03/16/14 — Teach fishing: Minimum wage argument is feel-good politics, not real solution

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Teach fishing: Minimum wage argument is feel-good politics, not real solution

There has been a lot of talk lately about raising the minimum wage.

And if you don't think this is all about politics and the 2014 midterm elections -- and perhaps a legacy or two -- we have some swamp land in Florida to sell you.

On the surface, the minimum wage hike seems like a kind thing to do. People who earn it often are struggling to make ends meet -- aren't they? And adding more income to their purses might make them less dependent on social programs and bring in more tax revenue, right?

Wrong on all counts.

Truth is that increasing the minimum wage for low-skill workers only creates the need for employers to hire fewer of them. And it is a proven fact that many -- not all -- of those who are employed in these sorts of industries are young people just starting out or supplementing income. They are not looking for a career.

So what is a better solution? We only have to look to the ancients and to one of those phrases that takes common sense and makes it into a palatable, digestible bit of wisdom.

"Give a person a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and he can take care of himself for a lifetime."

How does that apply to minimum wage, you might ask? Minimum wage is designed as a starting point -- a place to get into a job or to add a little extra income. The jobs are low-skilled and are paid commensurate with that skill level.

But here's the thing: If you work hard and prove yourself, there are opportunities to move ahead and to get out of that minimum wage category. Fast-food restaurants are always looking for young, ambitious people to learn how to manage their facilities. And there are many, many stories of people who started as cashiers at Walmart who are now supervisors.

And there is even an example of reward for hard work right here in Wayne County. Many franchise owners of Highway 55 restaurants got their start behind a grill -- in fact, the company insists on it. You don't just get the chance to own your own Highway 55 because someone hands it to you. You have to earn it.

We do not need more handouts in this country. Getting away from the reward for hard work has made us weaker and our coffers poorer.

Want to end the need to increase minimum wage? Demand that children stay in school and offer vocational alternatives for those who prefer a job right out of school over college.

Maintain high standards in the classroom. Stick to your guns about setting achievement standards for students so that when they leave school, they qualify for jobs.

And last but not least, reward those who are making the effort. Instead of blanket raises for every minimum wage employee, offer more chances to seek training and reward those companies that are encouraging employees to grow and to move on to more challenging career opportunities.

We have made it too easy to sit back and to accept the status quo. We have encouraged people to believe that accepting freebies is the right way to go. We have ignored the stories of those who have made it through hard work from the most dire of circumstances.

In other words, we have forgotten how we got here. And it is time that we remembered.

So here's the bottom line. If you set your goals low and you are content to accept a minimum wage job, you are missing the chance to make your life better.

Seek additional education. Make smarter life decisions -- or decide today that this is going to be the first day of your new journey. It is never really too late. There are plenty of stories of people who did just that -- and changed their lives forever.

And by the way, there are plenty of places out there to get more education and more training. Seek them out. There are people ready and willing to make it happen.

So say no to a minimum wage increase and yes to what will really make lives better for these families and individuals -- the chance to make their own way.

Published in Editorials on March 16, 2014 12:24 AM