Amid all the talk about economic inequality, I unabashedly take the side of the one percent. I know it may not be a popular position but I nevertheless feel an obligation to make it known. Mind you, my defense of the one percent is balanced. I do not necessarily think they should be paid more and certainly not less. Overall, I think the media and the political establishment has blown the whole affair completely out of proportion.
In all fairness, I should mention that the one percent I side with is not the same one percent –the billionaires and millionaires—that was the target of the rabid attacks by the Occupy Wall Street crowd some time ago. My one percent represents those who earn the federal hourly minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
For all the brouhaha around the issue, the surprising fact is that only one percent of the American work force actually earns the federal minimum wage. According to latest figures of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 1.5 million hourly workers out of nearly 155 million job holders are among this select group. I know there are other “casual” worker groups, such as farm workers or babysitters that earn less than minimum wage. But the focus of the present debate is on this one percent and so I also will restrict myself to considering these workers.
Perhaps one of the strongest reasons why I support this one percent is because I was once one of their number. In my high school days, I labored earning a mere $2.25 an hour. My entry level job helped me go to college and avoid student debt. My experience taught me the value of work and the need to save. Since I earned so few of them, I learned early in life to value each dollar—which was certainly worth a lot more back then.
Today, as I look at the present earners of the federal minimum wage, I see pretty much the same demographic. Teenagers make up 31 percent of all federal minimum wage earners. Over 55 percent are under the age of 25. Young workers, like I was, are precisely those who need entry level jobs since they do not have the skills to compete with higher paying jobs.
Not only is the one percent young but it is largely part-time employment. Some 51.5 percent work an average of 29 hours or less each week. Less than a third work full-time and of these only 39 percent are men.
The media image of legions of graduate degree workers desperately trying to support families on fast-food wages simply does not correspond to reality. Yet another illusion is that these workers are construction workers being paid substandard wages by greedy contractors. In fact, only one percent of the one percent (15,000) are construction workers earning minimum wage. Indeed, as everyone knows, most of these wage earners work in food preparation and similar services, requiring minimal skills—and less compensation.
Knowing the real facts and figures about minimum wage earners makes me take up the defense of the one percent. The distortions of the left do not correspond to the reality of living working Americans who need these jobs, as I did, to supplement income or enter into the work force. Like it or not, forcing the minimum wage upward necessarily drives the number of jobs downward.
I dislike the patronizing way the left treats the one percent like…well, one percent—a statistic to be manipulated at will. For all their talk about compassion, liberal legislators, inside the safety of their own ample salaries, see these workers as if they were mere parts in their political machine. They believe that decreeing a one-wage-fits-all increase and or expanding government programs will solve all family financial problems—and attract voters. They can conceive no charity beyond that handed out by big government.
They fail to see that throwing money at problems does not solve them. More often than not, poverty is caused by broken families, promiscuous lifestyles and poor consumer habits that mark the frenetic intemperance of our times. The best way out of poverty is a stable family where members work together to confront life’s difficulties. The heart and soul of any economy is not found in labor statistics and wage indexes but in the families and communities, which provide that all important mutual support and charity that money cannot buy.
That is why I side with the one percent. I believe the one percenters should have the right to be treated like real people and not imaginary beings or statistics. Young people and teenagers should have the opportunity to use their limited skills as a means toward pursuing their dreams. Part-time jobs should play a healthy role in a robust economy. I believe work should be a freely-established relationship and not a forced paycheck.
I do not deny that we are facing hard times and that there are people suffering economic hardship. However, let us deal with the real issues that are the root cause of this poverty. I firmly believe that the path to a healthy economy will not be found in wage hikes or fancy programs, but in a return to a moral order that is the real foundation of any kind of prosperity.