Jeffery Mcneil is a writer and vendor for Street Sense (a Washington-area, non-profit newspaper that provides economic opportunities for the homeless). His personal story is unfortunate, but honest:
As I look back on why I became poor, I can say with great candor that I made some pretty poor decisions. I didn’t save or plan for the future. Every dollar that I came across I made it a ritual to spend it at the bar.
Instead of blaming others for his plight, he takes responsibility for it. And while you might expect someone in his situation to join the choir of voices calling for “fairness” via the “living wage,” Mcneil goes on to deliver a cutting and compelling critique of the popular policy:
My first job was bagging groceries for a family grocery store. It was a small business that ran on thin profit margins that had to compete with larger retail supermarkets. For this small business owner it was a great risk to invest in somebody with no work experience. As I reflect I am grateful that he didn’t cut his losses and fire me. I was awkward, clumsy and inexperienced… However, after a year of work experience I got a raise and was eventually promoted to manager. […]
Jobs such as bagging groceries or washing dishes are not intended to be jobs for life, laced with healthcare benefits and compensation packages. These jobs are given to people who can’t find employment because they lack a degree or skills. These jobs give these people a chance to get good work experience.
Somewhere the madness has to stop. Although progressives have demonized cheap labor, the truth is cheap labor is not as immoral as some have you believe. There are many advantages for keeping wages low. Low wages expand the economy. They are also a source of income for people who are not qualified for skilled jobs and would otherwise go without any income at all. Low wage jobs also give troubled youths alternatives to a life of crime and gangs.
[…][T]here are few discussions on how the minimum wage affects consumers with low incomes. When the wage increases, the prices of products go up. For poor people, Happy Meals and Big Macs become unaffordable. While the suburbanites can still afford their lattes at Starbucks, well-meaning liberals still need to consider those who are living on the margins.
The point is: there are better ways to assist people who are struggling to get by. Policy-wise, utilizing the Earned Income Tax Credit—rather than the minimum wage—does a much better job of getting the incentives right. Instead of keeping people out of the workforce (by mandating a certain wage that many employers won’t be willing to pay), we should allow desperate people the ability to work, while supplementing their meager income through tax credits. Like Mcneil says, simple inclusion in the economy is invaluable for unskilled and inexperienced workers, who are then able to move up the economic ladder after a few years of legitimate work experience. Here—and in all cases, we must ensure that policy is both smart and well-intentioned.
America, President Obama: It’s fine. Don’t listen to “detached” policy wonks at conservative think tanks. But please do listen to the people that your “well-meaning” policies are adversely affecting.