A Matter of Fairness

MinimumOnce again, the discussion on raising the minimum wage has heated up again; those opposed argue that the economy will be crushed under the weight of its own folly. It has been claimed that raising the minimum wage would have a negative effect on employment and at a time when the unemployment rate continues to linger around 8 percent. Employers, particularly small business employers would resist hiring additional workers or even reduce their workforce outright. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, when asked what would happen if employees were paid “a lot more”, cautioned:

“Well, jobs are a great thing. You have to be a bit careful: If you raise the minimum wage, you’re encouraging labor substitution and you’re going to go buy machines and automate things — or cause jobs to appear outside of that jurisdiction. And so within certain limits, you know, it does cause job destruction. If you really start pushing it, then you’re just making a huge trade-off.”

The headline of the comment was, Bill Gates: Raising Minimum Wage Can Destroy Jobs. Ironically, the tag underneath the image of Gates read: THE WEALTH DIVIDE – THE RICH GET RICHER.

 

The minimum wage was last increased in 2009 to $7.25 per hour or just over $15,000 a year for a worker who is lucky enough to get paid for all 52 weeks of the year. Over the last 20 years, workers have been rendered powerless as worker rights have diminished and income disparities have grown dramatically. While the wealth of the top1percent has ballooned to over 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, the bottom 50 percent has plummeted to a jaw dropping 1.1 percent; and that was in 2010.  To be clear, there has never been any accurate statistical correlation drawn between a moderate raise of the minimum wage and a drop in employment. Let me say it another way; there is no proof that raising the minimum wage judiciously will decrease jobs; there is only rhetoric, assumption and false analogies. In fact, the Department of Labor, as well as a joint study by Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin reports that the last two increases had an insignificant effect on employment.

 Greed

What is reality is that raising the wages of workers is the single greatest economic stimulus to the American economy. Higher wages means that workers will have a higher stake in the health and welfare of the American economy. Even a $.90 increase in the minimum wage buys 7 months of groceries, a year of healthcare costs, 9 months of utility bills or full year’s tuition at a local 2-year college. So why do proponents raise such a fuss, it’s simple, business owners, and investors fear a reduction in profits. Anything that reduces or threatens the sacred shareholder percentage is damned as intolerable. A sad truth is that 63 percent minimum wage workers are adults over the age of 20, many of whom account for 51 of their household’s income; these are not the burger-flipping teens of urban myth. Raising the minimum wage is not only a sound investment in America’s most precious resource; it is plainly the right thing to do.

 

 

~ Richard

 

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9 Things That Will Make 2014 So Much Fun

Happy New YearWith no disrespect to Nostradamus, or anyone else who claims to be able to predict the future, I simply don’t believe anyone can know for sure what will happen until it does. There are some things however, which are already in the works and if they happen as planned, they will make 2014 one of the more interesting years in a while and mark a turning point in our history to come.

1. Love me some me

With Facebook no longer being the place for the cool kids to hang out, there is plenty of room for Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ Snapchat and others to grow. Facebook still dominates the market, but now that our parents and grandparents are playing too, some of the naughty pleasure has left. Thanks to the self-indulgent selfie and the number of mobile devices that exceed the total population, there will be more opportunities to share just how in love we are with our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who post “the best meal I’ve had….ever!” and complains no one has anything of substance to offer. I say, post it all and then post some more – I love it!

 2. DIY small business

Despite the politically motivated forecasts of gloom and doom for small businesses, Americans are ever entrepreneurial spirits. Those who have been dissolutioned by how expendable they were in the corporate world and finding fewer and fewer options for comparable incomes, are learning how to market themselves and deciding to place their eggs in their own baskets. Finding and using the same tools and strategies the big boys use is becoming easier and cheaper. With 70% of the American workforce disengaged from their workplace, companies are finding it difficult to create the flexible and creative work environments that the millennial workforce will demand. Creativity and independence of thought are on the way back.

3. 60 is the new 30

According to researchers at Harvard University, people are living healthier, not just longer. Thanks to medical advancements, people are adding more quality years to their lives. What are they doing with their added years? They are traveling, finding new adventures, finding new careers or starting new business. They are also finding new relationships; there are at least a dozen dating sites aimed specifically at the senior market. It’s not unusual to see several sexagenarians working alongside millennials in a host of fields. Workers in their sixties bring an abundance of valuable work and life experiences into the workplace and no longer are they the doddering, forgetful codgers they have been portrayed as over the past fifty years. Some companies are embracing this renewed and loyal resource and their companies are benefitting.

