A Living Wage
Is A Strong Motivation To Work Hard
My Dad drummed a strong work ethic into us from an early age.
Show up early and stay a little late.
Engage! Don’t stand around waiting for someone else to do the job.
Don’t wait to be told what to do. Find what needs to be done and do it.
People who don’t work, he complained, are lazy and they’re also the ones who inevitably get into trouble.
That’s a brief summary of his ideas and they’re generally good ones to live by. Bottom line? Work is a good thing and the Bible agrees but not only was he too job/boss centric, his droning made it seem more like a Chain Gang than an opportunity.
As a young impressionable kid, I absorbed it all.
I guess calling it a job is a bit of a stretch but I started working at the age of 12. It was only on Saturdays and the occasional holiday but it was work.
I got paid by the hour. Not much but I got paid.
My place of “employment” was a motel along the Arlington Expressway in Jacksonville, FL. Since my mom worked in the office, it was easy for me to get signed on. Since I worked hard, it was easy to stay employed.
Whatever was needed, I was asked to do and I did a little bit of everything from the garden to the kitchen and several things in between. I remember once cleaning out the walk-in fridge for the restaurant. A very unpleasant job but I did it without hesitation.
That was just the start of my working career.
There’s not enough space to share all my work experiences even from my school days but one more is worth noting. My Dad was the controller for a chain of stores in our home town and he had me working there many Saturdays during school and full time during the summer break.
Pay was by the hour. You punched in and out each workday and my Dad took a hard line on the time clock. If you were one minute late, you were docked fifteen minutes of pay.
If you worked a little over, you got nothing extra. It was expected.
That was how he was taught, he lived by that rule at work, and he passed the ethic on to his offspring.
I had many jobs in my life, especially when I was younger but I’ve never been fired. When I got tired of one job, I resigned and found another. I’ve never been without a job.
I’ve never been fired, I’ve never been without work and I’ve never been on unemployment.
While I’m happy to say that, I have to admit that my approach to employment was more knee-jerk than deliberate. I didn’t think about the kind of work that suited my abilities. I didn’t consider the kind of employer I wanted to work for or how a job might affect my financial security.
Working was the whole point. Working is what I had to do. All other considerations were superfluous. Just work.
When one job ended, I took the next available job immediately. And I worked. I can’t say I made the best decisions about jobs but I never sat around doing nothing.
I’ve lived under the shadow of my Dad’s influence my entire life but now, in my later years, I would like to revisit a few ideas that accompany such thinking, not to suggest he was entirely wrong but to add a few dimensions he left out.
The Pandemic’s Affect On The Job Market
Or maybe I should say on the attitude of those in the market.
Over nine million people lost their jobs during the pandemic and another 40 million were temporarily laid off or had their hours reduced.
Larger companies have managed to recover from the fallout but small businesses are still struggling largely because workers moved on to bigger companies with higher pay scales and better benefits.
That makes sense. Who doesn’t want a bit more money in the pocket at the end of a pay period?
That doesn’t mean people aren’t working. It means they are working elsewhere.
The complaint, however, because small businesses are struggling to get back to normal, is people don’t want to work anymore. They weren’t great workers to begin with and they learned to sit around doing nothing during the pandemic.
I’m sure that applies to a few individuals but does that really explain why so many small businesses are struggling.
Maybe there’s another explanation. Maybe people really do want to work but they don’t want to work for nothing.
Unfortunately, small businesses are notorious for feeding the owner and his or her family well but leaving everyone else dangling.
The Worst Hit Industries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statics every major industry suffered job losses during the pandemic but “the leisure and hospitality industry suffered the greatest.”
They’ve suffered the longest too.
According to Biz Journal, and more to the point, they also pay the least. The average weekly wage for travel and tourism between 2006 and 2018 (the period leading up to the pandemic) was $311.00. That’s less than half the average for other industries ($710) and barely more than a quarter for professionals ($1,162).
Leisure and hospitality were also the industries where Covid transmissions could easily occur.
Let’s change gears for a second.
If A Man Doesn’t Work He Shouldn’t Eat
Something the Bible teaches and we’ve all preached or heard preached is the idea that if a man doesn’t work he shouldn’t eat.
The Bible literally says that.
If anyone doesn’t work neither should he eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
The Bible also says, “If a man doesn’t provide for his own and especially for those of his own house he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
Based on these passages we can definitely say that the Bible teaches us that work is important but before we start pounding our fists and pointing fingers at those we think don’t want to work, we need to ask a few questions.
What kind of work is being encouraged here? Only physical work or does mental work count too?
If the work is physical must it be unnecessarily difficult? The Bible indicates that work became hard as a result of the fall (we now work by the sweat of our brow, Genesis 3:19) but is that a natural consequence of the changes that naturally occurred following the fall, or is work now a punishment? Do we need to make work more difficult than it needs to be in order to comply with Scripture?
What about dangerous work? If it is by nature dangerous and the danger can’t be averted, should pay and benefits be adjusted accordingly? If so, who gets to judge when the adjustments are reasonable?
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with hard physical work. In fact, there are benefits. I like to think of it as a gym membership without paying dues but the way it’s often framed it sounds more like a threat or a punishment or a sentence of some kind.
Should the atmosphere at work be demeaning? Should the managers be threatening?
