Now here’s some good news for those of you who think the media only publishes the bad. An entrepreneur named Dan Price of Seattle is chopping his salary and planning company wage increases that will bring all employees up to $70,000 annually. That’s amazing.
Of course it’s only cash-on-the-barrelhead good news if you work for Gravity Payments, the credit card processing company that Price founded and owns. Still, it felt like a wisp of fresh breeze for working people barely scraping by at the poverty levels and at lower middle class wages.
The line between poverty and lower middle class is very thin, and both levels contain pressures on families that those who have not known hard times cannot fathom.
Here in Platte County, step into a fast food restaurant or retail store and watch employees. You’ll notice two kinds, especially since the last recession — newcomers to the working world and those more experienced.
Those who stand out to me are the older employees who have obviously taken the job because they need work, any work, but you can see the stress in their faces. They are putting in hours for wages that eke out an existence. Their dream of a pay-all-bills career is on hold or shot. Life is not like a happy-go-lucky television ad.
Instead, it’s a depressing struggle.
That’s why in Kansas City and around the nation recently employees of service industries have demonstrated for higher wages. The cost of the burgers, fries and chicken strips they are selling are rising far faster than their pay.
For his bold step, Price is being criticized by some economists as unrealistic. Critics say only the market should dictate high executive pay and wages as low as you can manage to keep them for employees.
He’s been called a communist.
Actually, Price is a capitalist with a plan. He believes the change will help his firm’s employee morale and productivity. The boss considers it a long-range investment in his company’s health. But he has also told media he considers the move a statement against inequity in American business.
The inequity part is fairly well proven.
One after another economic study has shown growing gaps between upper pay levels and depressed middle class and lower class wages. What is key to many who take a keen interest in Price’s move is that it is a voluntary step by a business owner.
As much as I hope for better pay for an honest day’s work, and a reduction in the income gap, I am not for government forcing higher wages on an economy. This seems like it would hurt businesses that don’t have a profit cushion to afford higher wages. The increases would quickly pass on as higher prices for general consumers who are already struggling, and the main problem has not been addressed.
The main problem is profit taking without concern for workers and the American middle class.
Government laws won’t fix the problem, only an increased morality of fairness will. I’m not saying everyone in business is unfair. My heart goes out to small business owners who deal with uncertainties of a changing marketplace. They face a legally and socially complex world.
Plus corporations are breathing down their necks, especially in a growing and increasingly affluent Platte County.
Many small business owners are already doing the best they can to help employees and to keep the doors open. Their level of service to the public is often superb. Many times I’ve thanked the heavens for my locally owned auto repair shop, heating and cooling company, watch repair business, tire salesman and a hardware store where employees care.
Also, many service industries can easily use workers new to employment, such as teenagers. Forced higher wages won’t help teens get jobs for some money and experience.
But down through the centuries those who would exercise greed unfairly from the labors of others have hampered culture and society.
Charles Dickens made a living writing about that point. That’s why Scrooge plays every Christmas.
My own generation, the Baby Boomers, are often given a label about hippies, peace and love. But it’s a broad generation born throughout the late 40s, 50s and 60s, and it’s a generation that has included many who have indulged in greed, especially at the corporate and upper-management level. Thus a gentleman like Price who indulges in generosity and fairness makes the news because he’s so unusual.
Maybe his experiment will fail, but here’s hoping he’s a visionary for a new age.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.