Should there be a Living Wage?

The living wage is an issue that has been debated on the UT campus for some now. It has become a prime issue for the Progressive Student Alliance and their special friend, the Living Wage Chicken (whom I someday hope to meet).

So I was not surprised to read Thomas Walker’s column today, explaining to us how absurd it is to oppose such a wage. The question that Walker does not answer is, What exactly is a living wage? Is it $10 an hour? Or is it $15? $25, perhaps?

The problem with the living wage movement (as Sukhmani Singh Khalsa pointed out last semester) is that it will actually hurt the very people it claims to help. Let’s be honest. UT staff (with some exceptions) tend to be largely poorly educated and unskilled. This is not a knock on them, it is merely a fact. Now, if the amount they were paid was raised, does it not stand to reason that so would the qualifications required for the job? In that case, who would be the first to get laid off, fired, or not hired in the first place? The uneducated and unskilled, of course!

The best way to improve your standard of living is through improving your skills. This does not necessarily involve going to school. I personally have flipped burgers at Dairy Queen, ran a cash register at Family Dollar, and bagged groceries at Piggly Wiggly. The most I ever made at any of these jobs was $5.50/hour. But I did learn from them. I learned to show up to work on time. I learned to take responsibility. I learned to treat my bosses and customers with respect. And I learned how to market myself to prospective employers. These skills are still valuable to me long after I spent all the money I earned at these jobs.

But John, what about those who are stuck in these jobs forever? There are such people, but most who are stuck at entry level positions are trapped there because of their own fault. As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, fewer than 3 percent of those in the bottom 20 percent of wage earners in 1975 were still there in 1991, while 39 percent had reached the top 20 percent. The idea that people are trapped in a certain wage bracket forever is largely a myth.

While it may be emotionally stimulating to support a “living wage,” it is ultimately harmful to the poor. They will be the ones who suffer most should it be implemented.

Besides, it’s hard to sympathize with the “living wage” movement, when you see crime log entries like this.

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