Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Why Raising the Minimum Wage is So Important.

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When I began working, as a kid, I performed a whole host of minimum wage gigs for parents, relatives, and my neighbors, so I know both the meaning of being paid less and the joy of finally getting an increase from those loving tightwads who loudly and begrudgingly – and under pretentious protest – hoisted my pay from minus to minuscule. I’m talking doing odd jobs like raking leaves, shining my grandfather’s black shoes on the weekends, mopping floors at the factory office with my Uncle Jimmy, running store errands, shoveling snow, burning leaves, delivering the Detroit Free Press on dark mornings when sleep crud still plastered the corners of my eyes, and walking the mail to that big blue mailbox at the end of our street. Despite the growling and bombast, these adults in my life showed charity and empathy, and I was glad to get a wage increase of any kind.

I even know about bartering. One day a newspaper customer who always asked me to come back on Fridays, and then claimed once again to have not gotten paid, offered me a dry bologna sandwich bereft of my beloved Miracle Whip, which I politely devoured before he could finish extending the sandwich in my direction! The rule was when people gave you sandwiches they put hands and limbs at risk! Enough of that home training stuff. Food elicited strange behaviors, man,  that made you act downright uncouth.

I came from a time when everything was minimum this and minimum that; minimum wage, minimum food, minimum complements, minimum hand-ups and minimum words from my overseers. My parents were my overseers and they were minimalistic minimalists. I can’t tell you the ways and means that we had to plot and plan to ask my father for a nickel or a dime or even a penny, and once gaining the nerve – after hours of rehearsing our lines and words – how surely and sorely we were ‘buked” by our Grand Inquisitor for such bold-faced effrontery and for not being able to answer why we needed the money with minimal words of assurance, in black milliseconds, that it would be spent wisely. [By the way, black milliseconds are shorter and quicker than regular micro seconds.]

The rule was “ask, and it shall not be given to you. Seek and hopefully you will find something,” like maybe a penny on the street. And then it was off to the candy store to buy two-for-a penny candy.

We learned the value of a penny and a dollar, and worked hard, but still held out hope that our overseers and employers would raise their expectations of our abilities and reward us with more “moolah” and legal tender when we did the work. We did not want something for nothing. No! When we did the work, putting in the time, and did it well, we expected a nod or something that rewarded our due diligence and loyalty. When we asked for more, we did not always get more, but it did not stop us from giving more until we asked to get more again – hopefully that time with the opposite result.

Many of the people today who are asking to raise the minimum wage are hard workers. There are always exceptions to this rule, but the majority work long and hard hours and support their families. There are some people who proudly proclaim, “Hard work never hurt anybody, but why take a chance?” But these are few.

Because waiters may earn below the federal minimum wage, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2012, of the over 16 workers paid by the hour “1.6 million earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. About 2.0 million had wages below the federal minimum.Together, these 3.6 million workers with wages at or below the federal minimum made up 4.7 percent of all hourly paid workers.”  There is good news going into the new year as many fast food workers fight to raise the minimum wage and several states are poised to do so.

The good workers are not looking for a hand-out, but rather for a hand-up! Many of them are working multiple jobs and can’t make ends meet. They defy the typical stereotypes of lazy, shiftless, malingerers who are looking to “game the system” by getting something for nothing. After working hard and proving themselves to their employers, they are hoping that their bosses will reward them for their hard work before the end of time.

There is always value and dignity in hard and honest work and there is nothing wrong with asking for an increase when your work is faithfully done. Raising the minimum wage is not only rightfully elevating pay, but rewarding faithful service. It is raising value and self-esteem. It means that somebody appreciates the worth of the laborer. It makes a world of a difference when the people you work for tell you “thank you” and appreciate rather than depreciate and diminish your efforts or make you feel guilty for asking for more money.

I remember an elderly man said, “Son work harder and smarter, for the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

So raising the minimum wage is very important. Raising that wage not only raises expectations of employers in getting more from employees, but it raises the standards of the workers themselves who value and do the work to make themselves and their employers proud, so the work place, families, communities and the world, can become a better and happier place for all.

There are mutual transactions of value and worth transmitted in the synergy of employers and employees. Employees work hard and are rewarded for their work. Employers make a higher profit and everything in the workplace appreciates in value.  Raise the minimum wage and raise the standard of American workmanship and productivity. What’s good for employees can be good for employers and good for all America!


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