Wednesday, April 15, 2015

R U 4 15?

If you think the title of this article looks like a text message, U R right. Actually, though, since in some ways I am a Luddite and don’t even have a smartphone, I don’t send text messages—and I tweet very little.
But today has for several months been designated as a day of advocacy for raising the minimum wage for fast food workers, and others, to $15 an hour. And I assume today, April 15, was chosen as the day for the marches and other appeals because they are for $15 (4 15).
But what about you? Are you (R U) for such a decisive increase in the minimum wage?
When I first heard about today’s plans, my first reaction was that trying to more than double the current national minimum wage, which is $7.25, was asking for far too much.
I have since seen that those who are calling for $15 are envisioning that as something that would be implemented over the next four or five years, not all at one time.
Here in Kansas City, there will be a rally this afternoon at 5:00 and a march at 5:30. Those activities are being planned by a group known as Stand Up KC. Similar activities will take place in some 190 cities across the nation.

A few days ago it was reported in the local news media that city officials in Kansas City are sympathetic to the activities of civil rights and religious leaders “to improve the plight of the working poor.”
But, as might be expected, there is opposition to raising the minimum wage or even allowing a city to do so.
Bills pending in the Missouri House and Senate would prohibit cities from requiring any employer to provide either minimum pay or benefits that exceed the requirements of federal or state law. (Missouri’s current minimum wage is $7.65.)
The Mo. Chamber of Commerce is supporting those Republican-sponsored bills that would keep cities from raising the minimum wage. The argument, of course, is such a raise in wages would increase prices and cause greater unemployment.
But if truth be told, the biggest concern is most likely that business owners would make less profit. This seems to be the real struggle: raise the minimum wage to help the working poor, or keep the minimum wage low to enhance profits for business owners.
The specter of fewer jobs being available for low-wage workers is a legitimate concern. But perhaps that fear is not well-founded.
Earlier this year, two professors in the Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst published a well-researched 33-page paper titled “A $15 U.S. Minimum Wage: How the Fast-Food Industry Could Adjust Without Shedding Jobs.”
For those of us who are concerned about the plight of the poor, it is difficult to see what justification there is for not being on the side of those who need a living wage—and most of those seeking higher wages are not teenagers working for spending money.
According to an April 10 article in the Washington Post, “The typical burger-flipper is an independent adult or about 29, with a high school diploma. Nearly a third have some college experience, and many are single parents raising families.”
(That entire article, “Five myths about fast-food work,” is worth reading.)
This evening I am going to the rally of those seeking a significantly increased minimum wage and also the right to form a union. In spite of my initial misgivings about it, I am now 4 15. R U?


  1. Replies
    1. Charles Kiker in Tulia, Texas, (whom I first knew at Southern Seminary more than 50 years ago) also posted these comments on Facebook, which I am taking the liberty of sharing here:

      "I R 4 15. (I guess a little grammatical leeway can be allowed.)

      "I R 4 15 for several reasons: First and foremost, to alleviatel the poverty of minimum wage workers; but also so that taxpayers can be spared the burden of caring for these low wage workers through SNAP, housing assistance, etc; and also to help balance the budget through taxes paid in by these workers rather than receiving rebates through earned income credits etc.

      "I think it makes all kinds of sense spiritually, economically, and politically that I R 4 15."

  2. Here is a lengthy, thought-provoking comment by local Thinking Friend and pastor Kevin Payne:

    "It’s interesting that you mentioned your support of the recent effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Let me give you a different perspective you might not have considered. This is the perspective of an employer (me, and my church which has a very large, 120 per day, Childcare).

    "Our Childcare employs 27 people, and typically produces just enough income to pay the bills and keep up with the upgrades for facilities. There are occasional years where this is a profit, but that usually gets used in building maintenance/upgrades, which are ongoing and substantial. (For instance, we have spent over $4000 this spring alone on plumbing issues in the Childcare area).

