Last week as I was reading twitter over breakfast I had the misfortune of coming across a conversation about living wage. An elected official (who shall remain nameless to protect the ignorant) had the audacity to suggest that people clamouring for a living wage for all would no longer be doing so if they had to pay more for their burgers. I’m sorry, what?! To which I subtweeted that all members of government should have to have mandatory training on the social determinants of health and poverty. But I have more to say about the subject than 140 characters permits.
First, I would just like to state that we should pay more for fast food burgers (and probably for a lot of other food as well if we want our farmers to be able to earn a respectable living feeding all of us).Yes, the cost of some goods and services would most likely increase if all employers were forced to pay their employees enough money to live above the poverty line. Cue the cry that this is unfair to small business owners and that all “shop local” campaigns in the world won’t be able to prevent many of them from going under if they had to pay their employees enough to survive comfortably on. There are a number of reasons that this would most likely not be the case. And a number of ways to prevent it from occurring.
If everyone was making a respectable amount of money then more money would be available to go back into the economy. More people would be able to spend their hard-earned dollars at local businesses or on more expensive big macs. The additional expense to adequately compensate employees wouldn’t have to be shouldered by the (small) businesses themselves. The government could subsidize these wages, provide grant money, and/or tax breaks to businesses, or even create a guaranteed minimum income program. While I can understand the fear of business owners it also draws my ire that some people would immediately react negatively at the suggestion that they pay their employees a reasonable wage.
We know that income is one of the top social determinants of health (1). We also know that food insecurity (which is the result of poverty and inadequate income) results in astronomically higher costs to the medical system than are seen for those who are food secure (2). Frankly, I find it appalling that any elected government official in this day and age would manage to be so woefully unaware of these facts, and so unwilling to engage in meaningful conversation with those trying to bring this information to his/her attention.
I also find it amazing that so many business owners and managers fail to see the connection between employee satisfaction, morale, and the success of their business. I’ve had a number of jobs over the years and I’ve seen employers who clearly value their employees and treat them with respect. Unfortunately, I’ve seen far more who see their staff as expendable and rather than taking the time and resources to make their employees happy they’d rather see them quit as soon as a better opportunity presents itself and just hire someone new. Happy healthy engaged knowledgeable appropriately compensated employees are truly the most valuable asset any employer could have.
So, yes, if paying more for a burger is all I have to do to help provide people with a living wage and save them from precarious employment then I think that’s a pretty small price to pay.