Monday, April 13, 2015

The Minimum Wage Isn't The Problem

In what passes for our contemporary economic discourse there are lots of people who seem to think that all of our economic woes can be cured by picking an arbitrary wage level, divorced from any old-fashioned notions like experience, skill and work ethic, and applying it to every worker. The mindset apparently is that if you don't simply give people a higher wage they are helpless to ever make more than entry level pay. The real world doesn't work that way. Case in point from an article in my local newspaper. It is about the Burmese population, the largest outside of Burma, but the article, Stronger Burmese presence, made some interesting points that are more broadly applied (emphasis added):
For the companies and organizations that participated in the fair, it’s a win-win situation, Soe said.
Brian Moreno, a pipefitter representing the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 166, said the local trade industry expects to lose 50 percent of its welders and 30 to 40 percent of its high-end HVAC technicians in the next 10 years because of retirements.
He said the union has a partnership with Ivy Tech that allows apprentices to train during the day and take evening classes that require only a small monetary contribution. 
As a product of the program, Moreno said he was able to work and get a college education without accumulating any debt.
“We’re scrambling right now to get our workforce up and educated,” he said. “There’s a huge generational gap, where high schools have pushed college, college, college and forgot about the trades.” 
Did you catch that? Half of the welders in my area are going to be lost to retirement but the need for welders is not going away. These are not minimum wage jobs, they are in demand, well paid and highly skilled jobs. This is a job that any parent should be pleased to see their child working at. The guy quoted was able to get the technical training to be a welder "without accumulating any debt"! One online salary source I looked gives a pretty impressive wage picture for welders:
The median hourly wage—meaning half of the people in this group earned less than this amount and half earned more—for welders (and related machine operators) was $21.00, which is on par with the hourly median wage for all other occupations. The average hourly wage for welders was $22.80.
Like in other professions, pay increases with experience. New journeyperson-level welders can make between $40,000 and $51,000 per year, while salaries for experienced welders range from $50,000 to $67,000. Welders often have opportunities to work overtime, which can also increase their yearly take-home amount.
Making that kind of money in a job with huge and increasing demand without any college debt should be a no-brainer. Doesn't that make more sense than sending a kid to some private college to come out on the other side of four (or five or six or..) years with a degree in Philosophy and $100,000 in debt with absolutely no practical skills? It took me a lot of years and hard work to make and exceed those salary levels with a degree in political science. I could have skipped college, where I didn't really learn anything of use, and learned a trade and made as much money at an earlier age. I don't regret my college years but I don't see college as a one size fits all solution for young adults. Sure welding is not easy work and you are going to come home dirty but that isn't something to be ashamed of, in fact it is something you should be proud of. Hard work is not a vulgar phrase. Plenty of college grads come home from work with their khaki pants still neatly pressed but their souls drained from sitting in a cubicle farm doing mindless work all day. I would rather get dirty to be honest.

In my current work role I have the opportunity to recruit and hire people for essentially entry level jobs. It is amazing how hard it is to find people to even apply for a job in a time when the number of people on government assistance is exploding. It is just as hard to actually hire people who want to a) come to work and b) do so at the scheduled time. I have long contended that the only reason people are "stuck" in low wage, dead end jobs is that they choose to stay there. Learning to be a welder or an HVAC technician or an aircraft mechanic or a machinist can be accomplished by anyone with the desire to better themselves and for essentially no money. Instead we insist on telling every high school kid that they have to go to college, even if they have no business going to a university, and tell anyone who doesn't go for a four year degree that a job flipping burgers is the best they can hope for. This is a lie and a disservice. We end up with unmotivated young adults who allow themselves to be stuck in dead-end jobs and never seem to understand that they need to take charge of their own career rather than waiting around like entitled brats expecting someone to hand them a fabulous, prestigious and high paid job just for showing up. On the flip side we have something like a trillion dollars in student loan debt held by people who probably shouldn't have gone to college and have no way of paying it back because they were shoved into college with no clue how that time and monetary investment was going to pay for itself. The only people who benefit from this system are the college administrators and professors who have a captive audience feeding the university system with an unlimited supply of unsecured debt.

If you think you deserve more money, do something about it. Yourself. Don't sit around waiting for the salary fairy to show up to give you a a raise or walk around carrying a sign demanding McDonalds pay you like a banker. Everything just about anyone needs to advance their career is available for the taking and is more or less free. No one has an excuse and no one should seek one. Take charge of your career and find out how much more rewarding that is than sitting around moaning and groaning about how unfair life is.

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