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As I See It: Worth versus need

When I was leaving the military and beginning my job search, I had to make some adjustments. One that caused me much angst was discussing my salary expectations during an interview or negotiating one after a job offer.

The military was easy; the pay and benefits were set by rank and specialty. In the civilian world, you have to negotiate your compensation with the company. Once you did that, you were expected to provide a level of performance that justified your salary.

If you didn’t demonstrate an acceptable level of worth to the company, the result was usually termination. At least I had the skills to compete for a job where I could negotiate my pay.

I’ve been watching the growing drumbeat for raising the federal minimum wage accompanied by some similar efforts in individual states, including Minnesota. Activists have suggested that we ask store owners how much they pay their lowest paid worker and if it’s less than the current accepted target of $15 an hour, we should shop elsewhere.

Last Sunday morning, a TV program profiled a single mother in New York City who was having a great deal of difficulty supporting herself and her two children. Even though she had a full-time job, she wasn’t making enough money to make ends meet. The implied solution? Just raise her pay significantly.

This is the solution a lot of people are advocating without any thought to the overall impact on the economy as a whole or of the value a person provides through his or her labor.

I realize on the surface that might seem rather cold-hearted. But if we started to pay everyone based on a perceived or actual need — or, even worse, on the government’s definition of their need — we would be in really deep trouble.

How have people come to the assumption that if you are working whatever hours might be defined as “full time” you should be receiving what some are calling a “living wage” and other benefits?

Due to many factors, including illegal immigration, the deterioration of the family as a formative and nurturing unit, a welfare system that is rife with fraud and perpetuates the problems it is supposed to solve, and the deteriorating public education system that seems to indoctrinate instead of educate, we have many more people with minimal qualifications in the modern job market. These people are competing with the teenage population that normally filled the jobs requiring minimal skills and that offered minimal pay.

If you don’t have the skills to be a typist, receptionist, machinist, sales person, mechanic, electrician, carpenter, delivery driver, plumber, heating and air conditioning repairman, or whatever, you will be relegated to cleaning offices, the restaurant and fast food industry, or many other low-paying jobs.

You will struggle to make enough money to live at a subsistence level, especially if you have a family, and you may be dependent on assistance for the long term.

I know it is inevitable the minimum wage will be raised soon (right before the election next year is my prediction), but if it is raised too high as some advocate and/or too fast, it will have a decidedly negative impact on an already struggling jobs situation.

The consumers — the ones with disposable discretionary income — are usually the ones who drive the economy. They are assisted by the people with multiple credit cards and not too much common sense who buy regardless of their financial health, paralleling our federal government that borrows more than a third of what it spends and prints more money under the euphemism of “quantitative easing.”

If these folks reduce their spending based on rising costs of goods and services, things might stagnate even further. And the poor might find themselves paying most of their additional money on higher costs of basic goods.

Someday, in spite of all the Federal Reserve has done to keep inflation in check, it will return, and I don’t think it will be in the 1 or 2 percent range when it happens.

The government that is allowed to continually set and enforce a minimum wage, regardless of the value of the labor, will eventually get around to setting and enforcing a maximum wage with the same level of disregard — except where the politicians, actors, athletes, unions and union heads, and some other favored corporations and interest groups are concerned.

The government will find a way to abscond with the surplus in the form of taxes, fees or through other methods and “share” it with those who continue to vote for them. They already do some of this now, but the level and degree will keep increasing.

Something you work hard to get usually has real meaning and value to you. That which you receive for nothing is often valueless.

The ultimate solution is to help all our citizens increase their knowledge and skills so they can compete for and work at the jobs that pay a “living wage.”

Is that too hard or just another politically inconvenient truth?

Well, that’s the way I see it.