By John F. Di Leo -
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says he will live on $79 this week.. in a showcase for his call to raise the state’s minimum wage to a nice round ten dollars per hour… and he thinks that will help his campaign.
Now, we can certainly grant that it’s a clever bit of showmanship – a governor being paid $177,000/year can hire an accountant to estimate the after-tax, after-housing funds of a “typical minimum wage worker” and then profess to be living on that amount for a week. He can hope that it showcases the need he imagines for poor people to have another four years of his “leadership,” instead of four years of someone else, anyone else (as the voters appear to currently prefer, by some 13 points in fact, if the polls are to be believed).
So he had his accountants work up this little fiction experiment – hmm, I wonder if that was government accountants on the taxpayers’ dime, working on this campaign ploy in a state known for selective prosecution of such shenanigans – and he announced that the magic number is $79 after housing and taxes.
This may, of course, be a bit like the famous “hunger strike ploy” of political activists, where you don’t eat while the cameras are on, and then eat at night when the reporters go home.
But it may also be perfectly serious, an opportunity to turn a quick crash diet into a campaign tool, to help shed a few pounds in an effort to look fit for the cameras in time for the next debate. Even so, however, it’s not real, because it can’t be.
A Governor’s Circumstances
Our governors have the option of living in a beautiful mansion in Springfield, designed by John Murray Van Osdel and built in 1855. They don’t HAVE to live there, however. Republican Governor Jim Edgar was the only one to make it his main residence in recent decades; most Illinois governors live in their own Chicagoland houses or apartments, and only live in Springfield when they absolutely have to.
Might it say something about our governors that they campaign so hard to get the job of First Man in our state capital, then spend as much time as possible three hours away in Chicago? And that they’d rather live somewhere else at their own expense than in a beautiful Italianate mansion that’s provided to them for free?
Just as the standard of living, and the conditions of living, are different in the two cities, so do is the relationship of that $79 on non-housing-related spending. If the governor chose to hang out in Springfield, he could get more for his entertainment dollar, his food dollar, his service dollar, in Springfield than he’ll get in Chicago. And yet he chooses Chicago for some 300 days a year, despite its much more expensive cost of living.
Why is Chicago so much more expensive? It’s a number of things… much higher property taxes and sales taxes… every business must pay much higher business licensing fees (some under the table, in the most corrupt precincts)… higher insurance rates because of the much greater risk of crime… much bigger city, township and county government spending, because of the much bigger government up there.
If the governor cares about helping the low wage worker get more for his hard-earned dollar, perhaps he might tackle some of those issues. Helping fight crime, and cutting government taxes and fees, would make it a more bearable state, no matter how little a worker is paid. Reducing Chicago’s crime level alone would cut the cost of people’s auto insurance and homeowner’s insurance by several hundred dollars a year.
But Governor Quinn is a Democrat, and as we all know, fighting crime, cutting taxes, and reducing the burden of government in general, just isn’t what they do.
The Minimum Wage and the Disappearing Worker
Governor Quinn’s support of a minimum wage increase puts him in solid lockstep with his Democrat Party, but, as we should all know by now, it puts him at odds with virtually any fair student of economics. We have a severe unemployment problem in the United States, worse in Illinois than most anywhere else, with Chicago tied for last place, depending on how you measure it. Illinois’ a lousy place to look for a job; several points worse than Wisconsin to our north, for example. We need more jobs, not fewer.
Every economist – and every sociologist, too – knows the importance of those early jobs – the first couple of part-time, entry level jobs at which you’re paid the minimum wage. File clerk in an office, cashier at a clothing store, janitorial assistant in a factory, fry cook at a fast food place. You don’t stay in these jobs, if there are better jobs to move up to… but you need that first job as the first rung on your personal ladder of success.
Now imagine – to use round numbers – that you manage a fast food place, and you need ten people to run it right. Considering your typical volume, length of lines, keeping it clean, the prices the market will bear, your overhead and margin needs, you can just afford $80 per hour for salaries. You can hire those ten people at $8 per hour right now.
What do you do if the government mandates that you pay them $10 per hour? If you only have $80 per hour to split up, and you can no longer pay $8, you don’t have a lot of options, do you?
You can’t raise your prices in this eight-year-old recession, or you’ll lose customers. You can’t just cut something else; healthcare is going up by leaps and bounds since the passage of obamacare, not down… taxes keep going up (Quinn has already hiked your taxes by over 40% since he took office)… your raw materials cost is going up, since ethanol mandates have caused food costs to skyrocket, even here in the agricultural Midwest.
Your salary pool is $80, and you have ten people who now have to be paid $10/hour each. The only thing you can do is let two of them go; you have no other choice.
What have we done for the other eight workers, who should only be in this minimum wage job a few months anyway? We’ve given them another $2 per hour. Maybe we’ve caused them to have a couple hundred dollars each, total, during those few months when they have this temporary job at this pay level, before moving up from the minimum wage world into a career path.
