To anyone reading this who think that they or others deserve $15/hour (or $10/hour, or frankly even $5 for some people), in the hopes that it will help you live a better life in some small fashion,
When I got my first job mowing grass for $5 an hour (which the keen-eyed Virginian observer will note as $0.15 *less* than minimum wage of the time), it was possibly the second most exciting thing for me in my short ten or eleven years after getting my first pocket knife, the possible exception being my bike (my brother’s adoption notwithstanding).
I was also frequently happy to help out at my father’s construction sites for the same amount (the last time I did, I believe the North Carolina minimum wage was $6.15, $1.15 more than I was making). You’ll note that neither of these jobs involving spinning razor-sharp metal blades with a noticeable lack of OSHA presence provided any kind of health insurance. Unless you count Dad’s pocket knife removing my splinters as “healthcare”. (Frankly, if I’d gotten my way at the time, some of those splinters might still be there.)
When I was sixteen and found out I’d gotten the job at Food Lion for minimum wage, I was so excited I could barely sleep. Somehow the lack of any benefits whatsoever beyond the paycheck itself (that I knew about or used) failed to depress me. Anyway, I was only injured on the job once. That was due to my own stupidity and I never considered asking Food Lion to pay for my trip to urgent care. The one (small) holiday bonus in my two years there was just icing on the cake, not my due.
Despite the free meals, my next job selling fried chicken at Bojangles excited me less. But it did let me move out of my parent’s house. Admittedly, I was making about $0.25 above minimum wage, but that changed when the North Carolina government, in its wisdom, raised it again. (Before moving on, I am legally obligated to say TANSTAAFL or risk the wrath of libertarians of all stripes due to my reference to “free meals” just now.)
Not once during my tenure at any of those jobs was I ever convinced I’d deserved the amount I was paid. Not once. That is not hyperbole. Now, I was entitled to it; the employers and I had agreed that was the amount I was to be paid. And I earned it (except perhaps for the minimum-wage jobs). But I have never been convinced that I deserved it.
Frankly, this trend has continued and I still think I’m making more than I deserve. That doesn’t mean I’m willing to work for less – market forces have virtually guaranteed a person of my particular skillset will have a certain minimum income – but it is true.
And it certainly doesn’t mean I’ve never wanted more or been dissatisfied with my income. Frankly, the fast food income and the circumstances of my father’s job sites are what pushed me towards software development.
Now there are some details I’m glossing over. I was covered under Medicaid and obviously, my parents provided for my needs until I moved out (back to that in a moment). But neither of those things have any bearing on whether or not I deserved that income. You deserve things based on what you do in exchange (that’s called “earning”), not because you have some need (that’s called “whining”, “theft”, or sometimes “taxation”). “Need” and “deserve” are two completely different things, which are frequently not even related. Hence why a mandated “livable wage” confounds so many liberty-minded individuals and economists.
Quick side note regarding parental support: they did stop supporting me financially pretty much as soon as I moved out. Sure, I came home for a few meals. And during my last year at college (not a typo… I’ll never live in an apartment again) I probably washed about a dozen loads of laundry at their house (maybe, what, $40 worth?). And my mother (*without* any request or prompting from me) did buy me a few articles of clothing at times. But the support as a whole stopped. Similarly, my parents probably could’ve afforded to buy me a (albeit very cheap) car when I was sixteen. But they never offered and I never asked. I waited until I had the right ballpark amount and then *borrowed* a few hundred dollars from them – short-term – to buy my own.
This is not meant as a criticism of people who continue receiving support for a few years. I mean, my parents have less money than most to give in the first place and I did receive a few thousand dollars a year in financial aid (above and beyond school costs) through FAFSA and my grandparents. And different people have varying degrees of ability. Nor is it meant as a criticism against those who get free stuff. My own sister inherited “her” car from her namesake and it has never bothered me. (Side note: that’s another pet peeve of mine and one of the few stated opinions of Louis C.K. that I support – how much someone else has should have no bearing on your own contentment or sense of entitlement.)
But the point is that self-sufficiency is a worthy goal that should be sought even before it becomes necessary.
Now I’m not trying to brag or build myself up as something special. I was a whiny kid who shirked his chores and spent hours (and hours and hours and hours) reading sci-fi and playing video games. I screamed bloody murder when I got a staple in my thumb and refused to talk to Dad for hours after he had the audacity to grab my hand and pull it out. I was 13. I was reprimanded multiple times at my jobs for being too casual or not greeting customers with enough forced cheerfulness. I thought rollerblading outside on a hilly sidewalk was a good idea and I’ve got a face to match. (I was 19.) I even thought deleting some Windows system files was a good way to save hard drive space as a teenager. And one time I tried to remove Internet Explorer from Windows, almost bricking my computer in the process.
I even once thought it’d be a good idea to jump off the riding lawn mower and try to race it. An idea that predictably ended with a tree-shattered bumper 20 yards from the driveway I’d been driving down. If you want more of these stories, just ask my sisters. I’d recommend some popcorn and a comfortable chair because they’ll keep you busy for a few hours. Anna’s probably disappointed I didn’t mention my alleged momentary forgetfulness that gravity is a thing.
But the point is that you shouldn’t think of what you – or anyone else – “deserves.” Focus instead on what you can *earn* and *do* and on accepting responsibility for your own self and actions. (That last anecdote cost me four or five hours worth of pay at my lawn-mowing job and a two-hour trip for a replacement part while my sisters got to go swimming. Two hours of car time before I’d ever owned a Game Boy or conceived of smartphones.) Make use of the undeserved free stuff you get (presents, financial aid, etc.), but don’t ever take it as your due.
I’m just sick and tired of hearing about how minimum wage workers “deserve” this or that. No, they don’t. They deserve not to be abused by their employers. And they’re entitled to make their own choices. But they don’t deserve one cent that someone else doesn’t choose to give them, except as reparations for some abuse or infringement.
Quit whining, and get to work. If you support this $15 (or some variation) on others’ behalf, tell them to get to work. If they legitimately can’t, then maybe help them out or help them find someone who can. But, for the love of all that is good in the world, stop whining. You are better off than 90% of the world’s living population and 99.9% of the world’s historical population. They would be amazed at the sort of things we throw away (not even “we” meaning Americans – just “we” meaning young, often “poor” Americans who re-use paper cups or use coats as blankets). And they would be dumbstruck by your complaints, in your circumstances. And the same goes for almost every American, employed or otherwise.
P.S. Please, if you must support Bernie Sanders, find some better reason for it than the free services and goods he’s promising to you or others.
For the Christians among you, here are some relevant Bible verses, from the New International Version:
First, a few select verses:
Proverbs 6:10-11 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest- and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.
Proverbs 11:7 Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.
Proverbs 16:26 The appetite of laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on. (The Bible seems to frown upon the idea of a guaranteed minimum lifestyle.)
Proverbs 18:9 One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys. (No middle ground here.)
Proverbs 22:13 The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” (“No one’s hiring” “It’s the wrong time of year.” “Employers just don’t want me because I’m young, female, inexperienced, [insert race here], skinny, and/or fat”)
Proverbs 28:19 Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.
Lamentations 3:27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.