In defense of a living wage

Columbia, Uncle Sam’s older sister. Wake up America! Civilization calls every man, woman and child! – 1917, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZC4-3802

Growing up, it was a lot cheaper buying things. You may have heard it from your grandparents how they used to pay just a smidgen of what we do today. I know I did. “I used to buy that candy bar for a nickel,” they would say, “and new cars were only five hundred dollars in my day.” This was our past, but what about the future?

Think about this. The dollar doesn’t buy anywhere near to what it did in the past, but our wages have been staying the same or going steadily down for some.

Let’s say nothing is done for the next twenty years, and our wages remain stagnant during that time, and then think about how much you are getting paid now and imagine what you will be able to afford in the future, knowing that you will not be able to buy half of what you can now. It’s just not sustainable.

To become rich is the American dream but to lord that money over everyone else without giving them the chance to do the same is not. There are some that act as if they have become the new ‘Aristocracy of America’ and feel entitled to their station in life over others, but it was because of this that many people immigrated to the United States. They wanted to get away from the ‘Old Aristocracy’ in Europe so they would have a fair chance to succeed.

This reminds me of something that Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to Henry Lee on August 10th, 1824:

Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, liberals and serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, whigs and tories, republicans and federalists, aristocrats and democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still and pursue the same object. The last appellation of aristocrats and democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.

It doesn’t matter what time period, there will always be those that want the return of the old ways, but everyone else should have the ability to disagree, and demand that everyone has the chance to be included.

A living wage is as important to every American as it is for our defense, and it is not an entitlement to ask for one; it is a right. Is this not something that most of us have in common no matter our political differences? We all want to get paid our worth.

A living wage is not a new concept that progressives have recently invented. President Teddy Roosevelt understood the need for a living wage and spoke about it in a speech he gave in Chicago on August 6th, 1912:

We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living–a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit a reasonable saving for old age.

Americans all! Victory Liberty Loan, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-5845

Americans all! Victory Liberty Loan – 1919, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-5845

This should not be a political issue between the political parties and the people, but an American issue. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has been a major tenet of the American dream, but at what point will everyone stand up and demand a change in the norm and ask for a fair living wage.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, in an August 2011 campaign video, put into words what many have been feeling while explaining her opinion of the Republican’s accusation that Democrats were using class warfare to help further their cause. Warren stated:

I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare’, this is whatever. No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

You built a factory out there — Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or great idea — God Bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

If this trend of not raising wages continues, the corporations will eventually discover, again, that Americans have never liked being treated like peasants living under the lord of the land. Liberal or conservative will not matter when no one has a chance to rise through education, hard work and skill.

Something will have to change.


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