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November 15, 2006

Comments

A bunch of thoughts on the statistics.

First Graph: Why are we looking at total earnings at all? Surely most of those people aren't making minimum wage.

Is this as a percentage of population? If you lose your job and move to another state does it still count?

What counts as 'employment'? I think they are using the CES definition: "Employment data refer to persons on establishment payrolls who receive pay for any part of the pay period which includes the 12th of the month. Persons are counted at their place of work rather than at their place of residence; those appearing on more than one payroll are counted on each payroll."

I notice two things about this definition which might be interesting for this debate (note, I'm not claiming that they are a major change. I can't tell. I'm throwing it out there for consideration.) If you are in a 30-40 hour minimum-wage job and they cut your hours to 10, this will register no change in your 'employment'. If this causes you to get another job at minimum wage for 10 hours this will count as a doubling of your employment for the purpose of the statistics while in reality you are working 10 hours less and you are earning less money.

What would be fascinating is seeing that graph ONLY on minimum wage employment.

General thought, most people working for the minimum wage aren't the kind of people you think of when we discuss minimum wage issues. If you want to help poor heads of household who are working to make ends meet, try the EITC.

Isn't raising the min. wage also logically going to affect wages at low-paying-but-not-quite min-wage jobs? If employers are competing with one another at all you'd think it would.

General thought, most people working for the minimum wage aren't the kind of people you think of when we discuss minimum wage issues. If you want to help poor heads of household who are working to make ends meet, try the EITC.

I don't know if you've ever been in that position, but I can tell you from experience that most of them would just rather have the money now, and not next April, thanks.

Which is to say, I can't speak for everyone, but all the people I do know who have been in that position were pretty clear on the matter.

"I don't know if you've ever been in that position, but I can tell you from experience that most of them would just rather have the money now, and not next April, thanks."

You can arrange the withholdings around it. But my point really was that they generally aren't earning minimum wage anyway. A vast percentage of minimum wage earners are teenagers and college students.

The great thing about the EITC is that its cost is borne by all taxpayers, instead of just being borne by the folks who create the jobs. And the effect on people's earnings is the same.

states and localities that were near one another

Is this a good metric? I can't think of too many people that vacation in Oakland. I would think that the economy is slightly different across the bay.

I do not know that that's true, Sebastian. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of hourly-wage workers being paid $5.15/hr or less who are between ages 16-24 is about 53%; the percentage over age 25 is 47%. I don't know that 3 points above half counts as a "vast majority" using reasonable definitions of the word "vast."

Some relevant questions, for which I have no answers:

1. Will raising the minimum wage at the federal level actually diminish poverty in the targeted groups (ie, the true working poor and college students who need the money to pay for college, as opposed to college students generating beer money)?

2. What adverse consequences will result? WIll price increased be passed through to a community which can afford them? Will any businesses close? Will tax receipts be adversely affected?

3. Besides the anti-poverty component, are there other societal benefits to raising minimum wage? Like, for example, driving productivity increases that will then allow the employee to claim a share of that increase in wages in excess of minimum wage?

4. How over-inclusive is a min wage increase? Does it matter?

5. What is the true size of the affected group? What is the population of employees whose wages are priced (either explicitly -- as in a union contract -- or implicitly through the operation of the marktet) at some amount in excess of minimum wage?

6. Given that those who oppose minimum wage increases tend [TEND!] to also disapprove of a tightly-woven societal safety net, just how close to recreating indentured servitude and company towns are we willing to go as a society?

The way I best remember it being explained to me (right about the time the Labour government raised the minimum wage) in an article written by the owner of a large company, was this:

To compete on a fair market, there needs to be a level playing field. He might want to pay people a fair price for their labour, but if other competing companies are undercutting his costs by paying lower wages, he'll have to lower wages, otherwise he won't be able to compete.

Keep doing this, he said, and you end up in a situation where people are scrabbling for work but aren't earning enough to drive the economy: even if his employees aren't buying his widgets directly, if there are lots of well-paid workers, they'll buy things, that stimulates the economy, he gets to sell more widgets.

The minimum wage sets a benchmark (he said) that means his competitors can't undercut him below a certain level, and nor can he them.

Plus, there's the fairly obvious humanitarian point that people shouldn't be in a situation where their employer(s) is making large profits* and they're working two minimum wage jobs in order to be able to afford to pay rent and buy food.

*I say this because I know personally of two people in different situations who voluntarily accepted a paycut because they knew their employer couldn't afford to pay them the rate they were getting and stay in business, and they decided it was worthwhile to keep the business going even if it meant getting less money. That's a different situation from a supermarket raking in vast profits yet arguing they "can't afford" to pay a couple of dollars more per hour to their employees.

First of all, I don’t buy the argument that raising the minimum wage by X will kill Y businesses. But that is only because; I see very few people who actually depend on minimum wage. Most companies offer more than that as a starting salary, or at least advance decent employees from there quickly. Am I wrong? I would love to see some links to real statistics showing how many people actually live off the minimum wage for any length of time. Face it – if you have kids, welfare is a much better option than working for minimum wage – maybe that is an argument for raising it.

Minimum wage is an entry level wage. HS kid’s first job. Extra help in the mall at Xmas. How many adults are actually depending on it? I could go out tomorrow and get a job working in a car wash, clerk at 7-11, WalMart, or even picking fruit (in season) and the starting salary would be higher than minimum wage. I know for a fact that there are illegals in my community who would turn their nose up at minimum wage.

Waiter/waitress does not count. $2.50 an hour is fine when you pocket $10-20 or more an hour under the table. Consider that a tax break, that the government does not come after those tips harder.

So it seems to be mostly a political talking point to me. Raise it a buck – you aren’t going to kill that many businesses, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you are improving the lot of that many people.

Am I wrong?

. . . even if his employees aren't buying his widgets directly, if there are lots of well-paid workers, they'll buy things, that stimulates the economy, he gets to sell more widgets.

This is, of course, the flipside of trickle-down theory, which argues that if you can cut Paris Hilton's taxes enough to get her to buy ten yachts and take lots of Palm Springs vacations, everyone gets rich!

"That's a different situation from a supermarket raking in vast profits yet arguing they "can't afford" to pay a couple of dollars more per hour to their employees."

I don't know about the UK, but in the US supermarkets make razorthin margins. If anyone is in the position to credibly claim they would have trouble playing employees very much more, it would be supermarkets.

Of course I don't think many supermarkets pay minimum wage anyway--cashier is a perfectly good wage for no education requirements--so they may or may not have anything to do with this discussion.

Minimum wage is an entry level wage. HS kid’s first job. Extra help in the mall at Xmas.

Follow Phil's 6:42 link and look at table 1 and you'll see that abotu 75% of minimum wage earners work full time. There's a bit more detail in table 9.

Not to get into a digression about grocery store operating margins, but right now the most successful nationwide publicly-traded grocery chain is, of course, Wal-Mart -- with a margin a full 2.3% above the industry average -- and hopefully I don't need to go into a lengthy exegesis of their treatment of employees.

Bernard: That's 75% of all hourly workers working full-time. The percentage making $5.15 or less is 39%. At least the way I'm reading it.

Sebastian: I don't know about the UK, but in the US supermarkets make razorthin margins

The largest UK supermarket, Tesco, reports profits of 2.2 billion UKP last year: Asda, the third largest, reported profits of 571.9 million UKP last year. (I wasn't able to find immediate reports of Sainsbury's (second largest) in 2005.)

