Seagulls, Thanksgiving and the U.S. Minimum Wage

Here is a fact that you may or may not already know about the minimum wage: It costs you and I money for companies to pay their workers the minimum wage.
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Photo by Lyndon Johnson.

Maybe it's because I was born in Minnesota, but the fact is I've always loved to be on the water. When I first bought my old, slow sailboat in Marina del Rey, I was out on the Pacific with a friend, trying to figure out why the jib sail was making so much noise and doing so little good, when I noticed a fishing boat coming in to the marina. It was a good sized boat -- probably 80 or 100 feet -- that locals or tourists hire a spot on for $60 a day to throw a line out. On the way out, usually around 430 or 5 in the morning, the fishing boats quietly push their solitary way through the still morning waters, the crew and day player passengers still waking up with the chill. On the way back in, however, they usually have company. From my 26' Columbia that day I saw a fishing boat coming back in being attacked by a squadron of seagulls, a cloud of activity above, behind and zig-zagging across the steel hulled fisher. My buddy Lyndon offered: 'I bet they toss the last of their bait overboard on the way in so the birds watch for it". The birds were chasing the scraps thrown over from the big boat. Sounds to me like the U.S. Minimum Wage.

Here is a fact that you may or may not already know about the minimum wage:

It costs you and I money for companies to pay their workers the minimum wage.

The Declaration of Independence states that 'All men are created equal,' but if you've ever interviewed people for a job at your company you know that in regards to marketable skills, the Declaration was making a stretch. There are people with skills that will make your company more money and others without. There should be and is a hierarchy of pay scale, with the big money makers at the top (or so the strategy goes). A fact that may offer some empathy to this inequality of quality is the fact that none of us asked to be here. Other people decided to put us on this planet, to hack out an existence in the wilderness of the pre-existing condition known as 'natural selection.' We're thrown out screaming into the fluorescent lights of kill-or-be-killed society and those already here expect new players to measure up. Those who don't find a way up or hold membership cards to the lucky sperm club end up chasing the bait thrown overboard from the fishing boat.

Here's how it works. The minimum wage varies from state to state, starting at $5.15 an hour in states like Wyoming and Georgia, to $9.19 an hour in Washington. Here in California, we recently approved a minimum pay raise to $10 an hour, to be implemented in 2016, that will make us the highest minimum wage in the nation. Governor Brown called the bill a "moral imperative", and Assemblyman Luis Alejo said:

"It simply gives hardworking Californians the dignity and respect to provide for their families with their own hard-earned wages"

I don't like that angle. Don't reach for my wallet while you're telling me about dignity and respect. I found a way above the fray and it wasn't easy, so why should I care about people who didn't have the gumption I did? (See paragraph two above for a few reasons, but I'm playing the fiscal hawk now).

Because it costs us money anyway. Right now, a single Wal-Mart Supercenter is costing taxpayers around $900,000 a year. How is that possible? Because the minimum wage workers at those stores file and receive state provided care services that - you guessed it - are paid for by tax payers. Instead of your tax investment going to educate your own kids, they're going to buy food-stamps for the working poor at stores like Wal-Mart. This feels like theft and gets my goat (whatever the hell that means).

Let's talk about that pay scale again. Did you know that the CEO of Apple makes over 1,000 times what Apple's average worker makes? Is he really doing that great of a job? Tim Cook's Apple total compensation is $378 million dollars A YEAR (the caps are mine.) It takes 6,258 of his own employees to equal what he makes in ONE YEAR (big letters again by me). This makes Tim Cook the top of the 'CEO to Worker Pay Ratio' list. Here's the thing, though: the average salary at Apple is around $60k, which won't keep you in diamonds but will provide for the occasional 3 day, 2 night stay-cation.

For this article I'm talking about the low-paid workers, so let's look at #2 on the 'I make more money than my employees could ever dream of' list. Mike Duke at Wal-Mart makes over $17 million a year, while his average employee makes only $22,100. 22 thousand bucks - and that's the average.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has been beating the drum of "starvation wages" for a while now:

"Many of the workers in Walmart end up getting Medicaid, they get food stamps, they get affordable housing paid for by the taxpayers of this country while the Walton family remains the wealthiest family in America. If that is not obscene, I don't know what is."

The fact is, CEOs can make less money and still do a good job. A study from Thomson Reuters Datastream shows that CEOs in Sweden make far less than their European or American counterparts and perform just as well. Switzerland actually tried to pass a law that would make it illegal to pay CEOs too much, hoping to cap the highest wages in a company at 12 times the lowest pay. The measure was rejected.

So, what is to be done? The Harkin-Miller bill, also known as the Fair Minimum Wage Act, would raise the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. The money-gap is going to be filled either by the companies themselves or from taxpayers. Wal-Mart held a Thanksgiving food-drive for their own workers, but the response wasn't what they hoped for. If workers don't feel like they have a chance to get ahead, more are going to not even try. A fair barometer of youth sentiment is this quote from Ashton Kutcher:

We see this propaganda machine around fame and celebrity and there are some kids in the world today that think, when I grow up I want to be famous -- instead of when I grow up I want to do something, I want to build something, I want to create something.

They don't want to get a job at Starbucks or whatever because it's below them. Well, I think the only thing that can be below you is to not have a job.

For our society to continue growing and finding places for new members (there are more humans being born everyday than dying) we have to give the next generation the feeling that they have a shot. That if they put in some effort they'll be fairly compensated. That they won't end up being seagulls chasing the leftover bait. The money is going to come from somewhere.

Brent Roske, Marianne Williamson and Henry Waxman are Representative candidates for California's 33rd Congressional District. Learn more at

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