    "We provide an affordable service for mostly lower-income families. (Over 70% qualify for State aid). I haven’t read the article you mentioned re: the fast-food industry, but the challenge of any business, church-run or not, is that upwards of 60% or more of the costs are for personnel. For us to offer a wage of $15 per hour would represent an over 30% increase in our costs; add to this the rising demand/pressure to offer any kind of healthcare (we do not), and we would either have to heavily subsidize our Childcare ministry (not possible for our aging congregation), or raise the rates to the point that we would lose most of our kids. (Interestingly, there is a lag of 2-3 years in State aid to Childcare families when mandated raises occur).

    "I do empathize with the working poor, and we want to pay our workers more (only a few are being paid the minimum, we give them raises quickly when they prove reliable). But there are some pretty harsh realities that make things much more difficult than they might seem. This is the reason that there are some responsible, caring, Christian leaders/employers who are against the $15 per hour mandate.

    "To put it bluntly –If we are mandated to pay $15 per hour, we will more than likely have to close our Childcare, putting 27 of the 'Working Poor' out of work, as well as making it difficult for the 80+ families to find other places for their children, simply because the challenging economy has forced many of the Childcare services in the area to close.

    "Your comments seem well-thought out and intentioned, but I take offense when statements are made that seem to condemn those that don’t want to 'make less profit' in their business. Furthermore, your statement 'it is difficult to see what justification there is for not being on the side of those who need a living wage,' shows either a lack of understanding or a real insensitivity to good, and I might add, godly, people that are trying to do the right thing. We are concerned for the working poor – they are our 'family' here at FBC, and we truly care about them. We give them raises when we can afford it, and we even give much in the way of Benevolence gifts to the workers, and even the families of our children.

    There will always be the tension between 'making a profit' and taking care of one’s business and employees. Our challenge is to be caring and compassionate to those on both sides of the issue. It is naïve and simplistic, not to mention judgmental and self-righteous, to condemn those that do not go along with an arbitrary 'solution,' such as a mandated $15 rate of pay.

    "Sorry for the long message, but this is an issue we here at FBC struggle with on a day-to-day basis."

    1. Kevin, thank you so much for taking the time to write about the minimum wage issue as you see it in your church's Childcare program. I certainly sympathize with your difficult situation.

      As you know, at the present time in Missouri, "Employers engaged in retail or service businesses whose annual gross income is less than $500,000 are not required to pay the state minimum wage rate." I don't know that anyone is trying to change that, so the rally/march today does not directly impinge on your church's Childcare program.

      The main target of the rally/march today is the fast food industry and large retail stores, the large chains that make millions and millions of dollars in profit and whose CEOs make a little more (!) than you do as pastor.

      Your Childcare program is being operated as a service and is not a for-profit operation. As I don't see any possibility that you are deliberately wanting to keep wages low in order to make more profit (say, to increase your salary), I don't see that there is any reason to take offense at what I wrote for yours is not the type of situation that I was referring to -- and is not the type of situation what will be the target of the march/rally this afternoon.

      Thanks again for sharing your ideas about and experience with the issue of low wages. My prayers are with you in all the difficulties you have to face in this regard.

    2. Pastor Kevin responded with the following comments:

      "Thanks for your understanding, Leroy. We do, however, have to raise our salaries according to the State/Federal laws re: minimum wage, so it does affect us.

      "I do agree, however, that the fast-food industry could/should do more than they have for their workers. One of the dynamics that has come about in the last 10-15 years is that food-service workers are no longer comprised mainly of teenage/entry-level workers, so that is something that has to be considered.

      "Again, thanks for your thoughts and discussion. Keep up the good work!"

  3. Rev. Susan McCann, Rector of Grace Episcopal Church here in Liberty, sent these comments (with permission to post them here):

    "Thank you very much. Leroy. I'll look forwad to seeing you at the rally.

    "As you probably know, fast food workers, home care workers, airport workers, and retail workers are being joined today by adjunct faculty.

    "This is ocuring today in 236 cities and 40 countries."

    1. Rev. McCann gave the opening speech at the rally Wednesday evening, and it was quite powerful. She was quoted in the Kansas City Star ( as follows:

      The Rev. Susan McCann of Grace Episcopal Church in Liberty spoke of the movement for greater wage equality in moral terms.

      “This is holy work,” she said. “This is godly work. This is the sacred work of trying to create a moral economy … that honors the nobility of all work.”