I don't know about all US supermarkets, but Wal-mart reported a quarterly profit of 2.65 billion USD, which was "up 11.5 percent compared to the same period a year before".

Interestingly, according to this news article from August 2006, Wal-Mart pays more than the minimum wage but figures that what it does pay is only enough to be the "secondary income" for a family.

If you're at all interested, a price comparison: when I was a teenager in my first job, over twenty years ago, I got paid more than the federal minimum wage pays workers now: £2.73 an hour is all the US government thinks workers deserve ($5.15) - and when I was 14, I got paid £2.75 per hour.

Follow Phil's 6:42 link and look at table 1 and you'll see that abotu 75% of minimum wage earners work full time.

I don’t dispute that, and I didn’t imply it was part time work, didn’t mean to anyway. HS kid does seem to imply that.

Note: My experience is based on suburban and rural living. So I don’t dispute that in the cities and inner-cities, worker supply will outstrip demand. I am just coming from my experience. And that is, many places have a help wanted sign up and I have not seen a job advertised at minimum wage for at least 15 years.

I’ll admit that is not an all inclusive viewpoint – its just mine.

Offline now…

From Phil's link, I note that 64.4% of minimum wage workers work 40 hours a week or more, and 77% work 30 hours a week or more. (Table 9.) Also, only about a third (34.8%) have never married. (Table 8.) If we assume that most of the people we're thinking of as "high school kids, etc." are not married, then that's interesting.

I would be more supportive of a minimum wage if it was tailored to local circumstances. For example, I would think the minimum wage in Bethesda MD should be set at a higher level than the wage in NE/SE DC.

And I would echo Happy Jack's comment on the SF vs. East Bay comparison as not comparable whatsover.

Hilzoy:

Again – maybe the perspective is rural/suburban vs. urban? I’m sure you see things differently in Baltimore than I do at the Eastern Shore. Now, the population centers are urban, so that would seem to indicate that the statistics are in your favor.

My personal experience since 1990, living in NY/NJ suburbs, Philly suburbs, now the Eastern Shore:

-Almost anyone who wants a job can have one. I have rarely seen a convenience store, gas station, supermarket, restaurant, or department store in the last 15 years without a help wanted sign up.

-I have not seen these jobs advertised at minimum wage in those 15 years. Minimum + $3 is about the lowest I have seen. (Waiter/Waitress excluded).

-I can’t even think of the last job I saw that was advertised at minimum. Like I said, I know illegals who would laugh at minimum wage.

Maybe that just means get out of the city folks :)

Seriously – I have no objections to raising it – mostly because I see zero impact from my perspective. It won’t hurt the businesses I know, it won’t improve the lot of anyone I know. It is a gesture.

For those of you who are interested in the SF/East Bay question: it's worth reading the whole study, or at least some of the introductory sampling parts and then table 5 (p. 43). They actually compared SF restaurants who were required to raise wages (which had to have a certain number of employees, and also not to be paying the new min. wage already) to the following groups: similarly sized restaurants in the East Bay, smaller restaurants in SF, similarly sized restaurants in SF that were already paying the new minimum wage. (I can think of ways in which each of these three might be problematic comparisons, but using all three makes those objections less likely to work.)

Employment went up faster in midsized SF restaurants already paying the new minimum than in restaurants that had to raise their wages, slightly slower in small SF restaurants, slower still in midsized East Bay restaurants.

They also tried to control for restaurants that were in tourist destinations vs. restaurants that were not, and restaurants that were likely to be using high concentrations of immigrant workers (on the assumption that they'd be more likely to encounter people who weren't complying with employment laws there.) But I leave it to you to check out the results. Short version: neither seemed to significantly affect the results.

Bernard: That's 75% of all hourly workers working full-time. The percentage making $5.15 or less is 39%. At least the way I'm reading it.

Phil,

I think you're right about Table 1. My mistake.

Still, Table 9 tells us that about 62% of minimum wage workers are putting in 20+hours/week. I doubt that many of these are college students working in the library or HS students flipping burgers.

Oakland might not be a restaurant destination for tourists, but Berkeley definitely is, and it's in Alameda County too.

The Democratic victory means that ObWi is safe for wonky discussions like this. I couldn't be happier.

LJ, me too.

Two quick things:

1. You can get the EITC weekly. I think Julian's upthread comment was succinct and eloquent regarding the merits of it versus the minimum wage.

2. I'm not clear why this study is looking at total employment, as opposed to jobs available at the minimum wage - as those are the only ones that got more expensive immediately. And while we're at it, I'd like to see business revenue figures, local cost of living figures, etc. - to make absolutely certain these costs have pleasantly vanished into the ether.

And to be clear, one thing that is nice about the EITC is that is transparent as to who is bearing the costs of it - the rich.

... "is that it is transparent," rather.

I don't know about all US supermarkets, but Wal-mart reported a quarterly profit of 2.65 billion USD, which was "up 11.5 percent compared to the same period a year before".

In the interest of pedantry, profits are not margins, and profit numbers on their own tell us nothing. Wal-Mart's quarterly profit margin is 3.6%. Tesco's is 3.74%.

For comparison's sake, my own company's corporate parent, Berkshire Hathaway, has a margin of 9.90%. ExxonMobile, Fortune #1, has a margin of 10.46%. The last company on the Fortune 500, LandAmerica Financial, has a margin of 1.53%.

Raw quarterly profit dollar numbers don't tell anyone anything. There has to be a context for them.

Back when my mother was growing up in post-war Paris, one common employment (so she tells me) for destitute war widows was mending nylons. They'd have tiny little shops around the corner from major streets and make a few francs per pair.

These jobs no longer exist. Women throw away their used nylons.

It seems to me that the minimum wage, along with unemployment benefits, is a dignitary law. There are some jobs which we as a society have priced out of existence -- jobs so miserable that the proprietor would not be able to afford to pay minimum wage.

(question for the crowd, since my last questions generated no response: what jobs would come into existence if minimum wage rates were repealed? competition with prisons on stamping license plates?)

I don't understand this argument. The Aussie minimum wage is about $13.00. When my daughter was 16/17 (2002/03), she worked at Macca's and earnt $7.59 per hour. Now she works at newsagent(books, staionary, papers, lotto) and a pharmacy and earns $14 & $16, respectively. Surely it doen't cost three times as much to live in Aus? Current unemployment figures are at alltime lows of 5% and we have, both, comprehensive health insurance and welfare coverage (no time limits).
(who thought I would be defending our current conditions, we are in the middle of many issues re wages and industrial relations with the current govt)
How can you possibly find $5 or even $8 acceptable in anyway?

Graphs can trick you if they are used deliberately, and it can be hard to see through for the non-experts (compare Monckton's recent anti-GW propaganda piece).

Relying on authority is a sensible strategy when you're not an expert - it's the only sensible strategy, except possibly becoming an expert yourself (and that puts one in danger of hubris). So the statement from all those economists, which includes some I know to be quite politically conservative, matters more to me.

OCSteve: -Almost anyone who wants a job can have one. I have rarely seen a convenience store, gas station, supermarket, restaurant, or department store in the last 15 years without a help wanted sign up.

Is your personal experience over the past 16 years based on earning a living at these jobs? Because if not, doesn't mean a thing.

