Monday, May 2, 2016

Do you want fries with that…

About 8 years ago I was getting a little frustrated with our financial advisor (not the good one we have now – Todd Lansing at 40 West Financial) who seemed perplexed that we were planning to pay for our children's college education - or at least as much of that as we could afford.  In exasperation I responded after the 3rd or 4th probing into why would we want to delay our own retirement by doing this and I responded with...

"There's something about 'Do you want fries with that?' that I just don't want to hear from my kids mouths when they are 25."

Now there is nothing wrong with working in a fast food joint, giant retail stores, cleaning offices or hotel rooms, or any number of other low paying, and so called low skilled jobs.  These jobs exist because we need them to be done.  We call them low skill – but the truth is even with training, some of us with higher paying jobs would not be very good at them.  But the powerful info-graphic accessible from the link below shows the growing and often to many insurmountable problem we are running into in the United States.

We have a large group of people in the USA – mostly people who have somehow gained the benefit of some opportunity and more often than not, hard work, who think anyone who does not have what they have simply doesn’t deserve it for any number of reasons.  Most commonly I perceive that in their opinion these people who have “less” do so simple because they don’t work hard enough for it.  What a complete and utter pile of BS.  My wife makes less than a third of what I do, and she works every bit as hard.  Many of the parents of children in her school both work, both harder than she or I do holding down two or three jobs paying minimum wage or close to it, most not providing a full 40 hours and often no benefits, and all that just to maybe get paid what my wife alone does. 

Looking at the info-graphic we see for example that the average wage earned in the Accommodation and Food Services sector was in 2014 some $20,495.  This is the AVERAGE mind you – with almost two thirds of those working in this sector making less than twenty thousand a year.  Twenty thousand you say – well these are entry level jobs – they are for teenagers and such – they ought to be happy to gain the experience working so they can move up… except the average age of these people making on average $20K a year (the majority something less) is almost 33 years old.  I was married with two children when I was 33 years old!  I do hope for their sake that their big break into something better comes soon!!!

But that’s the problem – the something better jobs are harder and harder to find.  Even with the college degrees (one down, one in progress) there are no guarantees anymore.  Sure – you could maybe do better in the Retail Trade sector – they average just over $30K a year, although nearly half are still not even making $20K.  But these two sectors dominate the new jobs created – the ones our politicians and president like to crow about.  As someone was quoted during a previous administration that liked to brag on the job growth – “Yeah – I believe there have been so many new jobs created – I’ve had several of them!”

So we keep refusing to pay people a so called “living wage”.  What is that anyway – I guess I like to think of it as what the US fought so hard to get away from – or did it?  Heck we have debtors prisons and at less than $20K a year – indentured servant-hood might look good to many.  Here in Colorado, the average cost of a two bedroom apartment requires a 40 hours a week job paying nearly $20/hr to pay the rent and be considered affordable (affordable defined as no more than 30% of income).  This is almost the same as the national average.  Thank goodness some 22 “states” (of 52 including DC and Puerto Rico) require on average less that the $15/hr we fight so hard for and against.  Not much less generally – only two are less than $13/hr – and one of those is poverty stricken and near bankrupt Puerto Rico.  To put it a different way, to afford the average rent on a two bedroom apartment in all states at the prevailing minimum wage in that state you simply can’t get there at 40 hours a week.  In fact – you can’t even do it with one and a half jobs – unless again, you live in Puerto Rico.  In only 16 of the 52 “states” can you affordably rent an average two bedroom apartment with less than 2 full time minimum wage jobs.

You can check out the housing affordability at a web site published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition at:

What embarrasses me tremendously as a follower of Jesus is the damning picture painted in a particular graphic from the report on the Out of Reach site.  It shows the number of hours work per week at prevailing minimum wage for an average apartment to be affordable – and it highlights the states (*) where the prevailing minimum is higher than the federally mandated minimum (a generous according to some $7.25 per hour).  With a few exceptions, the states that have not mandated a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum are “the bible belt”.  Well done “Christians” in looking out for "the least of these".