Archive for December, 2013

A Reality Check on the Minimum Wage Debate: Why It Should be Doubled

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18, 2013 by thebluebros

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Despite the differences between me and my conservative friends, there is one point on which we invariably agree: No one who works full time should have to rely on government assistance. In other words, if you work 40 hours a week you are a contributing member of society and should not have to rely on the government for financial assistance to survive. This seems logical. However, despite agreeing on this important point, my right-leaning friends often lose sight of reality and believe that if someone works 40 hours a week, he/she will be able to live independently, just so long as that person can muster the strength to live within his/her means. It’s simply a matter of hard work and self-discipline. Reality check.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. (Fortunately I had to look this up. The last time I earned minimum wage, it was $4.75 an hour.) If a person works 40 hours a week, he/she will gross $1,257 a month, or $15,080 annually. Let’s apply this to a specific situation. I consulted the website, paycheckcity.com, to find out how much a single person living in Texas would take home if he/she worked 40 hours a week at a minimum-wage job. The website calculated that this individual would take home $1,085 per month after paying federal taxes ($75.06), Social Security ($77.91), and Medicare ($18.22). (Granted, much of the federal taxes collected from low-wage earners are paid back every April, but people earning minimum wage don’t get to touch this money until the end of the year. And keep in mind that this payout during tax season only applies to the money they paid in income taxes, not the money they put into Social Security and Medicare.) Fortunately for Texans, there is no state income tax. Forty-three states implement state income taxes, meaning minimum-wage earners actually fare better in Texas than many other states.

Let’s say our hypothetical low-wage worker lives in Dallas, TX. In Dallas, an average one-bedroom apartment not located downtown (downtown is too expensive) is about $750 a month. If our minimum wage worker pays $750 a month in rent and spends $10 a day on food, he/she has $35 left over for other monthly expenses. Let’s say this is just enough to cover a very basic cell phone plan. Oops. Looks like our low-income worker forgot to budget for utilities (gas, water, electricity, garbage), transportation, clothing, TV, Internet, childcare, diapers, tithing, toiletries, household cleaning supplies, stamps, pets, and the occasional pizza. Owning a car and buying gas and auto insurance are clearly not an option. Forget about hobbies and recreational activities like traveling, buying books, going to the movies, or buying gifts. And tuition for school? Forget about it. Savings for retirement? Ha! Emergency fund? What’s that?

The highest minimum wage in the country lies in the liberal bastion of Washington State—where the minimum wage sits at a whopping $9.19 an hour. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in a suburb of Seattle is approximately $1,000 a month. Allotting $10 a day for food and running the same calculations, we have $45 left over before considering any other monthly expenses. This is virtually identical to the bleak situation in Dallas.

If Americans wants to make it on minimum wage, they have no choice but to depend on others. First of all, living alone is not an option. Minimum-wage workers have to live with their parents or share a dwelling with multiple roommates. Even then, they will likely have to rely on food stamps to eat three squares a day. They will have to rely on Medicaid or other government-provided healthcare programs. Given that monthly childcare expenses can easily exceed $1,000, it makes no sense for parents to ever work a minimum wage job, unless someone agrees to watch their children for free. This point illustrates the glaring hypocrisy demonstrated by conservatives who emphasize the importance of mothers staying home while simultaneously demanding that parents work and not rely on government assistance.

McDonald’s came under fire this year over a proposed budget they created for their minimum-wage employees. The most striking detail of the budget was that it required full-time employees to find a second full-time job—not a part-time job mind you, another full time job. McDonald’s freely admits that working 40 hours a week for their business is not enough to put a roof over their employees’ heads. For their employees to make ends meet, they must work 80 hours a week. Even then, the employees have great difficulty. For example, no money in the McDonald’s budget is allotted for paying the heating bill, while other expenditures are greatly underpriced. For example, the amount set aside for health insurance is a ridiculously low $20 a month.

