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SPOTLIGHT
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Minimum wage hit with 31 percent cut

Published on -3/22/2013, 10:27 AM

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Koch-addict Walter E. Williams is wearing thin this Lenten season -- when we in the Christian nation are called to examine our Christian consciences.

Unless, of course, it's all about getting a pass to eternal life and nothing much else. Well then, social and economic justice, caring for the least of these is all socialist hooey. Jesus was an Ayn Rand every-dog-for-himself, devil-take-the-hindmost, free-market capitalist, right?

Williams, whose column appears here regularly, harps on how the minimum wage is a terrible idea. Recently, he has railed about President Barack Obama's recommendation to raise the federal hourly minimum wage from the current $7.25. Raised to what, you say? Nine dollars?! Oh, my gawd!

When I arrived in this village 50 years ago, the minimum wage was a buck and a quarter. So minimum wages have gone up dramatically, right? Nope. Heard of inflation? Well, to have kept up with inflation, the minimum wage today should be $9.48.

Calculator out. Punching numbers. Jeezus, minimum wage workers have taken a 31 percent cut over 50 years!

Against all odds, say the Astroturf tea party House passes a $1.75 increase to nine bucks. Wonderful? Minimum wage earners would still have a 6.6 percent cut since 1963.

Now then. A $9 minimum wage would generate $18,200 a year gross. But there's groceries, gasoline, rent and utilities. And for a single person, average health insurance is a little over $5,600. And $15,700 for a family of four.

Speaking of health care costs in this greatest of all nations, you owe it to yourself to read Steven Brill's l.o.n.g essay in Time Magazine (March 4) "Bitter Pill: How outrageous pricing and generous profits are destroying our health care." No time to read the 26 pages? At least read an Internet overview by Joanne Conway, MD, chief health care officer, Association of American Medical Colleges. (tinyurl.com/dyjb9f3)

If you're a waitress or waiter who gets more than $30 a month in tips, you can legally be counted by your boss as a "tipped employee." In Kansas, you may start at $2.13 an hour. You'll have to report any tips. If you don't take in enough to get to $7.25, well, the boss is supposed to pony up. I say supposed to.

Five states, all in the South, have no minimum wage standard. Four have minimums less than the federal $7.25 (Georgia and Wyoming are the lowest at $5.15). Nineteen states do exceed the federal minimum, but 11 are well under $8. Washington State has the highest hourly minimum wage at $9.19.

A 50-ish man in Hays recently wrote Readers Forum about the "Good Old Days" he remembered so well. For him -- assuming he started paying attention at age 10 -- that means 1970 to now. Old, old timer? Does he remember the days when you paid for the hamburger? You figured the boss paid her at least the federal minimum wage. If you left a tip, it wasn't wages, but a thank you for the coffee refill or the nice smile. You knew she was a college kid, or a single mom and could use the extra change. That kind of reason.

(Yeah, waitresses are mostly female, some weary grandmas along with not a few single moms. But there are plenty of males on minimum wage.)

In October 2011, I clipped from the HDN a 150 word AP story: "Study: The rich getting richer." It was relegated to the bottom right corner of page 7. Lucky to get that much space, I guess.

When Walter Williams pontifipees about how raising the minimum wage is a terrible idea, he never fails to promote it as a job killer.

He either doesn't get it, or he doesn't care. It's not a raise. It's acknowledging and belatedly making amends for a 31 percent cut while the rich kept getting richer.

Walter also doesn't get that if minimum wage earners got nine dollars an hour, they'd have just a tad more to spend in our consumer-driven economy. Maybe more groceries for the kids. Maybe a baby sitter so's Mom can enroll in a community college class. Maybe new shoes and a nice shirt for Dad and a full-tank of gas for the old Chevy. He'll look better when he applies for the new job -- if he could get a day to look. The shoe salesman or the grocery store might hire another helper or give somebody a bonus or pay a little better.

Things like that never occur to Walter E. Williams. He figures if we keep making the rich richer, that's the answer. He's got friends in this government of, by, and for the plutocracy. Well, I think it's Williams who's overpaid.

Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.

celtic@ruraltel.net

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