Sunday, January 19, 2014

In a Perfect World


I love the little debates I have with Hubby on Sunday mornings.  It's been an almost weekly occurrence that's happened since we first got together 8 years ago.  We've debated everything from religion to abortion to gay rights to the benefits of buying a home... and even all the way down to eating whole grain versus white bread.  

We don't get angry with each other, but 99.9% of the time, our debates are from opposing sides.  We offer up our opinions and argue our side.  We agree and disagree on those opinions and have a great discussion on ways that the problem could be solved.

I promise, you could vote for us for President, and all would be right with the country.  HA!

It's something I've always LOVED about our relationship.  We can have very "grown-up" conversations that don't result in arguments or anger or personal attacks.  We've always known that we are complete opposites, and that works for us.  One thing that NEVER happens is one side walking away like we've "won".  We just get out our opposing sides, enjoy our little debate, and then that's it.  We move on.  Most of the time, we understand each other's opposing views, but that doesn't mean we change our original just means we are a little more understanding of the opposite view.  Which I think is very good and healthy!

Today's topic of discussion was the current issue of raising the minimum wage.  Several states have opted to raise the minimum wage, and it's caused an outpouring of support and controversy... depending on what side of the argument you sit.  Some say that a minimum wage increase is well overdue.  Others say a minimum wage increase hurts business owners and forces to them to cut expenses (often employees) in order to afford the mandated increase.  Just this morning, I read an article about a small business owner that will now have to cut some of his employees because in his state the minimum wage is being increased by $2 an hour which will require cutting back his staff of ten down to eight in order to afford it. And, he went on to explain that almost all of the people that work for him are high school dropouts with very few skills.  They were OK with what they made, because it was very hard to find a job with no high school diploma or trained skills.  Some money was better than no money... and now he's forced to decide what two members of his staff to sacrifice.

Before reading the article, I sat on the side of the argument that thought minimum wage should reflect the cost of living.  A "minimum" wage, should be the bare minimum a person can make to survive.  That includes paying rent, paying utility bills, buying food, and having the means to travel to work (and that can mean using public transportation if it's available).  It should not mean how much a person SHOULD make in order to afford the luxuries such as 500 channel satellite TV service, high-speed internet, brand new cars, top of the line smart phones, and eating out at restaurants 3-5 days a week.

And, of course, a minimum wage is going to have a big impact on each individual.  A single person making minimum wage could live a pretty happy life.  They could probably afford a few more luxuries than that of a person trying to raise a child or even a couple of children.  That's when the argument starts getting murky.  A single mother, for example, may have a lot harder time affording the bare essentials on minimum wage because instead of needing a studio apartment, they may need a two bedroom apartment.  They need more food, more clothes, higher utility bills.  And that's when things like public assistance comes in to the mix... which is a whole other topic of debate.

I know that when I had Peanut and Butter, I was making minimum wage for a short time.  My pay paid for my rent of our two bedroom apartment, put gas in my car to drive them to daycare and me to work each day, paid the utility bills, my car payment, bought a few packages of diapers, and that was about it.  There was no money left over for food.  There was no money to pay for daycare.  So, I received food stamps, and daycare assistance (the state paid for my kids to attend daycare).  With the food stamps and daycare assistance, we were OK.  We had everything we needed.  I was perfectly content shopping in thrift stores for clothes, accepting hand-me-down toys and clothes from friends and family, and going without a cell phone or a computer and even TV service.  Thankfully, my apartment came with basic cable included in the rent, so we at least had something to watch in the evenings...and the TV was given to me by my parents.  All of the furniture that furnished my apartment were bought from second-hand stores, or given to me by family.  And that was perfectly fine with me.

When our debate started, that was my taking on the situation.  I also stated, however, that just raising the minimum wage wasn't a quick fix.  In relation to the cost of living in most areas, the minimum wage could not and would not ever sit side by side.  There would be no way of raising the minimum wage to match the cost of living because the gap was far too wide.  

Hubby agreed with all of that...until...

I made a statement that most people that made minimum wage had minimum education or experience.  Minimum wage jobs were usually given to the jobs that didn't require many skills or any form of special schooling... AND if people weren't happy with making minimum wage, they should stay in school and seek receiving the set of skills they needed in order to put them in to better paying jobs.