 4. New minimums

Come January 1, 13 states will raise the minimum wage above the federal standard within their own borders. While Congress aborted its duty and reneged on its promise to constituents, at least some states recognize the need for workers’ pay to keep pace with the rising cost of…well…everything. For those retail and fast-food workers who went on strike this past year, it seems as if someone was paying attention. There is still hope that Congress will be pushed into raising the federal minimum wage by Democrats looking to find votes during the mid-term elections.

 5. Obama-care’s real test

Forget how it was rolled out, don’t fret over the problems with the website and the prediction of Armageddon, the fact is, people are enrolling – and at a faster rate than initially reported.  The real test will be when people begin finding out if they got what they thought they got. The most potential for harm will come in the form of the “Employer mandate” where companies who have 50 or more employees will have to pay $2,000 per employer in fines if they do not provide health-care coverage. This has always been a tough sell to small businesses, so much so that enforcing the rule was delayed until 2015. The question of whether it would be cheaper to pay the fine is simple, but finding the right answer is as complex as each company’s bottom line. Aside from the actual dollar costs, one would also have to factor in the loss of human talent if a company decides not to offer health-care when their competition does. The other big test will rest on the backs of those families that live in states when their governors and lawmakers decided to forego billions of dollars and declined to expand Medicare, thus leaving millions of poor Americans uninsured. Most people who have never had insurance, or have been relatively healthy may not have had experienced being denied treatment due to a preexisting condition. They may not know what it is to go into crushing debt when a child gets sick or hurt and they no longer were qualified to be on their parents’ insurance. When my sister was diagnosed with cancer, she became virtually uninsurable outside of what an employer would offer. Even with that, the medical costs swallowed everything she worked her entire life earning. When the AIDs became an epidemic it was because nearly everyone knew someone who was affected by the disease. I’m willing to bet that there are even more people who know someone who has been affected by a lack of or less than adequate health insurance.

 6. Finger pointing

Aaahhh, the mid-term elections, though not as exciting as when there’s a Presidential seat up for grabs, but expect this to be year to have more fireworks than normal. The Congress is coming off its worst year ever and its behavior only fueled the mistrust and cynicism of its constituency. The members did nothing to overcome a crippled and sluggish economy; did nothing to reign in the abuses of over-reaching national security agencies; did nothing to balance the shrinking status of the middle class against the backdrop of obscene corporate profits; did nothing to strengthen the safety of our food and water; did nothing to reduce the U.S. energy dependence on foreign sources, and did absolutely nothing to justify their $174,000 average annuals salaries. But still it should be fun to watch the blame game in full effect; I imagine it will be something like Jake Blues explaining why he never showed up at the altar.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TuLBa-rgBk

 7. There’s what in that salad?

Its one thing to find out that the McRib is made out of something other than ribs, but knowing that foods that we thought were safe and healthy, like corn, tomatoes and lettuce is being routinely genetically altered is frightening. Especially considering that more than 60 countries (the U.S. not among them) have significantly restricted or outright banned the imports; couple that with fact that several of the nation’s top food manufacturers, drug companies, and chemicals manufacturers spent $22 million in Washington State in order to avoid labeling foods which contained GMOs (genetically modified organisms) makes me uncomfortable about what they’re hiding. No one can say for sure what the long term effects GMOs will have, but it should be noted that the leading producer of GMO seeds is Monsanto, the company which makes the weed-killer Roundup possible, the company which brought us Agent Orange, PCBs and DDT, yes, that Monsanto. If you are unfamiliar with GMOs, these three links should help explain:

http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/

 http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/all-you-need-to-know-about-gmos-and-march-against-monsanto/   

http://biotech.about.com/od/faq/f/GMOs.htm

There are other companies however, and their plan is to spend money to lobby politicians into keeping bills – which you will likely never hear of – from becoming law. The good news is that 2014 shapes up to be the year that more information and awareness about GMOs comes to light and the real debate can begin.

