The Great Minimum Wage Debate

Here’s another controversial one: whether or not to raise minimum wage; the existence of minimum wage; the purpose of minimum wage. What do you think? When I write here of conservatives or liberals, I’m referring the general message put out by the respective parties in their media and spokespersons, formally or informally. This is not intended to reflect the view of every person who describes himself or herself as liberal or conservative.

Conservatives say (generally): Minimum wage should not be raised. The work down at minimum wage levels (entry level jobs) do not deserve more pay. Minimum wage is meant for entry level jobs that do not require high skill, with the intent that people would not stay in those positions, but rather be motivated to move up the ladder to higher paying jobs. Higher pay will act as an incentive to do so.

Liberals say (generally): Minimum wage should be raised. Workers in these minimum wage jobs deserve to be able to earn enough money to live on. Minimum wage is meant to guarantee workers a livable wage. It should rise to accommodate those needs.

One wonders what is at the heart of these perspectives. Do conservatives not care for the working man or woman, the single mother, the struggling graduate student? The harshness with which they state the lack of “deserving” entry level workers have for higher pay makes it easy to paint them as heartless (thinking of you, Matt Walsh). Do liberals not care about small business owners with small profit margins who will be crushed by large increases in their operating expenses?

Usually large groups of people have a good intention in mind, rather than a bad intention. Bad intentions are usually housed in the hearts of individuals who then persuade the masses by making the bad intentions seem good, or lying.

I think the primary concerns for conservatives are the impact of a government-mandated changes such as raising minimum wage. For many years Republicans have focused on the cause of the small business owner to the some times neglect of the poor. I think the primary concerns of liberals are the well-being of the poor. But to their detriment, emphasizing this while failing to present a sustainable picture of how to make this aid work for the good of the people and future generations.

There is a problem neither side addresses. Of those paying the minimum wage, we have two different types of business owners: owners of large, publicly traded corporations, called CEO’s, answerable to shareholders. The bottom line is make a profit. It is not enough to maintain a successful business, greater profit must be made, shares much go up, or shareholders grumble. The other is the privately owned, small business owner, answerable to no one but himself or herself. There are variations of each, of course. Two very successful privately held companies, In-N-Out and Hobby Lobby choose to pay their employees above minimum wage which goes against the trend of their business counterparts. One publicly owned company, Costco, chooses to ignore shareholders’ grumbles. The question at largely concerns the first two.

It’s fallen out of style to consider original sin, the existence of greed and that, if external mandates force those individuals with bad intentions to act better, they will find another way to carry out their bad intention. It will not convert them. So I see an article showing us that McDonald’s, in response to rises in the demand for minimum wage, moving towards using digital kiosks for ordering, rather than paid employees. We see the same thing happen when the law makes it illegal for those under 21 or 18 to purchase drugs or alcohol, without having any programs in place to change their hearts or minds. They find other ways.

Some conservatives say, “See! This is what happens.” I don’t hear anyone talking about the wage gap being the issue, those on top making so much money from those on the bottom. Government mandates that change that, though some labor laws have raised “unskilled labor” to the level beyond a slave.

You use a law to create an 8 hour/day, 40/week work limits; you use a law to mandate benefits for those who work full time, defining how many hours per week full time is. Face it, in a free market, you are going to get people who choose to act sinfully, who choose to put their benefit, their shareholders benefit, above the benefit of the average Joe working at the bottom. Less employees will be full time. Or there will be an unwritten rule that rewards those who work off the clock, answering emails, etc, than those who check out when they leave the office; which inadvertently rewards men over women (see the NYTimes article about this gender inequality).

Fairness and caring for employees well-being cannot come from external force without a total take over. So conservatives point fingers and say, “see! that was stupid!” and liberals point fingers and say, “Stricter laws! More regulation!” What about just trying another approach?

Many forget it is Christianity that taught us the humanity of man, that one should not own another. If society continues to pursue a culture where the practice of religion is not publicly welcome, you will just see more sin, more greed, more gimmies. Christianity speaks to what is true about man. It’s not conservative, it’s not liberal, it’s true, as Al Kresta points out. All have dignity. All have worth. One does not need overt religion to promote these values. If we use programs, perhaps government sponsored, to promote civic virtue and family dedication, making the path friendly for small businesses to begin, foster community and community programs, maybe McDonald’s won’t be the only place a teenager or a single mom can get hired. And maybe, in those smaller company jobs, there will be more mobility, there will be more chance for responsibility. Then their work will be worth more.


  1. obrianlocke says:

    I’m a liberal and no, I do not care for the small businesses and corporations who have to bear a further burden by paying their employees a living wage. If they can’t afford to pay employee salaries, they go out of business. Sorry, but that’s the way the economy works. If your business is successful, you can manage to pay your workers. If not, you go out of business. Simple as that. It isn’t ethical to deflate the minimum wage over the course of a decade to save jobs and corporate pocketbooks.
    Now, I understand the concern that small businesses will be less able to compete with big businesses if wages are increased. I partially disagree, as corporations employ far more employees comparatively, but I readily acknowledge that it will have an impact on small business regardless. (I talk more about this in my latest blog post.) Perhaps to remedy this, the money in welfare programs saved when more people have living wages can be put to use as a small business subsidiary to strengthen small business. To further fund such, we might also cut cash crop subsidiaries and redirect those funds to businesses that are forced to raise wages. Or we could crack down on corporations like Time Warner who pay no income tax and lower small business taxes as a result. There are lots of ways to help small businesses without deflating minimum wage.

    1. obrianlocke says:

      Second paragraph should read, “the money in welfare programs saved when more people have living wages”, not jobs.

      1. I went ahead and did a quick edit to your original comment with the correction you wrote.

    2. Thank you for commenting. You bring up a lot of creative ideas and illustrate that passion that I hoped to present in my piece about care for the worker above all else. In Catholic social teaching the dignity of the human person it paramount. I really like your point about the welfare that would saved. What a good point. Many people/families who work full-time but make less than enough have to subsidize their income with food stamps or use Medic-aid because they cannot afford the reduction in their pay or the deductible of a health plan they can afford.

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