Hubby's side of the argument was that many of those "minimum" jobs were the backbone of our society.  Those people work in the industries that many of the higher paying workers use on a daily basis, rely on, and are the people sitting at the foundation of multi-billion dollar companies.  A forced minimum wage across the board wasn't right, because depending on the company, the job, the area, etc, all the variables would produce different outcomes.  The guy in the article I read was a small business owner.  Imposing the mandated raise hurt his business and his employees.  Imposing the same rule on a HUGE corporation may mean taking some money out of that multi-million dollar salary of the CEO that sits behind a desk reaping the profits, while his "minimum wage minions" are doing the hard work that makes those profits.  They fight to survive on their measly wage, while the big-wigs get all the benefits.  And, now with the forced healthcare, those minimum wage workers are facing even more hardships because now they are forced to buy healthcare when they can't even afford their basic means of survival.

He makes very valid points.  Points I can't argue with.

He argued my side of seeking out education by reminding me of how much student loan debt I currently have.  It's a lot.  We'll be paying it off for many years to come.  And, my salary (after receiving a bachelor's degree) still puts me in the bracket of being 100% below the poverty line.  Just my salary alone.  If I was still single, trying to raise my two children, I'd still qualify for public assistance because my salary does not meet the guidelines of being above poverty level.  I was only able to make it through college by accepting assistance through federal aid, and still had to take out $25,000 in loans. Had I not received any federal aid, that amount would be closer to the $50,000 mark.  

How many people making minimum wage can afford that?

For the first time EVER, he's absolutely, 100% right.  I can't sit here and complain that people making minimum wage and not liking it should get out and get a college education if they want more money.  Because most of them just can't afford to go to college.  And student loans are great, but will their outcome career make them enough to pay off all those loans and put them any better off than they were before?  They may make a few extra bucks an hour, but they'd be spending that money paying off all their loans, so it would be several years before they really started noticing a difference in their lives.

I say, in a perfect world, community college would be a public school program.  Just like our public schools for K-12.  After high school, if a person wants to earn specialized career training (an equivalent to an associate's degree), they could do it for free.  For anyone that wants to go on and receive a bachelor's degree or higher, would be able to take all their prerequisites at the community college level, and would then only need to pay for university for two years instead of four.  Decreasing their student loan amount by half (which is similar to what I did, my first two years were paid for and then I had to pay for the last two).  But, instead of paying for tuition and room and board, you paid one or the other. If you wanted to live on campus, you paid the expenses to do so... but your tuition would be free.  As long as you were attending classes, and keeping your GPA above a certain level, you just paid the fees associated with living on campus and you were good.  If you chose to live off campus, then you paid the equivalent in tuition costs.  One or the other, but not both.  Making the college experience a LOT more affordable.

But what about the fact that colleges wouldn't be able to operate with all that money now disappearing?  

Well, let me point out that I'm a teacher.  I have a bachelor's degree, yet my salary still sits below the poverty line.  College professors have received much more schooling, so they should be paid more.  But, is it reasonable that a football coach make MILLIONS of dollars a year?  Take a second to research the average salary for a college football coach...or basketball coach too for that matter.  Just scroll through some of these that I found for you...

Is it reasonable for colleges to spend upwards of $50,000,000 on sporting complexes?  

And I'm not just picking on sports.  I'm just making a point on where some of the money goes from college tuition.  But, many of the sporting students are attending school on a full-ride scholarship.  Meaning, it's not costing them a penny to attend college, as long as they agree to keep playing sports.  Which means, those people not playing sports and are just in college to get their degrees are having to pay full price for their future.  And, yes, there are academic scholarships available.  But, shouldn't it be a little more easier for those people that don't get accepted in to college with a scholarship?

A football coach might have to bring his salary down to the hundred thousands instead of the millions if students could get a 50% decrease in their tuition.  Isn't it more important that we are training and providing better opportunities for ALL of our students, instead of the ones that could go on and become famous sport players?  

Then there comes the argument that the economy would suffer because more people would be educated and expecting more money due to their college experience.  And, yes, I've actually heard this argument.  The argument stated that if college was made more accessible to ALL members of society, it would lower the credit of said experience and thus lower the worth.  


