I feel like a pessimistic old Grinch this Christmas when it comes to the immediate future of the working poor. This economy grinds those in the middle and at the bottom, and there’s no quick cure. Platte County’s tie to the issue grows more each year as new retail stores and fast food joints appear. Most offer low pay and few benefits. The Grinch and Scrooge are unrepentant in modern living. But I don’t see a legislative cure. Greed has to let go of its own free will on a lot of levels in society. Yet politics and burgers are intertwining because people who do work for low pay are stressed, and people who order fries and pizza are beginning to notice who is waiting on them at the counter. Often it is someone trying to make ends meet in a household. President Obama has proposed an increase in the federal minimum wage. One bill in Congress would raise the current minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour over three steps and tie automatic increases to cost of living changes. Missouri’s minimum wage is $7.35. Diane Stafford of The Kansas City Star recently reported that the median wage for fast food workers in the metro is $8.60 an hour, but that is about $9.50 an hour less than what some economists believe is necessary to keep a roof over your head, food on the table and the furnace generating heat. I peeked at a Bureau of Labor Statistics chart online that listed the national averages for hourly wages for various job sectors. Most were in the range of $20 to $35 per hour. The leisure and hospitality sector held down the bottom at about $13.50 per hour. Platte County began the 1980s with few fast food restaurants, a handful of hotels and only one little knot of big-box stores. Kansas City was country. Now the minimum wage issue casts a broader stroke. More hotels are found in the KCI corridor. Platte City, Parkville and Riverside now host numerous fast food chains. The 64th Street corridor west of Interstate 29 is hopping with eateries, service businesses and shopping. There’s a new quick stop out where Missouri 45 meets Interstate 435, and many more grab-and-go places have popped up throughout the County where roadways intersect. Thousands of people working in these establishments in our county are hoping for more hours and higher pay, soon. I sympathize. Long ago gas and grub businesses mostly gave teenagers their first job. Nowadays, they help working senior citizens pay the bills and many people of ages in between, too. No doubt a raise in the minimum wage would help them for a time. But how long will it be before inflation would catch up again? Longevity can have drawbacks. Young people today may figure a splurge at the drive-through adding the big drink and more expensive fries for a charge topping $10 is normal. But if you’re old enough to remember when $10 bought a major restaurant meal the prices chirped back to you after ordering at fast food joints carry a jolt. So it’s hard not to speculate that a minimum wage hike will quickly translate into a price rise for burgers and many more things. Critics of minimum wage increases argue that employers will cut jobs and free market forces will be eclipsed. That may be true in some cases. But generally the costs are just passed along to those in the middle and at the bottom of the economic ladder. Pressures on the former make the numbers in the latter grow larger. Christmas season celebrates generous souls. There are many from all walks of life. Many people of wealth are incredibly generous with dollars, time and behind-the-scenes efforts to help the needy. Many business owners and managers find a way to cut employees a break. Often the middle-income earners and poor give graciously to charity. Yet there’s ruthlessness about personal gain in these times that seems inescapable. If he re-appeared among us, Charles Dickens would be bemused at the popularity of Scrooge each Christmas in the digital age, while in some ways things have changed so little.