But what have we done to the other two workers, the ones that have now been fired? Or perhaps more to the point, what have we done to that fifth of the employee pool, who would have had a chance at the old wage rate, but now have no chance of getting a job at the new wage rate? What damage have we done to those marginal employees, the ones who have now lost their first entry level job, or who will be unable to get an entry level job? Many of these people – not all, but many – are now doomed for life to be outside the reach of the American Dream. You need that first step on the ladder in order to reach the next one, and the next one, and the next one. If we deny them that starting point, we consign them to the clutches of the welfare state.
Remember, we’re not just talking about one fast food place. A statewide increase in the mandatory minimum wage will result in a massive loss of entry level jobs, in the tens of thousands, across the state. And that’s just the beginning. Illinois is already terribly inhospitable for employers. Illinois is bleeding jobs as it is. A minimum wage hike will just accelerate that loss.
If the governor cares about helping the worker be paid more – over the course of his or her career – he could accomplish a great deal by cutting the minimum wage, rather than raising it. A lower minimum wage would create new opportunities for hiring. People who can’t get a better job because they have nothing on their resume yet would finally have that first job on the resume. A minimum wage job isn’t for the money, it’s for the experience. A cut in the wage would cause a boom in experience, and THAT’S what Illinois’ workers – especially Illinois’ lowest-class, most struggling, working poor – need most. They don’t need another two dollars an hour now. They need that first rung on the ladder to success.
But Governor Quinn is a Democrat politician, and as we all know, they count on the votes of the poor. The Democratic Party doesn’t benefit so well when the poor start to rise in their careers, and start their own small businesses and become independent. So they’ll happily trade away their constituents’ potential for a prosperous future, to deliver two dollars you can hold in your hand today, and maybe encourage them to cast another unwise vote in November to show their appreciation.
A Haunting Imagery
And now we come to the part of the essay that should be scariest of all: noticing Governor Quinn’s age, in the context of his little stunt.
Governor Pat Quinn is 65 years old, and at a time in life when we would all like to retire, he’s seeking the approval of the voters for another four year term in office. That’s fine, as far as it goes…
But it brings to mind a haunting image, doesn’t it, when we think about his little minimum wage game? The minimum wage is for young people, for new hires, just entering the workforce. It’s for the first job at the factory, the first job at the store, the first job at the restaurant.
It’s not for grown men with law degrees from Northwestern and bachelors’ degrees from Georgetown. It’s not for adults with a career of public and private jobs behind them. The very idea of a 65-year-old professional having to live on the minimum wage for a week is outrageous in America, because it can’t possibly happen; with an adult’s resume, if he wants work, he should be able to snap his fingers and name his price.
But the facts are different in Obama’s America of 2014 A.D., aren’t they?
As this economy has contracted for the past eight years – yes, it’s been contracting since the Democrats won the House of Representatives in 2006; we’ve never REALLY pulled out of this persistent recession – jobs have disappeared at an alarming rate. Across the nation, we have jobs for tens of thousands fewer buyers, tens of thousands fewer salesmen, tens of thousands fewer accountants, tens of thousands fewer of practically every other profession. And when you look at the blue collar world, it’s far worse; we have jobs for millions fewer foremen and production managers, millions fewer assembly line workers.
Today, we ARE likely to see a 65 year old man working a minimum-wage job, at a fast food place, a Wal-Mart, a Lowe’s. It is possible, though it shouldn’t be. These are people with careers, people with accomplishments, people with skills. People who SHOULD be in demand, in the professions at which they excel… but the Democrat policies of the past fifty years have driven their jobs out of the country or out of existence.
If the governor cares about the grown-ups working minimum-wage jobs – if he really, truly cares about their well-being and their potential for climbing out of the hell that this Obama jobs depression has caused them to live – then it’s not hard to see what we would really be doing.
Governor Quinn COULD be fast-tracking approvals for new factories, new oil and gas drilling, new businesses. He COULD be using his executive authority to slash the red tape of a bureaucratic state government to make the state less repulsive to investors and entrepreneurs. He COULD be calling for an immediate and massive CUT to the state’s corporate income tax, the state’s personal income tax, and every other confiscatory fee collection that this thieving state government imposes on its struggling private sector. He COULD be trying to make Illinois an economic growth engine, creating the jobs that Illinois’ suffering residents so desperately need.
But Governor Quinn is a Democratic politician. He can’t advocate pro-growth, prosperity-creating policies. He can’t campaign for anything that would create real opportunities for people to climb out of poverty and breathe freely of the sweet aroma of the American Dream. He’d be thrown out of his party.
So he's spending one week, as a 65-year-old man, forced to work a minimum wage job because of the economic destruction that his party has caused, dependent on government to help him make ends meet. Now, THAT'S the modern Democratic politician, living the dream.
Copyright 2014 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is an international trade compliance lecturer and consultant. A former spokesman for the Illinois Small Business Men’s Association, past president of the Ethnic American Council, and a onetime Milwaukee County Republican Party Chairman, he has now been a recovering politician for over seventeen years (though, like any addiction, you’re never really cured).
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