  4. The Missouri laws capping pay simply demonstrate that the law is on the side of employers. It's unfortunate that we don't have a government of real statespersons who would do a systemic overhaul of America's economic system, so people don't have to work for impoverishing wages. It would mean a lot of things that those who benefit most from America's slavery-level wages would and will fight against. Our only recourse is mass movements like this one, however flawed they might be. Labor movements have always been flawed, but they've been the only option against the Machiavellian ethics of capitalism and the governments bought and owned by the capitalists. You're quite right about profits being the motive. But it's not really about economics; it's about power. As Paul Krugman reminds us regularly: One person's purchases is someone else's income. Livable wages would mean higher prices for all of us, but it would also mean a lot more money spent by people who have to spend their income. One of the problems in the U.S. is that we're so ignorant of other national economies. I understand what Kevin Payne is getting at, but it's an everyday view of a systemic problem. I've been a pastor, too, and had to deal with what we pay staff on very limited budgets. We've got to recognize that it's the system that creates such great levels of poverty and then demands that other poor people care for them. Grass-roots movements are all we have in oligarchies like America. As the great labor movements of the early 20th century demonstrated, when enough people say, "Enough is enough," legislators begin to listen.

    1. Thanks for sharing substantial comments, Anton.

      According to an article yesterday on (, the current "Fight for $15" is gaining steam and some legislators are beginning to listen, it seems.

  5. Thanks, Leroy. I just found out that there would be a "4 15" rally in DC at the MLK Memorial at the Tidal Basin (amidst the cherry blossoms!). I don't think that I can make it, but I'm glad to know about this nationwide effort.

  6. I forgot to say that the rally would be at 6pm this evening.

  7. From Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson:

    "I’m with you 100%, Leroy. The present low wage is immoral."

  8. From Thinking Friend Nolan Carrier, who is a Baptist pastor in south Missouri and one of my students at Southwest Baptist University in 1972:

    "Yes I am! The shift in wealth in the US in the past 20 years is staggering. The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. This action will help slow the shift. It must be done.

    "Please do an article on the shift of the wealth in US in past 20 years."

  9. Canadian Thinking Friend Glen Davis, and close personal friend when we both lived in Fukuoka (Japan), wrote,

    "Thanks for this timely comment on minimum wage. We are facing similar challenges here in Canada. The British Columbia government has just announced an increase in the MW from $10.25 to $10.45 per hour. This is an insult to the working poor where this province's cost of living is so high.

    "Our BC Federation of Labour, along with many civil society groups, is advocating for $15.00 per hour but, of course, we are getting the usual push-back from right wing business groups who claim that it would destroy jobs and hurt business.

    "However, research in jurisdictions which have legislated a major increase in MW has shown that a living wage actually creates jobs and helps business because workers now have more disposable income to plow back into the economy, not to mention the social benefits of having many more workers who regain dignity and self respect."

  10. Thinking Friend George Takashima, another Canadian but a TF I have never met personally, wrote,

    "The minimum wage in Canada is over $10 -- varies across the provinces though but definitely $10 is the minimum.

    "Having said that, there are various institutions across the country i.e, community colleges, that offer courses to people to improve themselves, their skills et al. so that they can compete in the market for better paying jobs."

  11. Most of the debate in America about the minimum wage suffers from tunnel vision, just looking at narrow issues directly tied to the wage itself. This usually ends in a standoff between workers and employers. I believe it is better to look at the big picture surrounding the minimum wage.

    First, economics was once called political economics, because everyone knew that it was at least as much about politics as it was about economics. Economic fundamentalists who think they have an exact science with profound equations are terribly wrong. Economics is only weakly tied to science, because its formulas have mostly never been empirically tested. I would contend that economics is more art than science, more religion than art, and a cult most of all.

    We all have profound self-interests, and ideological interests, that so color our thinking that we can hardly see the actual issues. Only by honestly searching for our interests and presuppositions can we get to where we can start a dialogue. As the old ditty goes, "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax the man behind that tree." So, for instance, we have crumbling infrastructure all across America, even as Americans consistently oppose raising gas taxes, paying tolls and borrowing funds to fix our roads and bridges.

