Thursday, December 8, 2016

Poverty is the Moral Failing of Our Time

If Lancaster area employers would raise their wages to one that reflects human dignity, one that honors an honest day's work, we could cut poverty in half and improve family lives for thousands, because so many have to work two jobs to make ends meet. You probably know this but it's worth saying again: I believe paying poverty wages is an immoral act that hurts the community, and that ending poverty is a moral imperative for Lancaster.

Not everyone believes that, of course.
And not everyone has built their businesses with moral wages in mind , so changing from extractive, exploitative wages is difficult. It takes work, reimagining what the business model could or should be.
And who is to say what that "moral wage" is: $15? $20? $12? It's like the judge said about porn; it's ahrd to describe but I know it when I see it. It's a wage that allows someone to live without anxiety of losing a place to live, or food to eat, or meeting other basic needs for themselves and their families.
An argument against setting a minimum wage, or a scale based on regional cost of living, is that every employment arrangement between the employer (the buyer of labor) and employee (seller of labor) is fair, that the negotiating positions are equal, that the power dynamic is equal. The free market, though, is not free for those on the losing side of that power dynamic. And free markets are not intrinsically ethical--that's why we have a large body of law around markets: to enforce ethical behavior so people and our communities don't get screwed.
These are not equal things for a single mother with a spotty resume and a conviction trying to build a solid work history.
And some might respond, well then she shouldn't have chosen to be a single mother, or to have broken the law. But that's advice to give prior to those choices.

After those choices, advice like that is demeaning, irrelevant and senselessly, corrosively punitive. After, we have a friend and neighbor willing to work who has served her time, and as a society we want her to be healthy and stable, and we want her to have the time and resources to raise her child well.
Living under the duress and strains of the very difficult set of tasks of managing life in poverty undermines our goals as a community--to have a safe, healthy, humane community for all. Despair is a terrible emotion to live and work with and it contributes to weakness and corrosion in our neighborhoods--both in our fair city the and county. In any city.
If you're an employer and want to find a way to improve pay for your employees, I would love the opportunity to try to help you with that. I'd be honored and would honor the attempt regardless of our success. And maybe with it's not possible with some businesses at this point, as I said before. But it's worth re-imagining what your business offers to the world, because at the moment it might not be positively impacting the community.
But maybe it could be. And maybe we can make it happen, together.

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