The Cost of Poverty and the Minimum Wage

workingpoorIn the raging national debate over President Obama’s plan to raise the national minimum wage to $9 over the next several years, one factor seems to have been consistently overlooked. Being poor takes huge gobs of time and creates huge amounts of stress. Employers whose workers are at or below poverty lines pay a significant amount of money in lost productivity and time as a result. Give these workers a decent living wage (and minimum wage, even if and when it reaches $9/hr. won’t come close to that), and watch productivity and profits go up.

I know first-hand how much time it takes for people who are dependent, in whole or in part, on the government for part of their bare subsistence to comply with regulations, file reports, appear for inconveniently scheduled appointments, and deal with health crises. I’ve had to do that twice in my life. Two members of my family are currently below poverty line thanks to unemployment.

If your daughter needs to see a doctor and the doctor is assigned by the government, you take her when she can get an appointment, whether or not it’s convenient for you or your employer. When your case worker decides that the rules mandate an in-person meeting to review your situation, he or she doesn’t generally have the luxury of worrying about whether you’re scheduled to work at your (probably part-time) job at the time of the appointment.

And if you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, you have to spend inordinate amounts of time on the telephone with creditors explaining that, while you’d really love to be able to make this month’s phone or utility bill payment, your son broke his arm and the ER costs (you don’t have a doctor, let alone one on call) ate up your entire paycheck. For three weeks.

In agreeing to pay people well enough to keep them out of poverty, employers would reap significant savings that are probably invisible at the moment.

Add that to the dozens of other sound economic reasons for increasing the minimum wage and I have a difficult time understanding what real concern motivates its opponents.

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