Personal anecdote time:

I'm 27, up until I was 22 and got a real career, I had worked as a grocery store cashier, video store rental clerk, flipped pizzas for a college campus chain, Wal*Mart cashier, mall book store clerk, and a bank teller. When I started working minimum wage was 4.15/hour.

At every single one of those places, except at the bank, that I worked there was someone trying to support themselves at minimum wage. Or if you were lucky, minimum wage + .25. Yup, 5.40 was a good wage. Most of those poor souls were working 2-3 jobs, for around 60-80 hours a week. And that was in Vermont which has a low cost of living, and in Harrisonburg, VA which also had a relatively low cost of living.

Maybe this is a bit cruel, but I am reminded of the joke in Eugene Oregon, which goes

Why did all the hippies come to Eugene?

Because they heard there was no work...

Jes: Is your personal experience over the past 16 years based on earning a living at these jobs? Because if not, doesn't mean a thing.

My point is that the jobs are there, and that the starting salary is well above minimum wage. How does that not mean a thing?

Most recently (last five years) the major factor is a construction boon not just in my immediate area but county wide. Almost any able-bodied man or woman can get a construction job. The lowest starting salary is 2 digits. You want a contractor to do some work for you? You might find one that can think about starting 4 months from now.

That means a lot of other (typically) low paying positions remain vacant. That in turn forces those wages up as employers try to fill the position.

As I said – raise it a buck or two. It won’t hurt business in my area; they already pay more than that. But it won’t help many people either. It is a gesture, at least here. That is my viewpoint locally. I’ll stipulate that the picture in the inner cities is likely different – I don’t know.

Probably already brought up by others, but not having time to read through the entire thread, I'd say these things:

1) I'd want to see what happens to these numbers for minimum wage and average salary increases over arbitrary 5-year periods, not just this one. The dotcom crash and the resultant bounceback don't exactly typify the US economy. Probably no other single 5-year period does, either, but I'm not sure that one can draw far-reaching conclusions from this data. Granted, this might be unobtainable.

2) I'd be more concerned with who bears the burden. If the cost of increased minimum wage is primarily born by low-income earners, I suggest that at least part of the benefit has cancelled itself out, and I'd want to know the extent of that cancelling-out. Furthermore, if the cost of the minimum wage is born primarily by low-income workers who are nonetheless above minimum-wage level, I'd want to know that as well. And of course you'd want to know whether people who get paid less than minimum wage are going to be affected, wouldn't you?

3) I'd also want to see what our Nobel economists have to say about minimum wages that are established on a statewide or some other regional basis. Does it make sense to have the same minimum wage in Oklahoma as in Hawaii, for instance?

BTW – Don’t take my comments to mean that everyone is living the easy life. Many people still work 2 jobs to make ends meet. A starting rate of $10/hour doesn’t mean much. Almost no local employer offers any decent benefits. A job with full health benefits is almost unheard of. Being a resort area, housing costs are astronomical. There is no such thing as low-income housing. Grocery stores raise their prices in May to gouge the tourists, but of course that impacts everyone.

The most exploited are the foreign students (mostly Russian or former Warsaw Pact countries). Every year local businesses hire thousands of them to get through the 12 weeks of summer, which is the period where they have to make the bulk of their revenue for the year. They make more than minimum, but they send most of it home. The anecdote I have heard from more than one – what they make here in a summer helps support their family back home for up to three years. As a result they often live 10 or 12 in a unit meant for 4. People work opposing shifts to share the same bed or sleep on the coach or the floor. Slumlords really take advantage of them and those responsible for code enforcement just never seem to actually get around to uh, enforcing any codes.

But raising the minimum wage a couple of bucks does not change that picture at all.

I thought of mentioning Giffen goods, but some lazy googling didn't reveal anyone who thought that low wage labor was an example. (There may not be any real examples). I thought I remembered reading somewhere that poorly-paid laborers might do such a poor job that raising the wage by a factor of X might increase their worth by more than a factor of X, making employers more eager to hire them, so that an increase in wages would increase demand. Or something like that. But as I say, three minutes of intense googling research didn't turn up any such argument.

"I thought I remembered reading somewhere that poorly-paid laborers might do such a poor job that raising the wage by a factor of X might increase their worth by more than a factor of X, making employers more eager to hire them, so that an increase in wages would increase demand."

I hope that is a weird oversimplification. The more classic understanding would be that forcing a higher wage would force employers to be more picky--which may lead to better overall results (I'm skeptical) but which would lead to different, better workers being hired. Absent other effects, the current low-wage, inefficient worker doesn't suddenly become a better worker because you tacked on a buck per hour. And if we are talking about something like basic nutrition, that could probably be dealt with in a more efficient way.

OCSteve: My point is that the jobs are there, and that the starting salary is well above minimum wage. How does that not mean a thing?

Read Nickled and Dimed. (Barbara Ehrenreich started out thinking the same as you: how difficult could it be to get a job at a living wage?) Your information that the job ads are there and that you think you know what the salary is, is not useful information - not unless you have actually spent a part of those 16 years earning a living at those jobs.

Sebastian: Absent other effects, the current low-wage, inefficient worker doesn't suddenly become a better worker because you tacked on a buck per hour.

Reading basic management textbooks years ago, in fact, I found that what classic management says the best way to make an inefficient worker a more effective one is to allow them to take ownership of their work, and feel respected. Certainly, someone who's being paid crap is going to do a crap job: why not? Why should they work hard and effectively when they're being paid crummy wages?

Oddly enough, CEOs seem quite willing to assume that money is a motivating factor for their own employment packages...

"Read Nickled and Dimed. (Barbara Ehrenreich started out thinking the same as you: how difficult could it be to get a job at a living wage?) Your information that the job ads are there and that you think you know what the salary is, is not useful information - not unless you have actually spent a part of those 16 years earning a living at those jobs."

Actually don't. It frankly isn't good. She doesn't stay in one place long enough to get even the most basic promotion, her 'forced' eating choices are frankly crap and she lived without a roommate--enabling her biggest whine with a simple solution (I save money even now by having a roommate) and she doesn't take advantage of the EITC (which she would clearly be eligible for). Another serious problem is that she isolated herself from any possible support system. She never engages with the working class enough to form friendships. She laughs at the primary social organization of the working poor--church. She doesn't live with anyone. She doesn't have deallings with her family.

I lived on that amount of money for multiple years in a ridiculous cost-of-living city (San Diego). No one will say it is pleasant, but it is way more possible than she thinks.

Jes: I never claimed it was a living wage. Just that the starting salaries were above minimum. In a follow up I mentioned that many have to work 2 jobs to make ends meet.

One problem in these debates (not saying that anyone is falling prey to that here) is the shifting needs that occur as one gets older. In my twenties I could (and did) live on an amount of money that would have me pounding my head against a wall if I had to do it now. The ideal was that a person's earning power increases as they get older, they acquire sufficient assets and then, when they retire, then can make do with less because they don't have to worry about living costs like rent. I'm curious if people think that a minimum wage means enough to support a single person, living alone (or with roommates, as Sebastian posits), or as a head of household. I think that underlying premise might make a bit difference in the positions that people are taking.

Face it – if you have kids, welfare is a much better option than working for minimum wage

I've lost the reference for this, but I recall reading that someone had surveyed single mothers living on welfare in various cities in the United States. All except one worked. The welfare mother who didn't work neglected her children and had them taken from her.