We sure don't want too many lawyers, doctors, teachers, business owners, entrepreneurs, architects, etc...right?  That would be anarchy!!  

What a load of bologna!  More education means more opportunity.  New businesses, more jobs, more educated people having a say in our country and helping fix some of the problems.  

Got too many people becoming doctors?  Oh no!! We might have to reevaluate our medical system and put some of them to work in a public sector, meaning opening clinics and hospitals that are focused on treating the poor who don't have the means to pay for private doctors and hospitals.. that would be available to those people who can afford those things.  Heaven forbid we end up with a medical field that figures out a way to eliminate the need for medical insurance, and provides a way of offering medical services without using medical insurance coverage as a guide.  That actually could decrease the pay of doctors, but might actually inspire people in to the field who's desire is to heal people rather than how much money they could make.  (You know, like teachers.. HA!) 

Too many lawyers?  That means more politicians.  Yikes!! A more fierce competition for a political seat, meaning proving that change will come instead of just promising it.  We want proof!! Cause there will be plenty more people to take your place if you don't follow through.  Or maybe more law experts that can tackle our broken justice system and actually find ways to fix it.

Too many teachers?  Well, that would require more schools and forcing teachers that are teaching 25-30 kids a class into lowering their student-teacher ratio and completely eliminate the overcrowding situation.  That's just disaster waiting to happen.  Or worse yet, we open up more free community colleges and train those extra teachers to teach there.

More business owners and entrepreneurs?  Do we really need any more businesses?  That would mean a higher chance of keeping our production and workforce right here in our country.  New technology and innovation?  Oh goodness, no!!  The last thing we need is more competition in the business world, which means lowering prices on goods and services to people.  Small business is just trouble waiting to happen...we all know that big box is the way to go.  Big corporations run the show and the country.. why on earth would we want to increase the small business industry until there's at least some kind of fight to those giant companies.

And, I could go on.

At the end of the day, there will still be those people who have no interest whatsoever about going to school.  There will still be people who are perfectly content working in a "minimum" wage job.  But maybe, just maybe, they would have a choice in the matter.  The people that work in those jobs that have dreams to go to school and become something they've always wanted to be might just have a chance.  

Just think about how much money would be saved if more people were making more money putting them out of the public assistance bracket?  What could we do with all that tax money?  

And, if a person is perfectly content working minimum wage and getting public assistance..then they should get it.  But, no more of this sitting around not even trying to get a job and just living off the state's money.  No effort?  No assistance!

Like the guy said in that article this morning, some money is better than no money.  If you can get a job that pays for rent and utilities, but you still need food should have it.  But, you don't get your housing and utilities paid for just because you're "above" flipping burgers.  And I know that's a loaded statement.  I know there are MANY people out there living on assistance that are trying to do what they can for their families...I am in no way directing that last statement to any of them.

At the end of the day, I truly believe that education... MORE education could really fix many of the problems this country is dealing with.  But, it has to be easier to get the education.  

I have met so many people that have always wanted to go to college, better their lives, but it's just not possible for them.  They don't qualify for aid, or the thought of borrowing $20,000+ a year to pay for it is far too overwhelming for them to wrap their heads around.  

Is my opinion the fix all to the system?  Of course not.  I'm sure there are many holes I'm missing.  Just as I'm typing I'm already thinking about the people that are raising kids, who want to go to school, but have to work full time and couldn't possibly figure out a way to take classes, pay for them, and hold down a job that supports their family in the process.  

But, my original point is raising the minimum wage isn't the only answer to a very broken system.  There's so much that could be done to better our society, better our country... and I truly believe that any chance of fixing them all boils down to EDUCATION. More of it.  

That's why, I can only hope that the small impact I'm making on my students each day really influences them to keep going with their education, reaching for the sky, holding on to their dreams.  Because the people that hold the keys to all of our problems are out there...maybe their currently in 4th grade, or 10th grade, or haven't even been born yet.  But, if those people aren't given the chance to fulfill their potential, we'll never get them to do what they've been put on this earth to do.  We have to open up the roads to let their potential shine.  

And, I sleep better at night knowing that I'm one of those people that are trying with all my might to mold our future generation.


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