Friday, October 19, 2007

Someone explain this to me...

Back in the early 1970s, the minimum wage provided an income to someone working 40 hours a week that could be lived on modestly, even when supporting a family. Now, even by official standards, the minimum wage only buys about half as much of the basics of life--and for anyone who has looked at the cost of housing and transportation lately in urban areas... it's pretty clear that it's worse than that.

Back then, health care was a common feature of "good jobs" (which were far more common), and for those who didn't have it, well, an encounter with the medical system was not likely to make one bankrupt.

I'm just at a loss. We have a society which officially proclaims that boatloads of money have been being made for years, and that productivity is waaaay up since the 1970s, and yet somehow... those on the low end of the economic ladder are vastly less able to survive, and essentially unable to afford any health care other than what Uncle Sam provides. So our government wants to cut back on that (yes, yes, I know that Bush "wants" to give the program an additional $5 billion over the next five years... but it's a fact that the amount is insufficient to pay for the program at the current levels--due to rising costs. It's a cut, because medical inflation will devour all of it and then some). And yet more of us are more exposed to health care crises than we were 35 years ago. We're less likely to have health care coverage, and the coverage is far more likely to turn out to have holes that have been cut into it specifically to avoid actually having to pay for health care (in some cases, cut into that safety net when the insurers could see precisely where you were falling).

Is it just that our elite classes have forgotten the lessons of history? Populations that get driven into desperation spasm, and spasm in very ugly ways.

5 comments:

Bill Baar said...

Note the family of 1970 isn't quite the family of 2007.

The notion of a min wage set to support a stay at home mom, two kids, and a working Dad is a little obsolete.

If your goal is to increase the income and wealth of working families, the min wage may not be the best tool.

ogre said...

Ok, Bill...

The family has--somewhat--changed. There's evidence that at least some of that is the result of staggeringly stupid regulations that made it harder be a 1970s-style family (or something like it) while getting societal support. If one wants to encourage fathers to stay in the family, and mothers to want them there, the policy should not penalize that.

But fine,t he family is an entity that morphs over time. I'd agree--it has morphed for centuries, and continues to do so. And will. It nonetheless is something that people want and need. It thus makes sense to support the formation and maintenance of healthy families.

The fact is that the min wage structure NOW actively shreds anything like the semi-mythical family structure of the Golden Age. There being no way for a parent to support a very modest family on/near the min wage... there's no way to have a mom (or dad) at home.

The minimum wage is a concept that's easy enough to grasp. It's that someone who works full-time ought to be able to sustain a modest life in a civil society. Simple questions:

Should that include being able to eat a decent diet?

How about being able to have adequate shelter?

Transportation (ownership or access to) that allows you to get to work, and to get any family member to... wherever it is that they spend their days?

How about modest health care?

Bottom line for conservatives, I think, should be a standard that invests essentially everyone with a standard of living that discourages the despair and anger which is the dry tinder for social unrest and revolution. It needs to be honest; despite the insane posturing over the Frost family, the truth is that people want--are driven--to have families (of some sort). Which means kids. Which means...

(Tangential snark; it staggers me that some of the people who've been raging about abortion have been flaming the Frost for having kids. The gall of those people to have kids...)

ScottMGS said...

How timely!

As for the notion that minimum wage supporting people is obsolete - well, yeah, here in sunny SoCal, minimum wage doesn't support one person according to the numbers, let alone four.

I don't believe that there one "best tool". It's going to take a lot of changes to start improving things. Jumping on the "it's not feasible" bandwagon, though, is the intellectual version of cynicism.

kim said...

If you are serious about wanting to understand economics better, you might check out the economics posts on this website:
http://nontrivialpursuits.org/
They are clear and easy to understand.

kim said...

The key to keeping wages up is to have high enough tariffs that foreign goods are not less expensive than American goods. That way, we pay Americans to manufacture things. They make money so they spend money. That makes the economy lively, and spreads around the wealth. The whole economy does better when wealth is spread around.
In addition to tariffs, strong Unions are necessary so that the workers have as much say in how things go as the owners. That spreads power around and tends to lessen corruption, and can make the whole community think they are a team.