"I hope that is a weird oversimplification."

Might be. My memory is vague. I'm pretty sure I read something like this years ago and that there was even a term for it--the X wage, where I can't remember what X was, but the meaning was that you paid higher wages to improve performance, so much so that the increased pay was more than worthwhile for the employer.

In the Netherlands we have 'youth minimum wage'. You only get the full minimum wage as from 23, if you are younger you get less (the younger you are, the lower the minimum wage).

As from 23 you get full minimum wage and if you have a really low income you pay less tax.

Our minimum wage is comparatively high yet our long term unemployment the last years is lower than that in the US.

I thought that people who believed in free market assumed that the wages for those long-term vacancies (like the ones mentioned by OCSteve) would get really high, until they were so high that people would be willing to do the work?

I have a question about Dutch unemployment. I had heard somewhere (no cite or I wouldn't have to ask) that stay-at-home moms counted as employed under Dutch statistics. Is that true or just a rumor?

Absent other effects, the current low-wage, inefficient worker doesn't suddenly become a better worker because you tacked on a buck per hour.

What topsy-turvy world do you live in in which offering someone an extra buck-fifty an hour doesn't provide some extra motivation to do better, but raising a multimillionaires marginal tax rate from 33% to 36% removes his incentive to produce more wealth? Do you really think people are that stupid?

Doesn't raising the minimum wage also increase wages throughout the low-income tier? If a mandated minimum wage goes from, say, $5.00 to $6.00 per hour, then wages already pegged at $6/hour go up, in order to keep attracting people with more skill and experience.

Otherwise the grocery clerks, salespeople, and people in similar jobs would quit to go work where the salary is the same but there are, perhaps, more hours offered, better benefits, or better advancement opportunities.

Raise the minimum enough, and people on the second or third level of the lower wage tiers are suddenly making damn-near livable wages. That strikes me as a good thing.

RE: stay-at-home moms. How are they counted in the US? I assume that they are counted as being out of the workforce, because otherwise I would imagine that unemployment numbers would be higher.

Donald Johnson: It's "efficiency wage". Poorly-paid workers have more incentive to shirk, because the cost of being fired is lower. So if you pay them more, then *as if by magic* they become more productive workers.

Sebastian: Actually don't. It frankly isn't good. [standard rebuttal follows]

I've read that rebuttal before (I'm not accusing you of plagiarism, just assuming that it's a fairly widespread meme among right-wing Americans who didn't read the book) and while it does nicely to diss Barbara Ehrenreich herself wit, it doesn't explain why she described many other people in exactly the same situation as she herself was in, for the same reason: the jobs available didn't pay the kind of money that would let them even rent a decent place to live; and as for the "food choices" issue, she notes herself, when you're living without a car and working 40 hours a week, your food choices go down because good fresh food isn't readily available: your food choices go down because you don't have the ability to cook properly in the kind of accommodation you can afford to rent: your food choices go down because you don't have a fridge in which to store food.

All of which you discover when you read the book, so I conclude the people who repeat the meme that it just shows Ehrenreich was incompetent at living on a low income haven't actually read it.

your food choices go down because you don't have the ability to cook properly in the kind of accommodation you can afford to rent

One other ultra-important point: it's massively more expensive to cook for one in either small or temporary digs than it is to cook for multiple people (per capita) in large, well-established places. The ability to buy in bulk and capitalize on disparate sales is massively important in keeping costs down.

I have a question about Dutch unemployment. I had heard somewhere (no cite or I wouldn't have to ask) that stay-at-home moms counted as employed under Dutch statistics. Is that true or just a rumor?

A rumor, or a misinterpretation. SAHM, like all other people, are only counted as unemployed when they are searching for work. Most people designated SAHM are probabely looking for small jobs anyway; we have a part-time work culture, especially for parents. My spouse only works 4 days because he wants to spend time with his kids, even though I *am* (still) a SAHM and he is not unusual.

What we do have, with thanks to the Christian Democratic Party, is the ultimate sillyness by which the taxes pay out the taxadvantage of couples with only one parter working to the non-working partner. Which means I get 135 euro per month that would otherwise be somewhere in our end-of-year taxes. I am not so principled I refuse it, but I am against the measure.

I found a summary of our social benefits, and in it I found that SAHM who actively look for work *and* care for children under 12 may have that period count as 'working time' for unemployment benefits (how long you get those benefits depends on how much you have worked beforehand). Maybe that is where the rumor/misinterpretation comes from?

I forgot to link to the summary.

It's the same in the UK, Marbel - a person counts as unemployed only when they're signing on at the Job Centre as unemployed. People who have been put on the long-term sick list (registered unable to work due to illness or disability) don't count as unemployed: nor does anyone who's decided to stay home for full-time childcare.

(For the first six months after childbirth, of course, a woman can be on maternity leave from her job, getting at least some income: and I she's legally allowed to be registered as on maternity leave - ie, able to return to the same employer and be given her old job back - for up to two years. When on maternity leave, a woman doesn't count as unemployed.)

I've read that rebuttal before (I'm not accusing you of plagiarism, just assuming that it's a fairly widespread meme among right-wing Americans who didn't read the book) and while it does nicely to diss Barbara Ehrenreich herself wit, it doesn't explain why she described many other people in exactly the same situation as she herself was in, for the same reason: the jobs available didn't pay the kind of money that would let them even rent a decent place to live; and as for the "food choices" issue, she notes herself, when you're living without a car and working 40 hours a week, your food choices go down because good fresh food isn't readily available: your food choices go down because you don't have the ability to cook properly in the kind of accommodation you can afford to rent: your food choices go down because you don't have a fridge in which to store food.

Umm no, I read the book. The problem is (and you ignore it by waving the 'standard rebuttal' argument) that she doesn't have a roommate, and when you are poor you really need to have a roommate. It cuts your rent expenses in half (or much more if you are willing to tolerate more than one person) and rent expenses are the main thing that caused problems for her. She is so self-absorbed with her made up version of poor that she doesn't take the good advice she gets from other poor people around her. She reports it. But she ignores it. If she had a roommate she could have afforded a place with a kitchen and a fridge. Having a roommate is how I can afford a good place in San Diego now while paying off a mortgage worth of student loans. If you refuse to get a roommate, you are avoiding the very most straight-forward way to save expenses on your most expensive monthly outlay. Poor people (and a vast number of middle class people) have roommates all the time. Ehrenreich did not, so she literally does not know what she is talking about.

"One other ultra-important point: it's massively more expensive to cook for one in either small or temporary digs than it is to cook for multiple people (per capita) in large, well-established places."

And with a good roommate situation, you can often share those expenses--though it takes a bit more doing than merely living together. I wouldn't fault someone for failing to share meals with his roommate, but if you are poor and refuse to have a roommate (as Ehrenreich did) you can't get much sympathy from me. An in between food solution is to share expenses on certain items (rice, toilet paper, maybe milk) while buying and keeping other food separate (fruit, luxury items).

She also failed to deal with EITC, which would have given her quite a boost (if her income had really been that low instead of just pretending. I guess she should have paid herself the amount of EITC should would have been eligible for if she were actually that poor to get a better feel for it).

The problem is (and you ignore it by waving the 'standard rebuttal' argument) that she doesn't have a roommate, and when you are poor you really need to have a roommate.

