The issue the nation faces today on the topic of Minimum Wage was planted years ago by a misguided philosophy which has morphed into a belief and then into an entitlement. The philosophy: that we deserve what we want now (immediate gratification) and that there will always be enough money to pay for it tomorrow (credit). We have lost the ability, as a nation, to delay gratification by waiting and saving. Instead we demand immediate gratification and weigh the cost of that gratification by the ongoing payment to creditors and the economic cost toward a work/life balance.
My Grandfather literally had nothing while growing up unless the family could make it, grow it, raise it, or barter for it. He headed off to serve in WWII where he learned that skills he had acquired on the homestead were best put to use turning wrenches and fixing machines. That trade moved him into automotive repair, then appliance repair, then opening his own repair company, then selling that company and living a comfortable retirement life with Grandma. Why is it that my Grandfather, born December 31, 1918 in the middle-of-nowhere Oregon, had amassed a strong estate by the time he passed in February of 2013?
The answers came together for me this week in a swirl of thoughts converging in my consciousness like a cumulus cloud. Grandpa was patient, I am not, and that is how he built his wealth out of nothing.
I started working when I was 12 because my parents didn’t have the money to send me to summer camp with my church. My Uncle was kind enough to give me a job at his commercial nursery operation to do an odd and dirty job. My job? I was brought pallets of bedding plant flats piled high, plants that were overgrown, didn’t grow, damaged, etc. I was to empty each and every little pot onto a compost mount, stack the pots and continue on. I was paid by piece at $0.01 per pot, no matter the size. I hated that job.
At 12 years old I was impatient, of course I think I was born that way, but even then I had something else going against me: I felt like I deserved the better jobs like driving tractor, or loading trucks, not the meaningless job of emptying pots. I was fully and inexcusably Entitled. I did that job for a few summers, getting a little more responsibility each summer until I was 15 and took off as fast as I could for a “clean” job busing tables in a restaurant. Where did that money go? CD’s, camp, basketball cards, other stuff that was long since given away…savings? Yeah right!
Patience is a virtue. We all know the saying, we would probably all agree, but I propose that a rare few of us actually know how to apply patience to our lives today. If we did, than the average household debt in America would be far less and the credit companies would be far smaller. Savings accounts would be far larger and default credit swaps would be an unimaginable way to make money instead of the exact way many investment firms made a fortune during the financial crash.
So how does this all apply to Minimum Wage? The ability to buy when we want through credit, to fulfill our desire for immediate gratification, creates an upward demand push on supply. Therefore items become more expensive to maximize profit, companies reduce the hold of inventory, and reinvest into creating better mousetraps. This drives the cost of living up penny by penny. And over time those pennies add up, something we’ve forgotten because as a nation we don’t know how to save, but something my grandfather never forgot. Now the cost of living is so high that people need to be paid more just to afford the basics and cover their debts.
The argument is made that the minimum wage worker must apply themselves more diligently and push toward the higher goal of better paying jobs. That position would also require the key component of patience; patience to work hard and wait for recognition and opportunity to bloom from the hard work that has been done. I would agree because that is how I am wired and how I strive to better myself and the living situation for my family, it is a virtue I have come to learn and respect and grow…much different than my 12 year old self. Yet how easy is it to dream of tomorrow when you can’t think past the financial burden of today? Increasing minimum wages to economically unsustainable levels is the only answer we (the general community “we” of government) have to alleviating the burden of crippling debt and cost of living unless we can challenge the world view that immediate gratification is wrong, credit is not an entitlement, and the ability to patiently save is a desirable virtue (for many reason I do not see this ever catching on as a majority movement in the US). It is not publicly correct to tell anyone that the choices they make in spending money are wrong, short sighted, and misguided. But someone will need to and will have to be people close enough to speak into their lives…but who?
Normally I like to bring forward an issue and propose a deep thought, or potential solution, that would provide a way to alleviate the issue of its painful impact. This time I don’t really have anything because there is no easy way out, or easy answer, there are only the personal choices we make every day. We must choose to wait on the next new thing until we can save up money and pay in cash.
We must re-learn what the greatest generation knew, Benjamin Franklin was right: A penny saved IS a penny earned.
I need to remember the hot and miserable days of my middle school summers dumping dead flowers and dirt into a pile for a penny at a time and how good it felt to walk away each day with a fresh $20 bill or more in my pocket. And how bad I feel now realizing I saved nothing of those hard earned pennies. I may earn more now, but the lessons should be the same. Financial savings is the solution to the issue we face today with controlled spending evident in self control. So here’s my takeaway: Ignore credit, embrace patience, and work to move beyond the minimum wage jobs.