Letter writer: Starvation wages pass on costs to us all

Graphic by Lori Deaton

There is a loud message in the proposed uses of the money raised by Asheville’s bond issues — that the city has fallen far behind in its maintenance work. While a 10 percent increase in our property taxes for 20 years is supposed to clear the backlog, would it not have been better — and cheaper — to have paid an extra 10 percent over the last 20 years and not fallen so far behind ?

Logic, of course, didn’t enter into it. Successive councils seem to have been frightened off such a course by the pitchforks-and-torches mob’s dislike of taxes. It’s strange, though, that while getting so upset by taxes levied by elected representatives who can always be removed at the next election, the mob never utters a peep of protest at the taxes levied on us by faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats hiding within parasitic businesses.

A business that does not pay a living wage is simply ignoring part of the true costs of its operations and leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab — subsidized housing and transport, food banks and the like are all taxes, no more and no less.

Challenged, you might hear one of these businesses whine: “If I didn’t pay starvation wages, I would go out of business.” Then you are insolvent: Give the rest of us a break and shut down, declare bankruptcy and let someone else try. That’s called capitalism.

“I pay starvation wages because I must keep my shareholders happy.” In a world where the average holding period for New York Stock Exchange-traded shares is falling toward 10 seconds, this argument is b.s. because, clearly, shareholders can have nothing to do with the management of the business.

So this argument collapses into the third: “I pay starvation wages because I can.” All markets have two sides, so this is easily addressed. Retail businesses work on very thin margins. If you know a business — a big-box store perhaps, or a restaurant — that is only paying starvation wages, don’t patronize it. If enough people join you, the faceless bureaucrats’ computers will notice, and changes will happen — the store may close, relieving us all of the taxes it levies on us, or ( don’t hold your breath ) they might act like Christians and treat their workers with respect.

— Geoff Kemmish


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19 thoughts on “Letter writer: Starvation wages pass on costs to us all

  1. Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

    Another option is that people can choose to not work for a business that doesn’t pay what they think is enough. If enough people do that, then the business will have to raise wages to attract workers. Simple. It’s in your hands.

    • Lulz

      They don’t have the balls. And I do agree 100%. And in some cases, if the employees simply and in unison walked out, it might cause owners to rethink their positions.

    • luther blissett

      “If enough people do that, then the business will have to raise wages to attract workers. Simple.”

      Yeah, for some reason it doesn’t work like that, especially in the “right to work” south with its weird cultural aversion to unions.

      • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

        In other words, there are people who are willing to work for minimum wage, but no mechanism exists to strong arm, intimidate, and threaten them to refrain. Maybe that has something to do with making “weird” southerners averse to unions.

      • Big Al

        Employees don’t need unions to come together and act in unison against unfair management, especially in small businesses which pay most of those “starvation wages” like wait staff.

        Unions are just another exploitive hand in the workers’ pockets.

        • luther blissett

          “Employees don’t need unions to come together and act in unison against unfair management”

          They just get fired for speaking out.

  2. Lulz

    15 an hour isn’t a living wage.

    And I do agree about your point of using low wages and claiming they couldn’t stay in business. Especially when many companies are turning in huge profits and only a minority are seeing it. There’s no profit sharing, no bonuses, and also many owners have this notion that their employees are lucky to have a job. And then turn around and claim nobody wants to work when they can’t find help. Well I’m sure there are people out there that don’t want to work. But there’s many out there that don’t want to work for what’s being payed as well and so I really can’t blame them. And of course some owners takes advantage of employees who are in dire straights so to speak in order to trap them. Those are the people that are scared to ask for raises because they’ll be told if they don’t like it they can quit. So they’re stuck.

    All in all, not good for employees or the nation.

  3. Phil Williams

    I don’t have a problem with the idea of raising the minimum wage – but assuming that the minimum wage were doubled, as has been proposed. It may benefit the entry level workers in the short term, but what about those trades and professions – say County and municipal Law Enforcement and emergency workers, teachers, etc., who as rookies don’t make $15 an hour even as we speak. What is going to be done for them?

