I've tried to imagine what it would be like to attempt to build a life on the earnings of the current, national minimum wage which is $7.25 an hour. No matter how you slice the challenge, providing the necessary support for a family or even for an individual while earning at the minimum is impossible.
Every few years we debate the issue in an attempt to adjust the baseline upward. The debate is so predictable that I'm not going to outline it here again.
I've got a better idea. Let's have the debate. Let's raise the minimum to a more appropriate level (Australia's minimum wage is $15.96).
But let's do something today about the low reward for labor among the poorest of our friends.
Here's my suggestion: wherever possible, when you purchase goods and services, calculate the value of the labor expended to bring you what you value enough to purchase. Once you've thought through this value proposition, pay off the unrewarded "value wage" of your transaction. In many retail settings this won't be possible or even necessary. But in many situations your "wage supplement," some will call it a "tip," can be determined and passed along with gratitude and affirmation of the worker who meets your needs. We say that we value labor. We want people to work, right? But how much do we really value labor?
For example, waiters usually earn minimum wage or less and count on gratuities to fill the wage gap. But there are many other places where I can adjust the minimum wage that I am willing to pay based on what the goods or services mean to me. How much do I value what is delivered to me?
Earlier this week I took my car to the tire shop for the repair of what was becoming a flat tire. In East Dallas at Carroll and I-30 you can get your tire repaired for $10. The afternoon was blazing hot. The young man who repaired my tire worked hard at the task at hand. He took pains to remove what appeared to be a fiberglass chard from the tire, allowing me to inspect the reason my tire was on the way down.
As he worked, I began to calculate the cost of his labor to his employer. With a unit of service in my case costing $10, I thought of the value that I placed on the service and the delivered product. I came up with a number well above the set price.
My equation was simple: set unit value + time required to deliver service + quality of service delivered + overall satisfaction with the service + what the service meant to me in terms of my need = value added gratuity or "wage adjustment."
Bottom line: I adjusted this young man's wage for my transaction.
While this doesn't solve the problem or move forward a solution to scale, it does provide me a meaningful way to do my part in engaging my economy for the sake of fairness and equity. By treating a worker at a time with fairness and equity, I proactively recognize the value provided by the working people who meet my many needs.
You can adjust the minimum wage paid laboring people today. Give it a try. I can tell you it definitely builds community and inspires working people.