retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Washington Post reports that the Washington, DC, City Council today is expected to vote on whether to override Mayor Vincent Gray's veto of a "living wage" bill that would require large retailers such as Walmart to pay employees at least $12.50 per hour, above the local minimum wage of $8.25.

Gray vetoed the bill, calling it a "job killer" and saying that it was impractical. Gray also pledged to try to raise the DC minimum wage.

The original bill was passed 8-5, but it will require nine votes to override the veto. According to the Post story, "none of the five council members has indicated a willingness to change his or her vote."

Walmart, which wants to open six stores in the district, has pledged to severely cut back on its plans there if the "living wage" bill becomes law.
KC's View:
My view of the situation hasn't changed. I don;t think it makes sense to have one set of wage rules for one kind of store, and a different set of rules for another. But, I also remain concerned about the larger issue - that a lot of people who work very hard, for 40-50 hours a week, cannot afford to support their families. This strikes me as an unsustainable trend that is not good for the culture. Or the economy.

I said something along these lines the other day, and it prompted one MNB reader to respond:

We have seen the protests at fast food restaurants and we have heard over and over again about Americans not being able to support their families when earning a certain income.  However, there are two sides to the "supporting a family" formula - why don't we talk about the expense side?  Why don't we share what the average American working very hard for 40-50 hours spends as compared to their income?  And what expenses - in what amounts - are actually necessary to "support a family?  Do we need the latest 32 gb cell phone with the extended data plan, or the premium cable packages, or the latest fashion on our bodies and feet, do our children need the same for themselves, do our kids need cars at 17 - I could go on.

The income side is an easy target - and it is somewhat a reflection of personal choice.  However, the expense side is far more controllable - much more a reflection of personal choice.  All of our families are little businesses - each with income and expense.  Any comprehensive discussion about income must include equal time for a review of expense.

This strikes me as such a deeply cynical view of the American working class. Sure, there are people out there who don't behave responsibly when it comes to their personal expenses. (Hell, how many of those people buy cigarettes while being unable to support their families? It isn't just cars, sneakers and fancy cell phones.)

But I prefer to believe that most people - in every demographic - are good a decent people who work hard and only want to be compensated fairly so they can support their families - meaning put a roof over their heads (not an expensive roof), put food on the table (not gourmet food), put clothes on their bodies (not designer duds), and get their children a good education and maybe send them to college (and are happy to settle for state schools).

I'm not suggesting government handouts here, nor am I promoting some sort of minimum wage increase that will actually hurt the ability of businesses to hire. But I do think it is myopic not to consider that there likely are a ton of families out there where both parents work really hard at their jobs, try to pass those values on to their children, but find it hard to make ends meet because of wage scales that don't allow them to do so. (While the top execs at some of these companies enjoy big salaries, big benefits packages, and even big severance agreements when they don't do their jobs very well.)

I'm just convinced that this subject is not being discussed in a mature, considered way. And that, if we don't find a way to deal with the problem, the culture will end up going down a road that is unsustainable.

It is easy to criticize people in the struggling class for being fiscally irresponsible - for spending too much money on cell phones or sneakers or whatever - when one is comfortable in one's own circumstances. And it is easy to say that people who don;t make enough money to support themselves are just guilty of poor choices.

This may be epistemic closure at its worst. Not to mention an appalling lack of compassion.