    And how will the folks already making just over $15 per hour – and the newly raised minimum wage folks – and small businesses – going to be affected by the corresponding rise in the cost of living – or the layoffs that will most likely result from a raise to $15 per hour? Many small businesses are already operating on narrow profit margins – and some of their employees could get a pink slip as a result of a mandated minimum wage hike – and those who are left will have to pull the weight, assuming Mom and Pop owners don’t just take early retirement and close up shop.

    There are a number of 2nd, 3rd and 4th order effects of such a plan that must be considered – and – even the proponents of the minimum wage increase must admit that it is going to take much more than a pay increase to fix the problems – housing, medical care, child care, etc. When I was a kid – not that long ago – I knew quite a few people who made minimum wage their entire working life – and managed to live on it….because many things besides the wages were different then!

    • Patrick Conant

      Your comment raises the question – are two living wage jobs at $15 an hour better than 4 at minimum wage of $7.25 an hour? Those laid off may be forced to retrain themselves or find other ways to renter the job market – but at least we have 2 people surviving rather than 4 struggling. At the same time, those two are now doing twice the work – it’s definitely a complex issue.

      • Phil Williams

        Reminds me of an old saying – “Two can live as cheaply as one – if one don’t eat.”

  4. Bright

    I would think that a business owner would be proud to say that she/he pays 15.00+ an hour.! Seems to me that business that can’t pay is in financial trouble, and would be embarrassed to advertise it by low pay…close up if you’re that strapped for cash! (I hear Biltmore is rather cheesy when it comes to pay checks.)

  5. boatrocker

    Spot on Geoff. Now before the real world tells us how we’re wrong, accuses us all of not having a deeper understanding and posts a video from an altright Breitbart disinformation site, the adults can converse together.

    Geoff’s list of excuses employers use to not pay a living wage is so spot on as he debunks each one. My favorite excuse to debunk is the tired Mom n Pop businesses not being to afford to pay a living wage. yes, Virginia, your business is insolvent and you really have no right to a place at the big kids’ table without basic solvency.

    It also goes without saying that some local businesses in town do pay a living wage (and should advertise it loud and proud) and should be frequented.

    Conversely, I know it’s a pipe dream wouldn’t it be nice to know up front which local businesses did not pay a living wage via advertising?
    Like a website, yellowpages listing , painted on the side of a work van, etc “We don’t care- we starve our workers and have a high employee turnover rate, and we pass on the ineptitude and higher costs to you!”

    Oh yea, and the lie about unions being just corrupt machines to bring down hard working small businesses? Last I checked, unions are the reason your children don’t work for 14 hours a day in a dirty, dangerous grimy textile mill like NC had to suffer through over a hundred years ago.
    Funny how the only unions the insane altright types support are you guessed it- police unions which are somehow pure of heart and pristine in ethics.

  6. The Pontificator

    Why stop at $15? Why not make the minimum wage $87/hr? Then everyone will be rich!


    Most of you $15/hr types cannot comprehend or grasp simple facts and laws of economics.

    Such as, for example, the law that states “if you compensate labor at a higher rate than the actual market value of said labor (i.e., the value dictated by the laws of supply and demand for said labor), all you do is create inflation.”

    The government does not, can not, never has, and never will “create wealth by legislative decree.”

  7. Tsalagi

    The placing of money as more important than life, is a disease.
    All that is wrong with inequity could be cured.
    Respect instead of exploitation is a start.
    Thinking of how your actions affect others is another.
    Employers who enrich themselves while paying less
    than living wages deserve to fail. Using people is not ethical.. But of course is common.
    Fools…. Heartless idiotic fools.. All folks deserve to be treated fairly

  8. Unemployment passes on far more costs. The city in particular needs to realize that they will pay for health care regardless of whether they hire an unskilled worker, so hiring doesn’t cost much more than they will pay the unemployed person anyway. Thus the cost of turning away applicants should be in the DPW ditch digging budget, but isn’t.

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