 8. TV and movies

Just to show that I don’t spend all my time on serious subjects I thought I’d share my anticipations for the upcoming year in TV binging. I still haven’t seen the last season of Breaking Bad; I’m waiting until I can watch the entire thing nonstop. By then I can get started with new series featuring Saul Goodman, the adorably felonious lawyer from the BB show. Netflix gave us two outstanding original series, House of Cards and the surprisingly addictive Orange is the new Black; love me some Jenji Kohan, I’m looking forward to gobbling on both. My guy friends tell me I should be all about the Game of Thrones, but I haven’t gotten there yet, not that I don’t think it’s a good show, it’s just that the mostly that they try to sell me on the medieval humping….not that there’s anything wrong with that; maybe this year will be the year. I can binge on moves as well, but that’s harder to do in theaters these days. I am looking forward to the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, because there’s yet to be a film, which has had the same feel and promise of The Matrix, even its sequels….maybe this will be the one.

9. High times

I wonder if residents and legislators in Washington state and Colorado knew they were about to become the test laboratories for America’s experiment with legalized recreational marijuana. After decades of dwelling within the social subculture, there can finally be some practical conversations about the potential benefits and risks of smoking pot. As a child of the seventies, I could right these moves off, as “the man” finally getting around to taxing something they can’t stop and that some people will continue to do simply because it makes them feel good. For those who are against drug use of any kind, you needn’t worry, we are a long way from legalized marijuana sweeping the nation, but we will be closer in 2014 than we are now and just as some people suspect about health-care, once the genie is out of the bottle….there’s no going back.

 

~ Richard

 

Is Raising the Minimum Wage Good for your Business?

Most small to medium sized businesses, which employ 52 percent of all U.S. workers, cannot afford to employ a phalanx of lawyers, accountants and economists to decipher the long and short-term impact of raising the minimum wage on profits. The current debate on raising the floor of minimum wage is often centered on just that issue. One side argues that raising the rate will help the working poor less dependent on social welfare, become active consumers and get closer to a middle class standard of living. The other side argues that the domino effect would be to force other salaries higher, which would in turn cause employers to scale back on workers at the lowest end, thus leaving a zero sum gain for the very group the raise is intended to help.

Both arguments seem reasonable and equally likely, so what direction is best for your business? The answer may not be as complex as you may think. Start by considering your company’s values and ethics. Nearly all companies have these two ideals as part of their statement of purpose, slogan or best practices advisory. If they are part of yours, then ask yourself whether it is ethical to maintain full-time workers at a salary level at which they cannot support themselves, let alone a family. I know they are those that would argue that how my employees support their families is not my concern; you pay a “fair wage” for the work they provide. The truth is, you would be right to feel that way, but you would also be correct in thinking about your business in relation to the community it serves and inhabits.

A higher living wage for workers means that they will become less dependent on the social programs, which your company is forced to subsidize through higher local and federal tax rates; it means they will be able to sustain themselves and support their families and possible relieve some stress, thus freeing them to be more productive and stable at work. In short, they’d be happier. Workers who remain at an unlivable wage level become, at best, indifferent to the fortunes of their employer; they cycle though a series of occupational locations as indentured servants, never feeling that they are integral part of the company….and their work will reflect that feeling. After all the research has been done, statistics assembled, rhetoric made and sides chosen, a company’s owner will have to look at the cost of increasing their minimum wage workers salary by one to two dollars an hour and ask themselves what they are willing to sacrifice and what they are going to get in return. The answers to those questions are less likely to be in the collective, but rather the individual and personal circumstance of each company.

For those SMBs who are fighting to compete against the rising corporate tide of the Wal-Mart’s of the world, there may be an opportunity to distinguish your company from those competitors who simply go along with the status quo. There is a market for those that stand for bettering the lives of their people and society as a whole. If you knew that raising the minimum wage at your company by a couple of dollars per person would increase sales, productivity, moral; along with improving your standing in the community and provided an avenue for free advertising, would you wait for someone else to force you to do so, or allow a competitor to beat you to the punch? Would you be willing to take a smaller bonus as CEO? Would it be worth it to know that your children and your children’s children would not have to grow up in a society increasingly stagnated by economic disparity and diminished opportunities? Consider your personal values and ethics, and whether they are exemplified in your business practices.

~Richard

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