Given all of these facts, why are we not all demanding a higher minimum wage? Because of minimum-wage myths that refuse to die.

One common myth is that most minimum-wage workers are teenagers. This fuels the argument that the minimum wage does not need to be increased because the people earning it are kids living at home. Furthermore, minimum-wage jobs are more about teaching teens responsibility, and the money only goes towards buying Playstations and makeup anyway. In actuality, 80% of Americans who earn minimum wage are over the age of 20. Twenty-five percent of minimum-wage workers have children. The fact that we have so many middle-aged and older Americans working these jobs runs counter to other conservative myth that minimum-wage jobs are simply short-term stepping stones for young workers who are on their way to more lucrative careers.

The other popular meme we hear is that raising the minimum wage will hurt the economy because businesses will cut jobs, which will result in higher unemployment. This is a hotly-debated point, but it shouldn’t be. This is an easy issue to research for the reason that the minimum wage has increased many times over the last 50 years, and we have a mountain of data each time it goes up. The jury is in on this issue. There is no correlation between minimum wage increases and unemployment. In fact, when the minimum wage stagnated during the Reagan years, we saw unemployment rise, directly contrary to the conservative meme. A 2011 study looked at businesses in Georgia and Alabama, following the minimum wage increases that resulted from 2007 to 2009. Of those business owners, only 4% said that laying people off was a “very important” strategy to make up for lost wages. Turns out business owners are much more creative and savvy than conservatives give them credit for. Business managers revealed multiple other strategies to make up for the loss in wages. In the states where the minimum wage exceeds the federal minimum wage, we have actually seen a slight decrease in unemployment, further negating the belief that raising the minimum wage will raise unemployment.

No one has a crystal ball, and no one can say with absolute certainty what the impact will be of raising the minimum wage; but don’t we owe it to our fellow Americans living in poverty to give it a shot? Keeping millions of Americans in a state of perpetual poverty because it might result in the price of a burger going up by ten cents seems as silly as it does heartless? Surely we can do better than that.

The minimum wage doesn’t just need to go up. It needs to skyrocket. It needs to double, at least. If the federal minimum wage doubled to $14.25, minimum-wage employees would gross $30,000 a year, hardly an exorbitant income. Conservatives love to tell us how welfare is a gravy train for people, and it only incentivizes laziness. But rather than make the welfare system more miserable through mandated drug testing and slashed benefits, we should be working to make full-time employment a path out of poverty. Both sides of the political aisle would love to see our unemployment rate plummet along with the number of people on the welfare rolls. There’s certainly a strong argument to be made that this could happen if people realized they can finally survive on a minimum-wage income.

– Nathan

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Hoping This is The Last Article Ever Written on the Westboro Baptist Church

Posted in Uncategorized on December 4, 2013 by thebluebros

Most people know what the Westboro Baptist Church does—i.e., pickets really terrible places such funerals with really offensive signs like “Fags Die, God Laughs,” “Pray for Dead Soldiers,” and the simple, but poignant “God Hates You.” It seems, however,  that most people give little consideration to what drives this church or how our collective actions encourage their despicable actions.

The church was founded in 1955 by a then 26-year old Fred Phelps. Almost 60 years later, Mr. Phelps continues to lead the church. Membership in the church is estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 70 members. While there is no public list of the church’s members, at least one former member of the church estimates that 90% of the church’s congregation is a member of the Phelps family. The size of Mr. Phelps’ family would certainly make such an estimate possible (if not likely) as Mr. Phelps has 13 children, and an undisclosed number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are part of the church. In fact, my research into writing this piece was unable to find a surname of a single member of this church that was not Phelps.