Another good question has to do with remuneration. What can the worker expect in return for his or her efforts?
These are all good questions, especially the one regarding pay. Paul’s focus in 2 Thessalonians was idleness. He was encouraging the Thessalonians and everyone else to avoid the trap of sitting around doing nothing all day.
But work is not the same for everyone. Paul wasn’t endorsing any and all work situations. Slaves worked hard. I doubt he was endorsing slavery as a rule (although some, believe it or not, would actually argue for this).
Paul was addressing only one question. Should we or should we not work? There’s a whole list of questions, including the ones I mentioned, about what constitutes work, how workers are to be treated, and how employees and employers are to relate.
Probably the biggest question involves remuneration. Once a person engages and begins to work hard, what should he expect? A tip? A pat on the back?
Should the resulting pay be enough to live on? Should the cost of living be a consideration?
Is staying in the good graces of the boss the only motivation or does a decent pay rate mitigate situations that otherwise might be intolerable?
The passage in Thessalonians clearly says if a man doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat but the implication is if he does work, he should easily be able to afford to eat.
Minimum wage ($7.25 an hour, $1160 a month before deductions) obviously doesn’t allow for that. Once you’ve paid rent and bought something to eat, the electicity to cook it might cost more than you have to spend.
People complain that no one wants to work anymore. I would disagree. People want to work and their even willing to work hard. They can even tolerate difficult or dangerous situations (within reason). What they don’t want to do is work for nothing.
A living wage is a strong motivation to work.
The Business Owner Takes The Risk
One argument effectively used to keep minimum wage low is the idea that the boss takes the biggest financial risk in starting the business and therefore has the right to take the largest percentage of the proceeds for him or herself and the business.
There’s truth in that and it’s appropriate but, again, we need to rethink the issue.
I have no problem with owners receiving the biggest payout and most reasonable people would agree. But the owner’s right to the largest share doesn’t mean the workers should be considered the least important part of the equation.
If the workers’ lives aren’t made better when the company grows, the company will probably suffer for it. Why would anyone work hard for an inconsiderate organization?
Furhter more, starting a business is risky but it isn’t the only risk. The greatest risk, maybe, but anyone accepting employment takes a risk too.
When Enron declared bankruptcy in 2001, 4000 employees were immediately let go and thousands more eventually lost their jobs not only from Enron but from other connected businesses also.
It was a ripple effect and it all happened because the leaders of the organization broke the rules.
Everyone at Enron was at risk and their worst nightmare came true.
Along with their jobs, they lost their pension savings and the benefit of tenure.
The law sent those responsible to jail but that did little to protect employee interests.
But that’s only one scenario. What if the owner manages to inflate the worth of a business on paper to make it more appealing to potential buyers. How will that affect the employees?
Once the new owner takes over and discovers the real value of the business, wouldn’t it be natural to reduce the workforce?
Even when the perceived value is accurate, restructuring (which often occurs when new owners take over) often eliminates existing jobs. How many will lose because the owner cashed out?
What if technology takes a turn and the owner doesn’t have the skills or foresight to pivot? That happened to IBM. We know the outcome.
What if the economy takes a turn, such as with Covid? Who will bear the brunt of the losses?
Bottom line? Everyone who takes a job takes a risk and the risk factor should be accounted for in figuring remuneration.
The Cost Of Living And Slavery
A good exercise is to compare the minimum wage to slavery. They aren’t exactly the same but there are some interesting parallels.
Slave owners had to provide housing, food, clothes, and medical services to their workers. There’s nothing in history that indicates they spent a lot of money on these provisions. It was usually throw-offs. Owners didn’t break the bank caring for slaves.
Minimum wage makes things a little easier…for owners.
Now, workers must provide for themselves on minimum wage which is below the poverty line. A decent living can’t be had but it’s no longer the boss’ problem.
Small Business And The Minimum Wage
Small businesses, we are told, can’t afford to pay a hourly wage sufficient for living. They’re small, they’re building and they need to keep overheads low.
We can accept that to a point but for how long? How much must the business make before wages can increase? If the business grows, is it because of the help? Doesn’t the workforce contribute to the end result and shouldn’t they be remunerated accordingly?
If the business can’t afford to support more than just the owner at a decent standard, maybe it isn’t a legitimate business.
Two Incomes And The Erosion Of Family
Two incomes are definitely better than one but we need to explore the motivations here? Are both spouses working because it helps to build family wealth or because wages are so low there’s no way to live at an acceptable level otherwise?
Are people getting married because they can’t afford not to? If so, is that a good reason to tie the knot? Should people be put in a position to get married just to cover living expenses?
Even the tax code favors married couples over single individuals. I think religion has something to do with that.
Please note that I’m talking about living expenses not making money. Making a living and making money are two very different things. With one, you’re getting by, maybe. With the other, you’re getting ahead.
It is true the Bible says loving money is the root of all evil but making money isn’t disallowed. In fact, it’s quite okay to love making it and there are plenty of Bible figures who made lots of money.
Two incomes might make living possible but at minimum wage, you’re just treading water.
Minimum wage also makes us more likely to look for potential partners who are well-heeled. Not a good reason to get married.
Maybe we should take a more positive spin on people and their work ethic. Maybe they really do want to work but are finally refusing to work for nothing.