Letter: Barely alive, making $7.25

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Graphic by Lori Deaton

Just Economics adjusted its livable wage for Asheville to $13 in 2017, while many in our city’s booming service and hospitality industry are scrounging by at $7.25 an hour. Thanks to a “pre-emption law,” passed in 2013 by a majority white, Republican-controlled General Assembly, raising the minimum wage on a municipal level across the state of North Carolina is barred. This means even in Asheville, where the cost of living is significantly higher than other cities of North Carolina, as a municipality, we are unable to pass legislation for the people in our community to earn what they need to survive.

Let’s talk about what this means. In a small city with newly constructed high-rise hotels and condominiums flooding in to house the tourists, and city walkers flowing in and out of boutiques and breweries, our own community cannot survive. Asheville citizens are being pushed out of the city for lack of being able to compete with outside money and Airbnb properties. [It’s] a city touting itself as progressive, yet what is progressive about poverty wages and reliance on a tourist economy?

If Asheville wants to be serious about being progressive, about showing up for the members of our community and not just those passing through for the weekend, we need to push Raleigh to overturn the pre-emption law. We need to push for a living wage in Asheville and for all of North Carolina.

— Trisha Kretzer
Asheville

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20 thoughts on “Letter: Barely alive, making $7.25

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    minimum wage should not affect you long term as you gain experience in your work and get raises…minimum wage is not meant to be all you need … it’s meant to inspire you to get beyond it with your hard work and employer reward…

  2. Lulz

    LOL and oh, employers thank you too. Instead of making them compete for labor, they make you compete for their low paying jobs.

  3. Stan Hawkins

    You raise an important topic, and aspiring to earn more income is certainly a worthy goal. But, who or what is “really” standing in the way of you achieving your goals?

    For example, check out the legislative priorities of this particular group representing the hospitality industry:

    https://www.ncrla.org/legislative-priorities/

    As you can see, this group is opposed to an increase in the minimum wage in North Carolina. Perhaps you can poll the members of this group, check out their ethnicity if you like, and ask them why they are opposed to your goals?

    With respect, It is easy to point the finger at Raleigh and apply certain, how should I say, derogatory labels at a group of people. But, who really is standing in the way of a vibrant diversified economy that creates competition among employers for quality higher paying jobs?

    The details to the answer to this question will most likely provide you with a road map to take to Asheville City Council, or to the voting booth if you don’t like their answers. I wish you success and good luck.

  4. jason

    It’s a popular past time in Asheville to blame others for bad decisions, poor work ethic or general feeling of entitlement. No business owner should be made to pay $13/hr for menial tasks. The level of education, skill and responsibility dictates the level of pay…not just holding down a job. If you are unhappy with your level of pay, you need to take a long hard look into the mirror and make some tough decisions and make steps to better your self through education, job training and career building. And yes, this will mean sacrificing your time and energy.

    • luther blissett

      “If you are unhappy with your level of pay, you need to take a long hard look into the mirror and make some tough decisions and make steps to better your self through education, job training and career building.”

      The minimum wage was at its highest, adjusted for inflation, in 1968. Which is why you hear so many white Boomers say that when they did minimum wage jobs, it was fine. (They also had the option of union jobs or cheap college and grew up in houses with subsidized mortgages.)

      Once again, look at the graphs on wage stagnation: they apply right through the middle class, regardless of level of education, skill and responsibility. When teachers are working second jobs, you can’t get away with pontificating about “poor work ethic”. The gains from productivity and efficiency have been siphoned off by the ultra-rich.

      Remember when employers accepted that they needed to train their workforces while paying them? Now you have to pay for your training — creating a lucrative opportunity for for-profit colleges — before you apply.

    • Johnny to the A

      “If you are unhappy with your level of pay, you need to take a long hard look into the mirror and make some tough decisions and make steps to better your self through education, job training and career building. ”

      Jason – You must not be from or reside in Asheville. This sort of common sense is only found elsewhere.

      • luther blissett

        This is guff. The statistics on social mobility are clear. No amount of training or education makes up for: a) having been born a white person in America during the Baby Boom years; b) being a direct descendant and beneficiary of that cohort through access to education and inherited capital.