    So where does the minimum wage fit in? Well, for highly skilled and employable people, it seems easy. They can write their own ticket and do quite well. What most Americans have discovered, however, is that their value on the open market is low, and sinking. However, that so-called open market carries hidden costs for society at large. Because the bottom 90 percent of workers have lost purchasing power, the economy has been nearly stagnant, even as top corporations and their CEOs have profited greatly. Is that economic reality, or just the results of political power? Well, look at the 2008 bailout. Trillions of dollars went to stabilize the big banks and major corporations. Not much went below. Many homeowners are still upside down in their mortgages. The economy for the 90 percent is still not doing well, and that shows in the slow growth rate. Yet, the bottom of all this is not immutable laws of physics, but rather the cumulative effect of several decades political decisions that have moved wealth and power up the economic ladder.

    Another way of looking at this is considering the massive subsidies large corporations effectively receive to allow them to prosper while paying starvation wages to their employees. The Washington Post just ran an article explaining that America is spending $153 billion a year on welfare payments to employees of McDonald's and Wal-Mart. Even as those employers are raking in large profits. See link here:

    Henry Ford once made headlines by raising the wages of his employees to the point where they could afford to by his autos. He considered it good business. In our modern race to the bottom line, we have lost sight of the fact that it is the dragons of legend who sit on top of stacks of wealth, not the leaders of society. Government has the power to build a better economy by wisely using taxing, spending and interest rate policies. Unlike the disastrous policies of austerity seen around the world, the old "tax and spend" model actually works. One key piece of that is raising the minimum wage to a living wage. It is not just the "right" thing to do, it is the profitable thing to do.

  12. A few minutes ago my son Keith sent this satirical piece by Andy Borowitz about $15 wages:

    WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – Americans took to the streets in large numbers on Thursday to show their support for a fifteen-dollar-an-hour wage for members of Congress.

    In major cities across the nation, fast-food workers and other service employees held signs, shouted chants, and gave impassioned speeches to demonstrate their conviction that Congress deserves a maximum hourly wage of fifteen dollars.

    “Members of Congress are people, just like you and me,” Tracy Klugian, a McDonald’s employee who took part in the Washington protest, said. “They should be paid what they deserve.”

    Assuming that they continue to take off approximately two hundred and forty days a year, members of Congress earning the proposed maximum would see their average annual income adjusted from a hundred and seventy-four thousand dollars to thirteen thousand five hundred dollars, a salary that many marchers called “fair and equitable.”

    “I know what members of Congress will say: ‘I can’t live on that,’” Harland Dorrinson, a protester in Chicago, said. “Well, if they want to earn more, they should go out and acquire some skills.”

    While organizers of the marches proclaimed today’s protests a success, in some cities the demonstrations met some opposition from counter-protesters, who argued that fifteen dollars was too much.

  13. I had recently decided to avoid comments due to the free flow of ad hominem, and I may return to that policy since this is not one of my pet issues.

    Feelings are not a good means of calibration for policy. (Goals by poetry - I will make three in '93 - for 3% growth). Most employers are small business. Bottom-line and payroll are big issues each week/month. Many don't have that margin. I have watch several clients be let go or have their hours cut due to the impact of the ACA. Others have had to cut benefits altogether. The economy is still tight and hurting, regardless of what the pundits say. I see it. Out company has just decided to switch from W2 to 1099 because the cost of benefits has risen too dramatically to remain profitable. Thankfully I kept my personal health insurance. But... Due to the mandated picking up of un-insurables, the provider has just announced a 26% increase in insurance next month (40% for the year so far). Actions have consequences. I was speaking with one McDonald's franchise owner. The talk of raising minimum wage has him seriously considering more robotics, adding electronic ordering - both a cut in personnel so he can remain profitable. The mathematics of the social science of economics really do add up. Just like we were taught in 101. Costs hit the bottom line, even if we like the people we employ. And some politicians will not respond if you are not of their political party - 3 Senators, 2 Parties, 3 States.

    As a separate notion, related to Keith Seat's posting, I like the idea of our DC politicians receiving the median pay and benefits of their constituency. That would give DC some perspective.