This is most true when you are single and without children.

This is more of a problem when you have children, which is more true of the poor than most people think.

I think that changes things quite a bit.

Sebastian: The problem is (and you ignore it by waving the 'standard rebuttal' argument) that she doesn't have a roommate, and when you are poor you really need to have a roommate.

Actually, I didn't ignore it: you didn't mention it before.

Yes, that's a fair criticism: it's easier to get by if you have someone to share living accommodation with, providing (a) you're in a steady relationship with that person or (b) you can find a place at a rent you can afford with at least two rooms besides the kitchen and bathroom, and then locate someone to share with whom you can trust not to rip you off.

You ignore, however, the fact that she mentions other people in the same situation she's in, equally badly off?

Oops: and she lived without a roommate--enabling her biggest whine with a simple solution (I save money even now by having a roommate)

You did mention it, Sebastian. But, having searched for accommodation in the past, I was and am conscious that unless you're a student looking for a room-mate among fellow students, it's unnerving to be planning on living with someone about whom you quite literally know nothing. The worst place I ever lived in got a lot worse when a new room-mate moved in and turned out to be a food-stealer.

Efficiency wage--thanks Walt. I figured someone around here would know what I was talking about even if I didn't.

There's a nice long article on efficiency wages over at wikipedia for anyone interested. And yes, too lazy to provide a link--gotta get lunch.

"You ignore, however, the fact that she mentions other people in the same situation she's in, equally badly off?"

I don't know what you mean by that. Other people who refuse to get roommates? Sharing a place to live has been one of the number one ways that poor people help out their own situation for the entire history of the United States. (I'm tempted to say the entire history of the world, but I'm sure there is a minor counter-example somewhere). I'm not willing to elevate "the right to live alone" to the level of a human right that has to be zealously guarded by government welfare programs or other government programs. Lots of people who are firmly in the middle class have rommates. The fact that Ehrenreich feels she has to live alone is her engaging in a lifestyle choice that I don't feel the need to change policy to enable. I don't begrudge middle class people their choice to buy a new car every two years, but I wouldn't go along with higher taxes or economic gymnastics to enable it either.

Ehrenreich's story about being poor is deeply flawed because she avoids many of the things that people routinely use to ameliorate the diffiuclty of being poor: roommates, friends, EITC, social networks, and churches just to name some off the top of my head.

Oh, and a rice cooker. A ten dollar rice cooker could have saved her hundreds of dollars.

Sebastian: I don't know what you mean by that.

I mean the other people she describes in the book. You read it: you must remember that she describes other people in similiar situations to herself, equally badly off. Yes?

A ten dollar rice cooker could have saved her hundreds of dollars.

How easy is it to buy brown rice in neighborhood stores in the US? And how easy is it to get hold of a rice cooker at ten dollars? (If I wanted one, I would head for the big Chinese supermarket about twenty minutes walk from where I lived: but rice cookers cost a lot more than ten dollars, and I've therefore always cooked rice in a pan: rice cookers in the UK typically sell for this kind of price.)

It's not especially easy in the UK: most of what's available is white rice, which is not particularly nutritionally useful. (This annoys me, because both for flavor and nutrition I much prefer brown rice: but when I was badly off, I lived within 20 minutes walk of a health food shop which did sell brown rice and pulses at reasonable prices.)

"How easy is it to buy brown rice in neighborhood stores in the US? And how easy is it to get hold of a rice cooker at ten dollars?"

Easy to question one, and maybe it is just California, but easy. In fact I saw one at a nearby thrift store for $5. But I was referencing the one I saw at a 99 cent store for $10. (Why does the 99 cent store have something for $10? I don't know. But it ruins my friend's favorite joke at the 99 cent store: "How much is this? How much is this?"

The nice thing about a rice cooker as opposed to pan cooking is you can do it even without a kitchen. A bag of rice, rice cooker, and a box of brown sugar got me through many lots of cheap meals. My major luxury in my poorest years was milk.

Oatmeal cooks well in a rice cooker too. Though cleanup is a touch harder if you aren't really careful.

Ugh, "many lots". That is what I get for editing a sentence for clarity--a worse sentence than the original.

Brown sugar? On rice?

No offence but.....ewwww.

Sebastian: Ehrenreich's story about being poor is deeply flawed because she avoids many of the things that people routinely use to ameliorate the diffiuclty of being poor: roommates, friends, EITC, social networks, [rice cookers], and churches just to name some off the top of my head.

EITC seems to be the only thing on that list that doesn't fall into the category of "You're the undeserving poor so go suffer!" - ie, people who have just had to move two states away from their former social network, people whose social network is equally poverty-stricken and can't usefully provide any help, isolated people, atheists - none of them unique qualities. (I'll exempt the rice-cooker - or a crock-pot - both of which would be extremely useful if you lived somewhere with a fridge and a reliable electricity supply. When I was at my poorest, I lived in an apartment that had no reliable electricity supply and would have had no fridge except that a better-off friend gave me his old one, and a better-off friend with a car helped me transport it, and four helpful friends with strong backs helped me get it up into the apartment I shared.)

I have actually no idea how useful "Earned Income Tax Credit" is to most people on a low income: but I note (running through the questions on the website) that you are only eligible for it if your earned income is less than $11,750 per year (2005 figures) - I assume that's gross and not net, though the website doesn't make that clear. That's just under $980 pcm, or just under $226 pw. Figuring full-time employment at 40 hours pw, you qualify for EITC only if you're being paid less than $5.65 an hour.

As EITC is only a refund of taxes you would otherwise have paid, the less you get paid, the less EITC you get back.

As EITC is not tied in any way to cost-of-living in your area, getting a refund of taxes may not actually help very much.

From Jesurgislac:

It's the same in the UK, Marbel - a person counts as unemployed only when they're signing on at the Job Centre as unemployed.
And It woks the same way in the US - unless you're on unemployment, or showing up at the unemployment office, you're not counted in the unemployment figures.

Delightful though it would be to swop rice recipes with you, Sebastian (open thread for recipes?) the "She should have bought a rice cooker!" strikes me as more of the same split between "deserving poor" and "undeserving poor" - plus a presumption that (a) anywhere you go, in no matter how awful the neighborhood, you will be able to buy a rice cooker for $10 and (b) you will be able to buy and store safely oatmeal and brown rice. Neither strikes me as a safe assumption, and if you read the book, you'll know that it didn't match up to the reality, either.

EITC seems to be the only thing on that list that doesn't fall into the category of "You're the undeserving poor so go suffer!"

Once again--roommates. They make a huge difference. I'm not a poor person and I still have a roommate. I'm not telling people to "go suffer", I'm giving very standard advice on how not to suffer. Advice that people have followed forever.

"She should have bought a rice cooker!" strikes me as more of the same split between "deserving poor" and "undeserving poor" - plus a presumption that (a) anywhere you go, in no matter how awful the neighborhood, you will be able to buy a rice cooker for $10 and (b) you will be able to buy and store safely oatmeal and brown rice.

A crock pot is available anywhere in the United States. You don't even need a fridge--the waste in making too much would still have put Ehrenreich way ahead compared to the way she did eating. Rice can be stored triple-bagged next to your bed if you have to. Oatmeal can be stored in a bag or in the box it comes in. If you have vermin problems you can hang it by string from the lamp.

