The Living Wage

indexOne in four Americans work for less than $10.00 an hour. Four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream. Nationwide, the count of America’s poor remains stuck at a record number: 46.2 million, or 15 percent of the population, due in part to lingering high unemployment following the recession. While poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics are nearly three times higher, by absolute numbers the predominant face of the poor is white.

More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.

In an affront to the poor, living wage ordinances are woefully behind. For instance, in January of 2013, the State of Missouri just raised the living wage to $7.25 per hour. That means a fast food worker, flipping burgers, will earn $13,589 after taxes. Unfortunately, Missouri’s Living Wage is about $200 above the Federal Poverty and provides no health insurance.

When discussing Living Wage issues, a blogger wrote the following:

Unskilled, looking for work?  What are your expectations? 

College grad, can’t find a job?  When you enrolled in college – did you have a career plan, or follow a particular field, did you choose a realistic field that would actually have jobs available on graduating [sic].  OR, did you choose the easiest curricula or not have a major in mind until you were forced to choose one your senior year?

Family person, supporting children – there are better places to work – why fast food?   Are you receiving Gov [sic] Assistance for every member of your family?  If so, what are real complaints [sic].

Minimum wage earners – do you regularly have your hair done, nails done, etc., and  have an iphone? [sic]  if so, how have you been paying for these luxuries?

It’s easy to pick on any one of the fast food giants for its salary disparity. During the most recent quarter, revenue at McDonald’s rose to nearly $7.1 billion, up 2% and was in line with analyst predictions. Global same-store sales got a 1% boost after dipping in the first quarter. So what does McDonald’s current CEO earn per year? A paltry $13.8 million dollars, including benefits. McDonald’s previous CEO earned $27.7 million annually. The average fast food employee would need more than a century of work to earn that kind of salary.

Like other McDonald’s executives, the CEO also has access to annual physical exams, a company-provided car for personal use, financial counseling and security and use of the company aircraft for personal trips.

The pay gap separating fast-food workers from their chief executive officers is growing at most fast food companies. The disparity has doubled at McDonald’s. in the last 10 years, while at the same time the company helped pay for lobbying against minimum-wage increases and sought to quash the kind of unionization efforts that erupted recently on the streets of across America.

There is no easy to the loving wage, but like most of us, the Living Wage philosophy is crap.

In Buddhist teaching, happiness can only be recognized against the background of suffering. Unfortunately, what I have to offer will seem contrite. To be really happy, we should cultivate understanding and compassion. It is by getting in touch with the suffering that understanding and compassion arise. Without such understanding and compassion by current business executives, we will repeat the endless cycle of resentment, anger, fear, despair and suffering; and we will continue to suffer, one generation after another.

Thus, the question of pay disparity will not help us find a breakthrough: oneself versus the others, good versus evil, right versus wrong. A more helpful question would be, “How can I better understand myself and those that work for me?”

There must be a better way.



Categories: Do No Harm, Life Lessons, Social Justice

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