        • Johnny to the A

          The modern workforce has endless examples of individuals who have risen above adversity including what some would describe as ethnic adversity.

          If inherited capital is so great why do so many white descendants of Baby Boomers have student debt?

          Your statistics didn’t mention this or possibly you distort them to your mantra de jour for the (self) oppressed?

          • luther blissett

            As the line goes, the plural of anecdote isn’t data. Economic mobility has stalled since the 1970s both in terms of income shifts over the course of a person’s life, and in terms of intergenerational mobility, which is a better indicator of whether individual efforts to improve your fortunes from adverse or humble origins are likely to succeed. (The alternative hypothesis is to believe that Americans as a whole have a much worse work ethic than, say, Canadians.)

            http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/us-social-mobility-problem

            The issued of student debt is multi-faceted, but it’s tied to the inflated role of credentials in work, even though the cost of obtaining those credentials doesn’t necessarily pay for itself: a job that once required a high-school diploma now demands a degree, a job for graduates now requires a master’s, a professional job now requires additional certification and specialization. At the same time, inherited capital still provides a foundation for college tuition, business loans, mortgage deposits and other hand-ups. The main question as middle-class Boomers age is whether intergenerational capital is going to be sucked up by the cost of nursing home care.

            My point is that extra shifts or night classes provide much less economic benefit than having had your grandfather obtain a subsidized GI Bill mortgage in 1950.

  5. Phillip Williams

    Not saying that raising the minimum wage is a bad thing, but I have a big question about the many proposals and demands to raise it to $15 per hour. That would equate to an annual salary of $31,200 per year based on a working year of 2,080 hours (52 weeks @ 40 hrs per week).

    So suppose that all entry level workers in every type of job who currently make minimum wage are raised to $15 per hour. They will have gotten a 100% increase in their pay. Now consider all of the people who currently make right at or a little over $15 per hour. What about them?

    Do you $15 per hour advocates really and truly believe that much of anyone else in the world of work is going to get a similar raise in their pay.

    I don’t believe they will. I believe that most private employers will do only what they have to do in order to comply with the law. I also believe that the many, many public sector workers will get nothing out of it. Cities, counties and States are strapped for cash as it is – I do not see garbage collectors, sewer workers, maintenance people, clerks, security guards, etc getting much more than they currently make – so wow – these folks can now brag to everyone that they are making minimum wage or just a bit over it.

    Do you honestly not think that employers who are forced to double the salaries of their entry-level workforce will not pass that cost on to consumers – including those who didn’t get a raise?

    Do you reckon the mom & pop business that once employed 4 kids at $7.25 per hour will now be able to stand keeping them all on for $15 per hour?? Somehow I think that many “beneficiaries” of this well-intentioned demand will get a pink slip rather than a raise.

    It might be prudent to consider the 2nd, 3rd and 4th order effects of a double-the-minimum-wage mandate on the rest of the economy – I don’t claim to be an economist, so would appreciate it if someone could explain how doubling the minimum wage is going to actually help all that many people.

    • Peter Robbins

      Here’s one economist with three opinions:
      https://publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/live/news/2303-effects-of-the-15-minimum-wage-in-seattle/for-students/blog/news.php.

      And three of his friends:
      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/01/11/what-does-a-15-minimum-wage-do-to-the-economy-economists-are-starting-to-find-out/?utm_term=.8d4c1c695d49.

      The best way to get the data we need to assess the effects of minimum-wage increases is to give local governments the authority to experiment (perhaps on a phased-in basis) and monitor the results. Much as I hate to agree with anyone, I think that’s the letter writer’s point.

    • luther blissett

      “the mom & pop business that once employed 4 kids at $7.25 per hour”

      This continues to fall into the sentimental trap of thinking that minimum and low-wage jobs are kids’ jobs. The CNA changing adult diapers at the nursing home is getting maybe $10/hr.

      “It might be prudent to consider the 2nd, 3rd and 4th order effects of a double-the-minimum-wage mandate on the rest of the economy”

      We’re already dealing with the 5th, 6th and 7th order effects of economic policies that siphon ever more wealth to the already-rich and offload ever-greater costs to those who earn a wage.

