One of our veteran editors wrote an article several years ago describing the extreme hardships a family in Johnsburg was enduring as the parents were working long hours at minimum-wage jobs.
Hard-working and committed to their children, the man and wife headed out each day in an effort to provide their family with safe housing and a decent start in life.
Yet with burdensome home heating costs and sky-high vehicle fuel and insurance expenses, their minimum-wage earnings were nowhere near covering the basic necessities for their family. To survive, they were forced to depend on a variety of government programs.
Since then, the situation is even worse for thousands of families in the Adirondacks who rely on minimum-wage employment for their income.
Decent jobs are rare in the central Adirondacks, and we see the result: many local residents, whose families have lived here for generations, are leaving so they can make a respectable living elsewhere. Over the past 30 years the population of core Adirondack communities has declined by 30 percent or more.
In 1973, this Denton editor reports, he and his wife both worked for a salary just above minimum wage, or $1.60 per hour, and we were able to pay for not only their housing costs, food, insurance on three vehicles — and their health insurance premiums (only $85 per year full cost for a policy) — they also had cash left over for vacations and non-essential purchases.
Now, people earning minimum wage have no such ability. The total cost of a health care plan alone can exceed a minimum-wage worker’s entire annual salary.
Those working at the 2014 minimum wage rate of $7.25 have far less buying power than workers earning $1.60 per hour in 1973.
Since 1970 or so, the average pay of top executives nationally has increased a thousand-fold, while wages for working people haven’t even kept up with the rising cost of living.
It’s estimated that if the minimum wage had been tied to increases in cost of living over those 40 years, the minimum wage now would be $10.65 per hour.
It’s important to note that over these four decades, U.S. labor productivity has risen by at least 125 percent, which would mean that minimum wage workers — if fully compensated for their work — should now be making $22 per hour or more.
Some citizens who espouse pure free-market capitalism, oppose raising the minimum wage, citing that it would cause job losses. But studies show that the opposite is likely to happen, with more earned income circulating in the economy. Such opponents also claim that a higher minimum wage would cause the cost of goods and services to spiral, but studies indicate that the cost of raising the minimum wage to $10.50 — and improving the lives of many millions of Americans — would be a matter of a price increases of a few cents on a $5 product.
Raising the minimum wage is also likely to put quite a shot in the economy, as the higher earnings would be spent on more goods and services. A Chicago Federal Reserve Board study indicated that raising the minimum wage to only $9 per hour would boost household spending by $48 billion, which would give the U.S. economy a considerable shot in the arm.
A raise of the minimum wage past $10 per hour would boost the income of about 35 million workers, and lift most of them out of poverty.
With the resulting financial stability, more families would be able to reclaim a middle-class lifestyle and have more time to engage in community life. Volunteerism and participation in charitable causes would increase, and crime would undoubtedly decrease.
With the resulting boost in payroll-tax revenue, both the state and federal government would have substantially higher income tax revenue — and Social Security and Medicare would be far better funded.
While a variety of expensive, bureaucratic government programs now exist to subsidize the working poor, it is far more efficient in our national economy for workers to be paid directly a livable wage that reflects the true cost of their work and productivity.
Thankfully, a good number of employers in our area understand that paying a decent wage not only exerts a substantial positive impact on their workers’ lives, but it directly benefits their enterprises, including boosted productivity and reduced employee turnover.
Take Matt Funicello of Rock Hill Bakehouse for an example. He pays his 35 workers substantially above minimum wage, because he not only understands the benefits, but because he realizes to do so is his ethical responsibility.
Recently Funicello testified in Albany on behalf of the federal House Resolution 1346, which would raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.50, and provide for the rate to be raised as the cost of living increases.
We support the proposal and applaud those enterprises in the region that pay a livable wage to their employees.