As Long As an Unlivable Wage Exists, Someone Will Be Forced to Earn It

Minimum wage

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Image by Bettmann/CORBIS

In a society that lacks solidarity, misfortune, except that of the most random kind, is viewed as the fault of those who suffer from it. If we believe that poorly compensated workers somehow deserve lousy wages, then we absolve ourselves of the impoverishment we have inflicted upon them. Edward McClelland notes (boldface mine):

If you try hard enough, you can usually come up with a reason a low-wage worker doesn’t deserve to earn a living. If Kim Brown had been willing to move to Cleveland, she would still have her Web support job; if she had chosen a more marketable major than creative writing, she might have found full-time work in Chicago. But no matter Brown’s life choices, her $8.50 an hour job would still exist, not providing a living for someone else.

This is why the belief that education is the primary way to reduce poverty is the quintessential neo-liberal policy: it breaks apart the bonds of solidarity that any society needs. As long as there is a job that does not pay a living wage, one of us will have to fill it. We can either create after-the-fact justifications for impoverishing our fellow citizens or we can ensure all jobs have some modicum of dignity attached to them. I’m pretty certain which option this radical preferred:

If you will judge anything here in this struggle, you’re commanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity, and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth. One day our society must come to see this….

…you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages….

Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working everyday? They are making wages so low that they can not begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen. And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.

…But it seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, “even though you’ve done all of that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security, and you didn’t provide for them. So you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness.”

Future generations will wonder how so many of us could have been so callous and cruel.

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4 Responses to As Long As an Unlivable Wage Exists, Someone Will Be Forced to Earn It

  1. Beyond the neolib belief that education triumphs over all, the more new agey among neolibs and libertarians (some of whom it’s harder and harder to tell apart without a scorecard), have bought into a new agey version of the Calvinist work ethic and secular ideas of “vocation,” etc. Better pay, plus better enforcement of workplace safety, ergonomics, etc. trumps “vocation” and “work ethic,” or gives more meaning to them.

  2. Reblogged this on The books are taking over… and commented:
    And as long as there are people willing to believe that we should just be thankful for work of any kind, this will continue. As long as there are people in positions of power who fight to keep the disenfranchised that way, this will continue. As long as those who claim the power, the money, and the moral high ground continue to do this, this will continue. I can refuse to apply for all the high skill/low wage jobs I want, but it doesn’t get my family any farther away from the edge when I stand on principle, it just means that somebody else more desperate is going to end up taking that job.

    Wake up, America.

    ~Kelly

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