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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Boyd: Low wages are the problem, not workers

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The COVID-19 pandemic created a giant chasm between public health and safety and the economy.

Maybe the chasm was always there, but it became more pronounced during the pandemic. I didn’t know so many people were willing to risk the health and safety of others for a dollar or two.

As the pandemic wanes the tug of war continues. Initially, the issue was a mandatory shutdown would destroy commerce and the economy. It was inevitable that some businesses would have to shut their doors forever. It’s sad and personal for those affected, but that’s the nature of business — one closes, one opens.

I didn’t want to see anyone lose their livelihood, but I also didn’t want to see people die. In this country, we acted like you can’t want both, like we can’t balance the two. What good is money to you if you’re dead? Why is American culture OK with jobs that put your life and/or quality of life in jeopardy? What possesses someone to put profit above lives? Can your business survive if no one is alive to buy your goods or products? But this is where many Americans landed, deciding not to believe in the pandemic because it harmed businesses.

Once the economy started to open up, the tug of war continued, but the conversation shifted to employers with plenty of job openings because employees don’t want to return to work, choosing to live off unemployment instead. Disappointingly media outlets all over the country ran with that narrative so much so that now everyday folk believe it. I’ve yet to see much pushback on this idea.

As a culture, we love to focus on the negative and make that the norm. Most people work. If you go to work every day, chances are you have peers who do the same. I’m also guessing you know more people who work than don’t. Sure, there are always those few who don’t work, don’t want to work and find ways to survive without doing so, but they’re in the minority. Yet, the picture is people are lazy, shiftless and don’t want to work because unemployment benefits are just too dang good. I want to know who’s getting rich off unemployment?

The minimum unemployment benefit is $50 a week and the maximum is $390 in Indiana. I’m sorry but $200 a month to live on isn’t cutting the mustard. If you get the max, you fare better at $1,560 a month, but that breaks down to $9.75 an hour. The federal government tacked on an extra $300 during the pandemic to help people survive. Gov. Eric Holcomb decided unemployed people were living too high on the hog and needed an incentive to get back to work, so he opted out of the federally funded pandemic unemployment assistance, ending the additional $300. It seems Holcomb may have jumped the gun, though, as a Marion County court ruled Indiana should continue to participate in the program.

Why is the burden to fix the economy on the employees not the employers? If unemployment is so attractive that no one wants to go to work, why aren’t people asking why wages are so low? That seems to be the problem rather than people being lazy.

I’m sure raising wages plays into this idea that if you raise wages, businesses will close because small business owners can’t afford to pay their workers more, or a Big Mac will cost too much for anyone to buy. As I’ve said before, I’m no economist, but it seems to me higher wages all around means people have more money to spend, so there’s more money circulating. Again, I’m only going by my own thoughts and not an expert opinion, but I believe more can be done to solve this conundrum than forcing people to take low-wage jobs.

And let’s be honest: Many people work for large corporations where the CEO pay has increased 940% since 1978 while wages for the worker have grown by a whopping 12%. In 2019, CEO compensation increased 14% to $21.3 million, making CEOs earn more than 320 times the average employee, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute. Many of these people work hard, in horrible conditions (Amazon workers urinating in water bottles because they can’t take restroom breaks comes to mind) and still make poverty wages. They rely on tax dollars to supplement their income through food stamps and health insurance. Somehow, though, they’re the problem. We need to take off the blinders and see the real problem.

The people who earn millions of dollars have us fighting each other over $15 an hour.

Make it make sense.

I have no issue with people earning millions, but it’s the few making that kind of money at the expense of the many. Spreading the wealth wouldn’t make millionaires poor, but it would allow more people to live comfortably in the richest country in the world.

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