This deserving/undeserving poor thing is something I don't get. If you are poor and you refuse to do any of the totally routine things that poor (and many middle class)people do to make things work I don't see why we should deform public policy so you don't have to do common everyday things.

You wouldn't want to deform public policy if middle class people complained they couldn't get a new car every year. You would rightly note that it is perfectly appropriate for a person to hold on to a car for three or four or five or six years. If they want to buy a new car every year, they are free to arrange their life to make that possible. If they do, great. If they can't, it isn't the government's responsibility to make sure they can.

You claim that Ehrenreich provides a good example of why it is so hard to live when you are poor.

Her book does no such thing because she doesn't do the completely normal things that poor people do to make things work.

She doesn't stick around for promotions.

She doesn't get a roommate.

She doesn't economize on food.

She claims that it was impossible to do those things. She is wrong. It is not only possible, it is completely routine. She didn't do the completely routine things. If you want to live alone, fine. But it isn't a fundamental human right. I don't see any reason to deform public policy to ensure that no one ever has to live with a roommate. I'm firmly in the middle class and I expect to have a roommate for many years to come. When I buy a house, I fully expect to have a roommate for at least three or four years. Saving money on housing by having a roommate is completely normal.

I will raise my hand and confess that I never heard of rice cookers as something other than very expensive novelty items for gourmet chefs until sometime in my 20s, maybe even my 30s. I like to think that I'm not stone stupid ignorant of the world though I may be without realizing it - that'd be for folks who read my posts to judge. But it's quite possible that there are poor people just as ignorant as I am, despite wanting to take advantage of good opportunities.

I will also say that I have twice had to deal with roommates who were clinically mentally ill; once they left, and once I did. It was not pleasant. There were months of escalating misery bracketed by uncertainty that the situationw as as bad as I dreaded, then more months of genuine fear when I knew it was but didn't know what I could do about it. Never again, I decided, would I gamble on another person's mental health without really really good reasons to be confident they're no sicker than me in that regard. (Not facetious; I do have depression and other stuff following from my immune problems.) But I'm able to make that stick in part because of middle-class advantages.

This deserving/undeserving poor thing is something I don't get

Yes, you do. You're asserting that having not enough money to live on is something that can be alleviated by the following, etc: having friends/family who can help you out; being able to live with someone whom you can rely on to pay an equal share of the bills and the rent; belonging to a church; knowing how and where to buy and cook wholesome cheap food*; and you're right. All of those things will help enormously anyone living on an income that is really too small to live on. But, deciding that someone deserves to suffer because they have no access to any of those things is precisely the line that people have drawn for centuries between the "deserving poor" and the "undeserving poor". You think Ehrenreich, and the other people whom she describes as being in exactly the same situation as her, are "undeserving", because they can't get help from family/friends, because they have dependents so they can't have room-mates - or because they're new in the area and don't know how to find trustworthy room-mates, or a bunch of other reasons, because they don't shop economically/sensibly for food...

...I lived in a big city with good greengrocers and health food stores, where I could easily buy bulk supplies of pulses and rice and cheap vegetables. I had to move to a small town five hundred miles away for a year, and my food bill went up (fortunately, so had my income), because there was nowhere I could buy these things. (After nine months I discovered that there was one small shop about half an hour's walk from where I lived that did sell pulses and rice, but there was still nowhere I could buy cheap vegetables.) I mention this because until I moved to that town (about fifteen years sgo) I was very, very smug about my ability to buy economical healthy food on a low income. The fact that this "ability" was utterly dependent on my local knowledge in my home city, and the resources easily available to me there, didn't sink in until I moved 500 miles away from them and lost my ability completely. That I was sharing a house with six room-mates, one of whom routinely stole any food you left out, didn't help either.

I suspect that you have no experience of anything like this, or you wouldn't be as smug as you come across in condemning people on a low income who weren't as efficient as you are on managing yours.

"I will raise my hand and confess that I never heard of rice cookers as something other than very expensive novelty items for gourmet chefs until sometime in my 20s, maybe even my 30s. I like to think that I'm not stone stupid ignorant of the world though I may be without realizing it - that'd be for folks who read my posts to judge. But it's quite possible that there are poor people just as ignorant as I am, despite wanting to take advantage of good opportunities."

Maybe, but crock-pots are well known everywhere aren't they?

Sebastian: Maybe, but crock-pots are well known everywhere aren't they?

Requiring a reliable electricity supply (unless, as M.F.K. Fisher notes in How To Cook A Wolf, you can find hay and make a haybox), a certain minimum amount of food to use, and therefore a fridge to store the cooked food in, and a reliable way of keeping your supplies away from vermin, both human and not.

Crock pots, yes, I've known those from my childhood. :) But there too, there are uses for them I never heard of or never thought of as anything I'd want to do, until recently, like Alton Brown's great recipe for steel cut oats cooked in the crock pot.

Oh, and rather than spend time arguing the old argument that if people don't know how to shop and cook well they deserve to be poor, I would really much rather you started an open thread for recipes. Economical recipes, if you like.

"But, deciding that someone deserves to suffer because they have no access to any of those things is precisely the line that people have drawn for centuries between the "deserving poor" and the "undeserving poor". You think Ehrenreich, and the other people whom she describes as being in exactly the same situation as her, are "undeserving", because they can't get help from family/friends, because they have dependents so they can't have room-mates - or because they're new in the area and don't know how to find trustworthy room-mates, or a bunch of other reasons, because they don't shop economically/sensibly for food..."

I'm not willing to deform economic policy for people who aren't willing to do the basic things that people do. If you have to live alone for a few months so that you can create a social network which will allow you to make good choices about roommates, fine. But Ehrenreich wants to paint a picture of being 'trapped' like that forever. It is a false picture.

It has nothing to do with 'deserving'. It has to do with the fact that it isn't my responsibility to enable all possible choices that people make. If you choose to never get a roommate, that is your choice. I don't feel the need to enable that. If you choose to buy a new car every year, that is your choice. I don't feel the need to enable that. Ehrenreich pretends that she was trapped by high rent. That is flatly untrue. In her book she specifically resists developing a social network and refuses to get a roommate. That was a choice. That wasn't even a socially dictated choice. That was Ehrenreich. She made similar idiotic choices about food. She portrayed that as a poverty trap, but she was wrong. Her food situation was caused because she refused to get a roommate ('causing' her to not have access to a kitchen) and because she didn't use dry food alternatives.

These consequences did NOT flow from her being poor. They did NOT flow from her having a low wage job. They did NOT flow from her pretending to be in the working class. They flowed from her choosing not to use perfectly normal working class solutions to these problems.

I don't see any reason to deform public policy so that Ehrenreich and people like her can avoid doing perfectly normal things. Now if you utilize perfectly normal solutions and still have trouble--then you can arouse my willingness to intervene. But if you refuse to do so, you can rely on charity to enable your refusal to engage in perfectly normal solutions, but I see no reason to deform public policy.

Would you deform public policy so I could get a new car every year if I didn't feel like going through the normal channels which could obtain such a car every year?

"Requiring a reliable electricity supply (unless, as M.F.K. Fisher notes in How To Cook A Wolf, you can find hay and make a haybox), a certain minimum amount of food to use, and therefore a fridge to store the cooked food in, and a reliable way of keeping your supplies away from vermin, both human and not."

