To Raise or Not Raise the Minimum Wage

Minimum Wage 1

I do not believe that raising the minimum wage solves the problem. I have outlined my thoughts on this subject in many blog entries, including this one. For more, just search “Minimum Wage” in the search box above. There are three main thoughts that this Facebook Meme triggered:

Raising the minimum wage artificially by government action does not work in the end. It tries to solve a problem with a short-term solution. At the end, unforeseen consequences just move the problem around to another area. Let me give you an example in California. We have had a system where low-income families have been receiving assistance for their childcare from the government for decades. A single mom working at Walmart for minimum wage does not make enough money to pay to have her children in childcare while she works. The government has been assisting that mom with subsidized childcare programs. Philosophically you may ask how that is the public’s problem? If mom has children and not enough education to get a job that pays a decent wage, that’s her problem. Why should taxpayers assist her? The answer is a moral one: The government is there to protect the children. Why do we make a child pay for the mistakes of a parent? What fault of the child is it that their parents do not know how to arrange their lives? So we provide quality education by putting them into quality childcare, while the parent finds a way out of this situation. This has been proven overall successful. You may differ with me, but that’s the argument. However, here is how this relates to this minimum wage discussion:

When the minimum wage was raised, and these parents made more money all of a sudden, they no longer qualified for subsidized childcare. So now they have to pay for their own childcare. But their raises were not enough to cover them. So now parents on that fringe had to quit their jobs, stay home with their children, draw on other welfare (food stamps, etc.) while they are not working productively, and the children lost the quality care and education. The children pay. And the public pays – just through a different channel.

States like Idaho, Oklahoma and Alabama, as quoted in the meme, that banned their cities from raising the minimum wage, are acting out of protectionist fear. The governments of these states obviously buy into my argument above that raising the minimum wage does not work in the end. So they don’t do it. However, then they muck with the system in their own way by preventing their cities to act on their own. This is protectionist behavior, and it also will have its own unintended consequences.

The real solution to this is to let the people, the market decide. If the wage that Walmart pays is too little, just DON’T WORK THERE. Find another job that pays more. If Walmart can’t find people willing to work for what they pay, they will raise their pay all on their own. That’s how the market works. This argument is easily made but difficult to put into practice. The problem is that many people who take these jobs simply do not have the education needed for higher-paying-jobs. That may be because their parents could not afford better care and education for them when they were children.

And that brings us right back to education, which starts at birth. The better we educate our people, the better off our society. China has about 60 more school days a year than the U.S. does. More is not always better, but you can see the intent. Early education for our children is paramount to the success of our society in the long run. It’s not about jobs today, it’s about jobs 20 years from now.

And that’s what I have to say about raising the minimum wage today.

Why Early Education is Important

Last week I had the good fortune and honor to be in the audience when the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, addressed a roomful of early education professionals. It was refreshing to hear a cabinet-level person talk about the federal government’s commitment to early education.

Early education in the United States has been a stepchild program for many decades. Many people view it as babysitting. This has kept salaries for preschool teachers and daycare workers low, and it has kept adequate funding both at the state and federal level to a minimum. This has been a very misguided strategy and it has helped lead to the decline of our educational system in general, and an erosion of our competitiveness with the rest of the world. If we don’t teach our kids when they are little, they never learn how to learn, they perform poorer in high school, they don’t go to college, and all too often they end up in prison.

Brain research has shown that an infant forms about 700 neural connections a second. In a ten-hour day, that makes over 25 million new connections. So if you drop your baby off at daycare at 7:00 in the morning and pick him up at 5:00 in the afternoon, you are carrying 25 million more connections home than you dropped off.

Have those connections been formed by cognitive stimulation that a professional educator can provide? Or did your baby sit in some room all day, staring at the compelling distractions and commercials on a television screen?

Research also has found that educational level and income of parents are mirrored by their children’s performance in school. Children growing up in poorer households tend to do more poorly in school. Children of richer parents do better.

This is a powerful reason why our nation should be investing heavily in its human infrastructure. The children born today will be our CEOs, our politicians, and our teacher in 40 years. Will they be competitive with those in China? It costs some $8,000 a year to pay for a child in preschool. It costs society $50,000 a year to support a single prisoner. What is the better investment?

I often hear the conservative argument that we should not subsidize early education because it just encourages deadbeat people to “breed” more at the expense of the rest of us. To this I ask the question: Is it the child’s fault that the parent was a deadbeat, or a single teen mother, or a drug addict? Of course not. The child was simply not lucky enough to be born as the child of a rich or educated person.

If you count the 25% of the brightest and most successful children in China, the number is larger than all the children we have. If we want to be competitive with China in this century, we cannot “waste” a single child, a single brain, a single day of 25 million more neural connections.

Early education is not just babysitting. It’s the foundation of the health of our nation, the basis upon which our economy will rest 20 years hence, and the prerequisite for the tax base that will support us when we are old. Early education is really important.







Toys R Us and Corporate Stewardship

This is an actual Toys R Us commercial that stirred up sufficient outrage with parents and educators that the company apparently pulled it from the market.

I believe it was not the company’s intention to denigrate nature education and ridicule the efforts of tens of thousands of educators in schools, childcare centers and early education professionals by portraying their quest as boring and not worthy or valuable.

I am not saying that children don’t need toys, and I am not saying that Toys R Us is evil or misguided. It’s a big box store like all others, and it panders to our thirst for commercial extravaganza.

This commercial shows how the profit motives of a major corporation does not align with those of a society in general. The motive of the corporation is to sell its product, at a profit, and win against the competition. In retail, that is by swaying the hearts of the consumers and associate happiness with the product and drudgery and boredom with the competition.

In this case, the competition is nature education. There is no way a young child can see this ad and not take away that going to the forest is boring, forest rangers and naturalists are dry and dull, but a toy store is fascinating and exiting in comparison.

Nature was the only thing we had until things changed about a hundred years ago, and considering the course we’re going, nature may be the only thing we will have in the not too distant future, unless we start educating our young to appreciate nature, its beauty and complexity, and its value to every human on the planet.

Education starts with early education. Children need to learn what is really important in life, and they need to learn it early, so they can be responsible adults. We need more early educators and nature education programs. We need trained park rangers and nature interpreters who not only have a passion for nature, but who have training in education so they don’t appear like the “boring” actor in this Toys R Us video, but as vibrant and excited individuals that children want to spend time with.

Just like oil companies don’t have an incentive to keep the environment safe, clean and healthy, just as coal companies don’t have an incentive to keep the air clean, just as insurance companies don’t have an incentive to keep us healthy, just as drug companies don’t have an incentive to actually cure us, so do toy companies have no interest in educating our children.

This is the ugly underbelly of the free market. The free market does not have the best interest of the consumer in mind.

What is the alternative?

Education in mathematics, science, philosophy, nature, art, linguistics and literature. The more educated a society is, the more educated its individuals are, the better a chance that society has to do what’s right and best for it, and to see when commercialism goes way wrong.

Toys R Us went massively wrong with this ad, and I am sure they know it now, admission or not, but one bit of damage is done to some young minds, and to the company’s image in my mind.