In a Perfect World

As you may recall, I recently joined the ranks of America’s employers. Which means I have been spending a lot of time catching up on labor laws and income reporting and all the fun little nitty-gritty things that go along with taking on the responsibility of someone else’s financial livelihood.

And — surprise, surprise — here I am, at odds with a lot of “conventional thinking” on the subject.

I totally get why there’s such a thing as a minimum wage. And I am aware that the U.S. minimum wage is actually on the low side for first-world countries. And I have done a bunch of research recently to determine the merits of pro and con arguments about minimum wages and how they affect — or are affected by — inflation and unemployment historically. It’s actually an interesting read — if you’re that kind of geek. (Trying to hide my geek hat.)

In the end, I was comforted by the data that suggests that — at least in the big picture — raising minimum wage doesn’t actually lead to higher unemployment or inflation.

But one of the reasons the U.S. has a lower minimum wage is because we pride ourselves on our “in-your-face,” anti-establishment, everyone-for-themselves, free-market, liberated culture. The minimum wage is supposed to keep employers from screwing their employees — figuratively speaking.

Which is a good thing, because you should treat your employees with respect and compensate them fairly.

But what happens when “fairly” can’t cover minimum wage? What happens when an employer has to face their staff and say, “Hey, remember last year when I paid you all $16 an hour and we had a big, catered party at the end of the season?...Yeah, well, things aren’t so great this year, so I can either lay off half of you or I can cut wages. If I don’t lay anyone off, I can only pay you $8 an hour. What do you want me to do?”

I think the staff ought to have the option of deciding on everyone keeping their job.

But they don’t. Because no matter what the workers want — the employer has to come up with minimum wage (plus the employer’s share of taxes; so if you get $10 an hour, it costs your boss about $12, FYI). So GOOD NEWS, EVERYBODY!Halfof you get to keep your jobs — hope you pick the long straw.

An employee cannot choose to work more than 40 hours a week unless their employer is willing (and able) to pay them overtime. So guess what? GO HOME!

An employee cannot just choose to come to work when she isn’t scheduled just to wait around in hopes the boss will need to call someone in, or that work shows up. As an employer, I can’t even allow my employee to be on the premises voluntarily to practice her skills unless I am going to pay her at least minimum wage to sit here practicing smile lines and texting her BFF.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m putting a lot of effort into being a fair and legal employer. But I am one of those annoying people who see both sides of the issue and am keenly aware of the disparities between the way it is, and the way it ought to be.

It occurs to me that there are just as many examples of how minimum wage laws work against employeesas there are for how they protect them.

But then, I guess if all employers were fair and respectful and all employees were motivated and ethical a free market would work without anyone having to babysit us.


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