?

Charles McEniry
Stoughton, Wis., Aug. 29, 2007

Mr. genius here is baffled as to why, you know, he can't afford all the nice stuff he wants with his entry level job. Maybe he can do math and add up the numbers, but he seems to be a little bit lacking when it comes to common sense. If a single individual working an entry level job could ever manage to afford a mortgage and a two hour commute, then I'd say we're doing pretty damn well economically. The fact that anyone could even think about it is a good sign in my mind. Maybe he should take his own advice and find a better job - and if he can't find one, maybe he ought to spend some time acquiring some desirable skills before complaining that no one wants to pay him "enough" money.

One other thing too- the interesting thing about all these studies on wage levels is that they don't take into account buying power- that is, what are the costs of consumer goods, housing, and gasoline, all adjusted for inflation. Without taking that information into account, isn't wage data essentially meaningless?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure the genius behind this letter is really harping about not being able to afford an extravagant lifestyle. it seems to me that what is being said is that entry level jobs should at least provide enough income so one can meet the basics of life: rent, groceries, transportation, dentists, doctors, etc.

Regardless who we are or what we do, there will always be those on top and those at the bottom. It would seem that providing more for those at the bottom might be helpful to reducing a dependency on welfare and other social safety nets now in place.

Is it better for an individual to buy his/her own groceries or for them to get food stamps because of low income?

Equally so, it is better that these lowly paid use the expensive ER for medical treatment when sufficient income or healthcare to see a regular doctor during regular hours would allow them to go a less expensive route for the rest of us?

I suspect there are more facts behind this letter than most have considered. Newspapers don't publish dissertations but they do print letters which are short and to the point.

It would seem the point here is that low wages do not meet daily living expenses.

8:08 PM  
Blogger QU 3L said...

Well anonymous, it would seem to me that the point is that the low wage of that letter writer didn't meet that letter writer's living expenses.

Yes, I agree that these are some of the basic needs of modern life, but don't people spend vastly different amounts on these basic needs?

As was pointed out, this guy has a two hour per day commute. That's a lot of gas and a lot of wear and tear on a car. Cutting down on that alone could save thousands of dollars a year.

And is home ownership really a basic need of someone just starting an entry level job? Wouldn't an apartment with a roommate or two be more appropriate and save thousands of dollars more?

This is the problem with our understanding of wealth and poverty today - it's no longer really based on basic human needs. Rather, it's based upon an ever growing list of what we think everyone in this wealthy nation should have. In other words, it's not objective, it's subjective. That everyone should have a roof over their heads and enough food to eat is a somewhat objective moral statement. But asking at what income level people should be able to afford a home is far more subjective.

Are low wage jobs a picnic? Of course not. But generally, the point of entry level jobs is to gain skills and experience and work those skills and experience in to better and more high paying jobs. But the fact that life can be difficult when your starting out is simply not an indication of some sort of social problem. Period.

3:51 PM  

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