Reliable electricity? If you have a roommate I promise you that you can find a place with electricity even in expensive places like California. Even without a fridge, Ehrenreich could have saved money with a crock-pot by making food one night, leaving it on all night, eating it in the morning and throwing away the rest. She was really bad at food.

"Oh, and rather than spend time arguing the old argument that if people don't know how to shop and cook well they deserve to be poor"

What? I'm saying that actual poor people tend to actually get roommates and actually learn how to save money on food. That is why I thought Ehrenreich's book was so silly--she didn't do the routine things that poor people do. That isn't a question of desert. That is a question of accurate description.

You want to broadly classify people as "deserving or undeserving". I'm not classifying people. I'm classifying practices. Deserving or undeserving, I won't deform public policy to make certain that no one needs a roommate. Deserving or undeserving, I won't deform public policy to make certain that everyone can buy a new car every year.

I'm not willing to deform economic policy for people who aren't willing to do the basic things that people do.

I'm not willing to let people be stuck in poverty forever because they don't conform to your expectations of how people on a low income should behave. You keep trying to claim that Ehrenreich's problems were unique because she "choose not to use perfectly normal working class solutions to these problems" - yet she describes in the book other people caught in the same poverty trap, who also weren't using your proposed "perfectly normal working class solutions to these problems". Your dismissal of Ehrenreich as "undeserving poor" I can live with: she was a journalist doing a social experiment, she wasn't "in fact" poor but only living in poor social circumstances for a specific period of time. Your dismissal of the people she describes is typical middle-class arrogance towards the undeserving poor: I have read similiar strictures dating back to the 15th century - always from comfortably-off people who wanted moral justification for dismissing people who had no food.

Would you deform public policy so I could get a new car every year if I didn't feel like going through the normal channels which could obtain such a car every year?

I don't put your "need" for a new car every year on the same level as a person's need to be able to live in a decent accommodation, have enough to eat, and be paid a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. That you do, says it all, really.

Sebastian: I'm saying that actual poor people tend to actually get roommates and actually learn how to save money on food.

Ah. So the many low-income people who don't get roommates and don't learn how to "save money on food" aren't "actual poor people" - they're just, well... undeserving poor? Or do you object to having "poor" used as a descriptor at all, no matter how little money they have? Would "undeserving scum" do better for you?

The fact that you think living with a roommate means you don't have a decent accommodation says plenty as well.

I see that you believe in a "right to live without roommates". I don't. The fact that you seem to think that says something horrible about me says more about your judgmental attitude than anything else. Which is ironic considering what you believe to be my problem.

"So the many low-income people who don't get roommates and don't learn how to "save money on food" aren't "actual poor people" - they're just, well... undeserving poor? Or do you object to having "poor" used as a descriptor at all, no matter how little money they have? Would "undeserving scum" do better for you?"

I see that we have gone as far as is possible with this discussion. Thanks for not reverting to type as quickly as usual.

I see that you believe in a "right to live without roommates".

I believe in the right to secure, safe, accommodation.

I know from personal experience that in a strange town or city with no social network and the need to arrange accommodation now, finding a person or people to live with can be extremely difficult or even, effectively, impossible. (And that, as has already been pointed out to you on this thread, people often live with dependents and can't have roommates: that didn't apply to Ehrenreich, but it does apply to many people - not "actual poor people", of course, by your definition.) That you're unwilling to consider this as a real possibility for real people, because your own personal experience has been very different, suggests to me that, well, you're a Republican.

The fact that you seem to think that says something horrible about me says more about your judgmental attitude than anything else.

Er, we were talking about your need for a new car every year, which you were presenting as equivalent to a person's need to eat decent food. It's a fact that I have a judgemental attitude to people who think their need for new cars is identical to the need to be able to eat well, or indeed to the need for decent accommodation.

As far as I'm concerned, the ability to rest without fear is a health issue. Stress is a killer in so many ways.

I've experienced means-testing, and helped friends and family deal with it. I favor universal provision of basic services partly because of it: means testing (and lifestyle testing, and so on) encourage people in need to lie, to heighten their problems and hide their successes. It encourages waste and abuse in medical evaluations, neddless lawyering, and a lot else, but above all it feeds the attitude that it takes deceit to get serious help. I favor a culture of honesty and equality, and believe that when all the consequences are figured in, it would actually be cheaper to skip the judgments and go straight to the providing.

Similar concerns shape my thoughts about the desirability of raising the minimum wage.

The existence of a strong social network doesn't necessarily result in a big roommate pool either. And the financial costs of a bad roommate are very bad when you're at subsistence level. If the utilities are in your name (or your lease or whatever) and your roommate stops paying in, you are the one who's screwed. If you're in a larger city, a tenement/flophouse dwelling is an option (rent a room, share toilet facilities with the rest of the house), but these places rarely provide any cooking facilities beyond a microwave and/or a mini fridge and the total costs of living there aren't much better than the alternatives.

A lot of this discussion and the ways around it assume city living, with all the advantages cities provide (cheaper food and appliances, public transportation, etc.). But a lot of major cities already have a minimum wage higher than the national one - a national increase might not actually help them. And the poorest people in the US are the rural poor, who don't have access to half of this stuff, primarily due to the lack of public transportation.

The research shows that a increase in minimum wage _in cities_ doesn't appear to have any statistical effect on employment figures. What I would like to know is what effect it has on unemployment figures in rural communities. Those are the places where what Walmart pays has a lot to do with whether or not people can afford to feed their families. In a place where there aren't enough jobs to go around, the local economy doesn't have any solid drivers (meth and oxycotin probably don't count) and the 'natural' remedies and solutions of the poor that have been put forth don't exist, will a raise of the minimum wage actually help?

Incidently, I'm failing to grasp why it is that churches are considered to be a type of social net. Is this just a sort of 'god wants you to suffer to suck it up' moral boost thing?

College dorm life might not be the best example to use to illustrate what people have been saying in support of that "right to live without roommates" Sebastian is arguing against, but other than my ex-wife (and the less said about her, the better), it's the only anecdotal evidence I can cite from personal experience. My freshman year in college, I shared a three-bedroom apartment with a couple of other students, who made a regular practice of stealing things out of my room when I was at class.

Beyond my own experience, I know of a number of people whose rommates made their lives on kind of hell or another (the one who took their by-then former rommate on Judge Judy's show is the first one that came to mind, but I also know of one married couple who wound up narrowly avoiding trouble with the cops because of what the friend they let live with them did), and so I can't agree with your contention that people are obligated to get roommates.

Um, yes, I was trying to point out that roomates may or may not be possible for a person with dependents. In a lot of ways, a poor person with dependents is like a single person without a roomate. Given that a large segment of the poor is known to have dependents, I'm not so certain that "getting a roomate" is a viable solution.

Living alone is a luxury good. It has been throughout the entire history of the United States. That is why I compared it to buying a car every year. People are happy to work to obtain luxury goods. The government doesn't have to provide luxury goods. A luxury good can be highly desireable without being a neccessity.

Grocer: Incidently, I'm failing to grasp why it is that churches are considered to be a type of social net.

Well, IME (again) if you're a regular attender at a place of worship, it functions as a social network: my parents and my sister are regular attenders, and it obviously works very well as a network if you're willing to be a part of that: a regular face in the congregation on Sundays or evenings, etc. But it doesn't work until you've put in enough time going to church to become known as a regular attender, and (IMO) it would be wrong to expect people to depend on the social network that believers can access via regular church-going.