What the above membership numbers demonstrate is that the Westboro Baptist Church is essentially just one crazy family—who had a difficult time figuring out contraception—plus 4 to 7 other people. If one was to Google “Westboro Baptist Church,” however, he or she may believe the church actually has many thousands of members and a great influence on our elected leaders because there are literally thousands and thousands of news articles, tweets, status updates, blog articles, and other postings about this crazy family. When I see numbers like this, or come across a new story on the church, or read a tweet on them, I don’t feel anger at the church so much as I feel anger at everyone who feels the need to continue drawing attention to these loons. There is simply no reason to give these people any attention. While I recognize there is some irony in writing a piece on a subject that encourages others to not write or read about said subject, I think this piece’s title adequately addresses the potential irony.

From what I can see, nothing new or insightful has been said about this church in the past five years. Every news article I read is only about which outrageous spot they will choose to hold their next picket. Every tweet and Facebook post I read about the church is nothing more than some person expressing disgust at the church for its latest picket location. The mass coverage this handful of people continually receives serves just two purposes. First, it satiates our morbid curiosity to observe a train wreck; and second, it feeds the church’s desire for fame and encourages them to engage in more of these outrageous acts. As one former church member explained, “The international media have covered our protests with unflagging interest, to the deep satisfaction of the WBC leaders my aunts, Shirl and Marge, and my grandfather, Fred, the group’s pastor and founder.”

There have been at least two incidents in which the Phelps have agreed to give up their protests in exchange for access to the media. For instance, in 2006, after the church announced it would be protesting the funeral of five Amish people killed in a school shooting, a nationally syndicated radio host agreed to give the church 30 minutes of air time in exchange for not picketing the funeral. The church accepted the offer, thus confirming any doubts we may have had about the fact that these people’s top priority is not picketing, but rather to disseminate their message to as many people as possible via free access to the media.

I can sort of understand the media’s coverage of this family. While there may be very little in the way of actual news, virtually any story on the Phelps and their protests is likely to generate a lot of clicks. What I have a much harder time understanding are the people who feel the need to publicly denounce this family as “sick”, “crazy”, or “just wrong.” Really? Are you saying these things because you are concerned that without your pithy observation, your peers will consider agreeing with a sign that says, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” Or do you just want all of your friends to know what a principled person you are because you don’t agree that 9/11 was a good thing.

People who feel the need to bring attention to the Westboro Baptist Church by publicly criticizing the church’s beliefs remind me of the worst stand-up performance I ever had the misfortune of seeing. I saw Jimmy Walker (aka, J.J. from Good Times) begin a set with, “Is it me, or Michael Jackson looking white?” Mr. Walker opened with this joke around the year 2000—you know, about 15 years after every person in America had already thought the exact same thing. So basically, when a person criticizes the Westboro Baptist Church, I find their take on current events about as fresh and interesting as Jimmy Walker’s stand-up routine.

If you truly hate what these groups stand for and despise their picketing of funerals, then hit them where it hurts. Ignore them. When you see an article covering their latest zany antics, don’t click on it. If you feel the urge to take a bold position (it isn’t) that these guys are bad, fight it.

This logic also holds true for the Quran burner down in Florida, Mr. Terry Jones. Every time he decides to burn a bunch of Qurans or hang an effigy of President Obama on the highway next to his office, a media blitz descends upon him. Mr. Jones ran for president in 2012 and has already announced he’s running in 2016. This guy loves the attention.

These merchants of hate thrive on attention, and as soon as they can’t get it, they’ll fold up their tent. And if I am wrong, their tent will still be on display, but instead of being on the world stage, they’ll have to settle for upsetting a couple hundred people in Topeka. Either way, I’d say we won.

I would also be remiss if I did not point out the very real cost of this “news pornography.” Every time you see a news article about insane people like Mr. Jones or Mr. Phelps, you have to ask yourself what would have been in that space had a profit-driven media outlet been motivated to provide real news rather than infotainment. Perhaps it would have been an article about the plunder of Detroit by Wall Street (or any other number of vital issues that are underreported). By ignoring stories of cartoonishly evil bigots, we not only marginalize the bigots, we encourage our media to cover real news.

– Dylan