      • Phillip Williams

        Mr. Blissett, you pick at words here and there and don’t attempt to answer the questions that I asked. So let’s say the family-owned nursing home that employs 15 CNAs at $10 per hour – and suddenly they all get $15 – that is still a respectable raise. What about their receptionist, accounting clerk, maintenance supervisor – even a couple of senior CNAs who were getting 15 or 16 bucks an hour? Are they all going to get a $5 an hour increase? Probably not. But many employees will now be making the minimum wage or not far above it.

        And there is a psychological element to consider – somehow the old “job satisfaction” idea might get a little messed up when this adult who takes care of old and disabled people considers that he or she now makes the same wage as the person making burgers at McDonald’s.

        And the effects that benefit the rich – whatever order they belong to – is a 100% rise in the minimum wage going to fix that? If so, how??

        Like I said, I am not an economist and am NOT making a statement – I was asking a question – or a couple of questions. And I will make a guess rather than a statement here by saying that I THINK it will take more than an increase in the minimum wage to address the economic and societal issues everyone is facing – in fact, such an increase – on its own – however well-intentioned – may create more issues than it solves.

        I am not making an excuse for nothing to be done, but just saying it needs to be thought out and more than just the wage increase must be considered.

        • luther blissett

          Neel Kashkari (president of the Minneapolis Fed) has some interesting comments about this today, based on a WSJ piece on the supposed “worker shortage”. He points out that businesses accept increases in the price of raw materials or other inputs as the cost of doing business: not necessarily comfortably, because margins suffer, but it doesn’t provoke the same anxiety of having to pay higher wages:

          “There’s something very emotional for firms about wages. Paying more for oil, or steel, or corn is no big deal. That’s just the market. But if they can’t find workers at the wages they are used to paying, that’s a historic worker shortage.”

          https://twitter.com/neelkashkari/status/986227456662220800

          Think of the minimum wage more as an equivalent to child labor laws or safety regulations. It sets a floor for doing business and takes millions of wage-earners out of the bracket where they’re reliant upon Medicaid, SNAP or the EITC. It is a substitute for the bargaining power that low-wage earners lack. It acts against the iron law of wages.

          The question about differential wages between entry- and mid-level positions is fair, but that’s more indicative of wage stagnation across the board. Addressing that requires, as you suggest, a broader rethink of economic and tax policy that has favored capital over labor for decades. My point is that tax cuts that benefit the already-rich (with a few scraps for the middle class) never provoke the same calls for caution and restraint that come from suggesting a minimum wage of $10/hr.

          • Phillip Williams

            Fair enough – that is more of what I was wondering about, and hadn’t seen many writings or opinions addressing the situation of those already making close to the proposed minimum.
            And yes, it does seem unfortunately true in most industries and sectors – the emphasis for spending on infrastructure and raw material seems to roll with the punches, but a meaningful improvement in wages is like pulling a tooth.

            I have witnessed the same thing in the military for years – spending millions on tearing down perfectly serviceable buildings and erecting new ones but always looking for ways to get rid of people and “do more with less” – or to cut off/reduce benefits, etc….

  6. Peter Robbins

    Anyone who thinks $7.25 an hour is a sufficient wage should live on it for a year. If he’s right, no harm done. If he’s wrong, he won’t make that mistake again.

  7. Jason

    Asheville’s “progressiveness” is all a marketing ploy…. Ask for a fair wage and SOUTHERN WHITES SAY you’re an entitled liberal and to just accept the misfortune god has bestowed upon you; maybe tell you to work hard enough “like they did”…

  8. Tothedogs

    Not sure who you work for at this wage, but plenty of local businesses pay more than that, you just need to seek those employers out. I work third shift at ingles and make $11/hour. There are shops downtown that pay $10 and up. Not saying that’s much better than minimum wage, since I used to make much more in my professional field (graphics and art direction), but if the work isn’t here what can you do? Beyond that, there are myriad ways to supplement one’s income, be it selling online with eBay, etsy, etc. or things like Uber, Airbnb to name just a few. It’s a very different world today, but there are still opportunities to make a decent living. I don’t think wages will ever be what they once were in relation to cost of living, since technology is rapidly eliminating the need for human labor. Good luck!

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