Living alone is a luxury good.

Tell that to a single mother with two school-age children.

Or tell it to someone recovering from having been the roommate of someone undergoing a schizophrenic breakdown, or of a serial rapist; or someone in ongoing treatment for heart, respiratory, other medical problems that require more control over local conditions; or any of a lot of other things. Having a residence in which you do not fear for your well-being while attempting to rest shouldn't be a luxury.

Living alone is a luxury good.

People with dependents are not living alone.

However, functionally, they are facing the same problems Ehrenreich described, as far I can tell. Should we be treating them the same way as people without dependents?

"Living alone is a luxury good.

Tell that to a single mother with two school-age children."

She's is already getting quite a bit in government subsidies apart from a need to push the minimum wage, or any of the other things Ehrenreich suggests as alternatives. I've worked the dependency side in California. A poor single mother can get all the effects of a roommate (cheaper rent, electricity, access to food) without actually getting a roommate. And in many cases she will actually have one anyway (a sister, a close friend, etc.)

She also can't buy the luxury item in question at any price without getting rid of her kids so I'm not sure why you think you are contradicting me.

And, just to be clear, when I say "in many cases she will actually have one anyway" that is a good thing. It is great that she has access to other things and still saves money by sharing rent.

I'm wrapping up before I say something that would violate posting rules and make me think less of myself, and because ObWi does not need more anger in its comments. I feel it, but I'll go beat up things in World of Warcraft for a while.

some thoughts:

1. "undeserving scum" is an expression I'd personally like for the regulars here NOT to put in each other's mouth.

2. it's been a long time since i've done any amount of public interest law. (i free-ride on the good deeds of the public defender spouse.)

3. that said, there's no doubt that the working poor, both urban and rural, have it rough in this country, especially those with dependents and even more especially single-parent families.

now, as the line goes from Jesus Christ Superstar: "there will be poor always, pathetically struggling. look at the good things you got."

on the other hand, defense spending last year, including DOE and DHS and two wars, was likely in excess of $600 billion.

even without creating a culture of dependency, there's a lot than could be done with a fraction of that money to make the lives of the people at the bottom of the pyramid a little easier.

Expand the EITC. Adequately fund and expand eligibilty for medicare. Expand school lunch, after-school, pre-school programs. Issue clothing vouchers. etc.

Sigh.
I don't know why I bother to leave a comment at the end of such a long thread, but this is a subject to which I have given a lot of thought, having worked my entire life as a food service manager. Despite my job, I started out and am still after thirty-five years an old-fashioned Liberal and for the most part buy the party line.

But in the case of the minimum wage I am not in lock-step with Progressive dogma. Two points:

First, there is a wide spread from one place to another regarding what it costs to "live." Even withing a single metro area (I live in Atlanta Metro) what is a good wage one place is utterly inadequate in another. The single most important variable in wages is simply land costs. Where land is expensive, everything in, on and around that land is correspondingly expensive. Con ersely, where land is cheap the cost of living is correspondingly low. Problem is taking advantage of the higher wages that MUST be paid to workers in the expensive areas.(Offer a dishwasher or other hourly employee to work at $5.15 per hour in an upscale area and you will soon be out of business...or washing your own dishes.) That's why tip wages operate. Tips are a way to pay for services that only last for a brief period of time in cases where hourly wages are not feasible. A tipped employee can make the equivalent of $100 per hour during a peak period, so it is not a crazy idea to pay someone else by the hour to clean the floor or wash the windows. You ain't gonna get tipped employees to do that. Etc. Etc...

Second point, and this is much more important: The Federal Minimum Wage has very little to do with the reality of earning at the lower edge of hourly paid workers. However it has a lot to do with the wages of union workers whose contracts are linked to that official "minimum." I have to admit to having skimmed past both the post and previous comments without closely reading, but I did do a word search for "union" and got only one reference ("Francis" above) who raised that very pertinent question and received no answer.

A very smart local talk show host, Neal Boortz, pointed out on his show yesterday that if any proposed increase in the Federal Minimum Wage were passed with language that would prohibit its being a factor in union agreements the proposal would crash and burn. The man is an intollerable ass, but he takes pride in that role and often, as in this case, makes a valid point.

After working all my life with the "working poor" I have to say that the federal minimum wage is not really on their list of problems. Wages are set by the marketplace, not the law. Anyone who argues otherwise is simply uninformed. My Mexican employees told me what they needed to work, not the law. And if I failed to meet their rate I would not have a reliable dishroom. The same dynamic applies wherever wages are an issue. Supply and demand determine wages the same as prices.

The Federal Wage and Hour laws are sound and proper. There must be oversight and followup from the feds to insure that unprincipled employers do not exploit workers. The minimum wage has not been changed for years, but that has not prevented various states from extablishing their own minimums. This strikes me as a far better remedy because the geography of the nation, reflecting the widespread differences in state and local economies, makes any minimum in the poorest area a joke in the most expensive.

The real issue has to do with the impact of the Federal Minimum Wage on union and other wages. The cascading effect of the "minimum" needs to be considered with an eye toward inflationary pressures, and I think we all know how inflation effects poor people.

My humble suggestion is that we redirect political energy to something more helpful. More affordable health and dental care would be a good start. I have seen a lot of poor people misappropriate meager resources on gambling, drinking and other vices, but I have also seen them endure uncorrected orthopedic, dental, and chronic medical conditions because seeing a doctor was not even on their radar. Unless and until medical insurance premiums become as affordable as satellite TV, fashionable clothing and the interest paid on consumer debt the minimum wage will continue to be a smoke-screen for union interests.

(And am I anti-union? Nope. I am firmly persuaded that any company with a union richly deserves to have it. The way to prevent unions is nothing more than paying them a competetive market-based wage and treating them with fairness and dignity. But that is another discussion.)

Francis: undeserving scum" is an expression I'd personally like for the regulars here NOT to put in each other's mouth.

You're right, I shouldn't have. Sorry for that, Sebastian.

"Rice can be stored tripled-bagged next to your bed if you have to."

You can also store lentils in a burlap sack and use it for a pillow, which kills two birds with one stone. Trouble is, you have to find a new place to store the stone because the two birds take up so much space.

I eat crackers in bed, too. That way, if I get hungry later, I have crumbs to fall back on.

You could share one bird with your roommate, but they might get the wrong idea. Plus, they come to expect one bird every time, so then you have to kill three birds and then you have to rent a storage unit for the third bird.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer years ago, I slept in a family's nipa hut in the Philippines, in a purely false Ehrenreich sort of situation. The rice was stored near my bed. Not only that, but they stored the pork, in its live, oinking, snuffling, fly-bedecked, awake-all-night form, directly underneath my quarters.

You can get used to anything. Plus, I was constrained from bringing girls to my room, because I was afraid of what the pig might think. Of course, if I had brought girls to my room, the barrio fathers would have held a barbecue with me as the honored meal, I mean, guest.

One day, we had pork in our rice. I slept well that night because it turns out my baboy roommate got shivved in the jugular and served in about 73 different ways, including his coagulated blood in a bowl.

But I missed my roommate. I still have his stereo.

Which just goes to show that when there is no right to living alone, you just might end up eating your roommates.

I'm sorry, but these weird moods come over me when I eavesdrop on discussions of the dismal science, in which everything can sound reasonable. ;)

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