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‘Safety nets’ often become hammocks or people become entangled & trapped
PERSPECTIVE
fast food
A McDonald’s fast food worker

David Aron is a 20-something in Brookfield, Colorado.

And he gets it.

Aron back in 2018 was making $15 an hour at a pizza parlor.

He took another job, working as an entry level machinist.

The pay? It was $15 an hour.

You’ve probably have heard more than a few people, 20-something and older, who were in lower paying jobs,voice frustrations.

They want to make more because it is a struggle to live on what they get paid. But when a job with the opportunity to grow comes along they say no because it doesn’t pay a dime more than they are currently making.

Or you’ve read social media postings or interviews with college grads who are bitter that their liberal arts or some other general degree that isn’t tied to an exact science or career path with marketable skills because their four-year, $80,000 investment didn’t lead directly to a $100,000 plus paycheck.

In some cases, they’re working basic entry level jobs such as a waiter. They are making just above minimum wage with tips.

They bemoan they are making more — let’s say $30,000 a year — than the $24,000 a year entry level job that could lead to eventually six figures that their degree was designed to help open the door to access.

So they stay put, bemoan their lot in life, and maybe even advocate for a higher minimum wage.

Now circle back to Aron.

He was interviewed for a Wall Street Journal story on minimum wage laws.

Wage activists mentioned in the same story share how they are demanding states and/or local jurisdictions raise the minimum wage to a “livable wage.”

Aron today is a machinist at another shop.

He took the skills he learned at his entry level job and parlayed it into a position where he is now making $30 an hour.

Aron attributes his success at more than doubling his income in six years — given today he has a full-time job — to a strong work ethic, learning new skills, and the fact there are not enough machinists to meet the demand.

And, as a footnote, he has started saving to buy a house.

This is not saying everyone who does everything right will have the same success story.

But it illustrates the point the best strategy to a better future and making livable wages will not come from government decisions to raise the hourly wage floor.

There is a generational conceit at play.

On one level there are those either on — or well on the way to being on — Social Security believe that younger generations lack work ethic and initiative which is clearly not the case.

Then on another level, there are those who weren’t born when mortgage rates reached 18.63 percent in October 1981 that believe they will never own a home. That is not a given, unless, of course that is the path you take to make sure you can never buy a home.

It all comes down to opportunity cost — not necessarily intelligence and not even whether you have a work ethic that is in overdrive.

Opportunity cost, in its purest form, is what you forsake — or can gain — when you make decisions.

There are a lot of gifted people out there.

An example are kids who can play basketball.

The best local example is Scott Brooks.

His work ethic was legendary, not just on the court and conditioning, but in life.

He worked in the fields picking crops growing up.

He spent every free minute with a basketball in his hand.

There are certainly a lot of people who have the potential to do what Brooks did, which is play on a team that won the NBA championship.

But he got there because he kept pushing, seizing opportunities when they came up, and not slipping into self-pity modes where you end up holding yourself back because you buy into life isn’t fair thinking or do not understand delayed gratification is the key to standing a solid shot at many goals, financial and otherwise.

It is certainly more comfortable pursuing the status goal.

At the same time, not denying yourself anything can get you into tight spots financially.

The continued emphasis on upping the minimum wage instead of nudging people into growing skill sets or pursuing opportunities is a dead-end.

It’s a variation on the time-tested proverb “you can give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

The problem with government safety nets — either by direct income transfers or via backdoor mandates on the private employment sector — is that they can become either a hammock, or else people can get tangled up and trapped in them.

Do not misunderstand.

There is clearly a need for safety nets as defined by government welfare programs and such.

There are people due to legitimate circumstances that need to avail themselves of such safety nets for an extremely long time or for their entire life.

But they can become a crutch and a hindrance.

The same goes by constantly going back to raising the minimum wage.

It lifts all boats thanks to its ripple effect.

But after one tide of minimum wage increases rolls through, those in the bottom of the boat hierarchy are still taking on water, if not more so.

We need government to provide people access to the tools they need to succeed.

It could be rethinking childcare in some manner or revamping K-12 schools by adding a much more intense trade education element.

And certainly it makes more sense to direct more high school graduates to robust community college programs aimed at earning certificates of degrees in employable fields instead of continuing to overfeed the “Student Loan/Four Year College-University” industrial complex.

It’s OK to be comfortable working in frontline fast food jobs forever.

But you shouldn’t expect that to pave the way to a life where your household can thrive on just one check unless, of course, it is on the management ladder.

Government needs to strive to, for want of a better word, “teach” people on how to improve their lot in life as opposed to giving them a handout whether it is direct or indirectly.

And that may also mean the government stepping up its fight on private sector concerns that skirt wage and labor laws.

There is a middle ground between handouts and taking a “let them eat cake” attitude.

The incessant reptilian reflex of politicians to keep raising the minimum wage is not the answer that will get us to that middle ground.

This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com