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Getting the change we both deserve and demand

Thursday, January 1, 2009 | 2:00 p.m. CST; updated 9:11 p.m. CST, Sunday, January 4, 2009

The question posed to Missourian readers is what change would we like to see in 2009. Before we get to that, let's take a quick survey of the changes we're going to see, no matter what we want.

Nationally and locally, big changes are guaranteed, and not all of them will be pretty. The two biggest -- and the most welcome to most of us -- will be, of course, the changes of occupants in the White House and the governor's mansion.

Like you, I've been reading as pundits of left and right pick apart the pre-inauguration actions of our president-to-be. From where I sit, here in what Howard Dean used to call the democratic wing of the Democratic Party, the guy hasn't set a foot wrong yet. He has told us from the beginning of his campaign that he is a pragmatic progressive. What we've seen of his plans so far and his major appointments are all consistent with his self-description.

I'll be astonished if Mr. Obama pulls the kind of Rovian bait and switch that transformed still-President Bush from compassionate conservative to right-wing ideologue. At the very top, we're getting change we can believe in.

For me, at least, Gov.-elect Nixon is more of a mystery. That may seem odd, because he has been around forever. But what he has shown us during all his years on the public stage is more his toughness than his vision. He says he wants to create more jobs and improve education and health care. Sure. Even Republicans say that, though they're a lot more believable on the former than on the latter.

We have yet to see what Mr. Nixon's real, die-in-the-ditch priorities are. We'll get more clues in his first address, a few days hence. We'll really get to know our new governor, though, when we get to deal-making days in the legislative session.

Meanwhile, at least we can be relieved that our beloved Boy Governor has found gainful employment as a money manager in the Romney family empire. It's interesting how these political dynasties look out for each other.

Locally, we look forward to new leadership in the Columbia Public Schools. We owe a good deal, I think, to outgoing School Board president Michelle Gadbois. With remarkable energy and courage, she has led the transformation of the board from its rubber-stamp tradition to a much-needed and overdue activism. The question to be answered is who will take over her leadership role.

We also owe thanks to care-taker (and care-giver) superintendent Jim Ritter, who has come off the bench again to calm his team and his community. We can only hope the board this time chooses more wisely than previous boards usually have in hiring an outsider as our next superintendent. The public schools are Columbia's greatest asset, and the asset is at risk.

Some of this year's changes, the ugly ones, are previewed in the economic numbers and the budget-cut scenarios ordered by the legislature. Local and state governments are going to get leaner, and Missouri's legendarily stingy social services will get even meaner. That's change we can count on, unless we somehow change ourselves.

The change I'd most like to see in 2009 would be a rebirth of the communitarian spirit that produced two little-noted positives for the new year: The state's minimum wage goes up again, by 40 cents an hour, as we citizens ordered in a referendum, and Social Security checks increase, a gift from an earlier generation that keeps on giving.

Sometimes, we and our elected leaders have risen to the occasion. Sometimes, crisis has produced real progress. We've got the crisis. We've got new leaders. We'll get the change we deserve, the change we demand.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

 


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Comments

Ayn Rand January 1, 2009 | 5:03 p.m.

I wonder how many more small businesses will close because the minimum wage is increasing again. One example is The Coffee Ground: "Owner Jenn Myles said several setbacks eventually lead her to shut down the coffeehouse. She said the first was the state’s minimum wage hike, which boosted the baseline pay from $5.15 to $6.50 an hour starting Jan. 1, 2007. Myles said that hike increased her labor costs by 20 percent."

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 1, 2009 | 6:25 p.m.

Ayn, I believe that Leigh Lockhart, owner of Main Squeeze downtown, also addressed the increase in the minimum wage as one of the fiscal pressures on her business a couple months back. It wasn't the only factor listed, but was apparently enough that she mentioned it.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 2, 2009 | 2:36 a.m.

With out the increase in the wages how are or were employees to be able to pay the growing costs of housing,utilities,fuel costs,insurance and more?

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 2, 2009 | 7:36 a.m.

If you want to make more money, you need to acquire skills that make you more attractive to employers. Period.

(Report Comment)
Robert craig January 4, 2009 | 9:47 a.m.

Wow. Where to start with this one.

Unfortunately, we certainly WILL get the change we deserve from this election. The president-elect has made no secret of supporting his vice-president's statement that it's "patriotic" to pay taxes. How about his statements that he'll essentially raise electricity rates to exorbitant levels to placate the environmentalist agenda?

I always chuckle at the "pragmatic progressive" label. Decoding this means a hard-left liberal not afraid to punish the producers in order to fund more federal programs. The author says President Bush is a "right wing ideologue"? We certainly did get a bait and switch but we wound up with someone calling himself a Republican but acting like a liberal. Government expanded and illegal immigration was allowed to continue (to name just a couple).

No, the change in the occupant in the White House will not be welcome by me. As a small business owner and employer I am bracing myself for my coming punishment.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 4, 2009 | 9:51 a.m.

Another side-effect of the minimum-wage increase - higher prices for diners (no surprise there) and possible layoffs:

http://www.connectmidmissouri.com/news/s...

http://www.kmiz.com/news/story.php?id=13...

http://www.komu.com/satellite/SatelliteR...

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 4, 2009 | 10:55 a.m.

>>> Ayn Rand January 2, 2009 | 7:36 a.m. If you want to make more money, you need to acquire skills that make you more attractive to employers. Period. <<<

Well do explain to all of us then who is going to do all of those mid to low end service jobs that keep the higher end workers in work and able to work?

Why shouldn't those mid to low end employees not be paid accordingly? They work their collect butts off to keep the rest of this nation moving. With out them and all of those service jobs they do the high end worker would be in deep doo doo.

(Report Comment)
Robert craig January 4, 2009 | 11:12 a.m.

Mr. Dudley:

Your populist rhetoric belies your ideological position. Class envy doesn't suit anyone.

It is true that "low end" employees work their collective butts off...but so do I. As for the wage of my employees, the market determines what it will bear; not the government. How much is "paid accordingly"? How about we make minimum wage $50.00 per hour? Would that be fair?

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 11:20 a.m.

Chuck, jobs that pay close the minimum wage are career steppingstones, at least for those who aspire to do more than menial labor. Those positions can be filled by people starting out in life or looking for a second job. Who really wants to make a career out of flipping burgers or stocking shelves?

If your job is one that can be filled by anyone off the street, you shouldn't be surprised when its wage reflects that low skill set. If the government forces employers to pay more for those positions, you end up paying because they'll simply pass on those costs. That's how it works.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 4, 2009 | 11:44 a.m.

All low to mid range service types of workers should be receiving wages according to the national costs of housing,utilities and other services they themselves have to pay for.

With out those low to mid range service types pf workers doing their jobs daily we the other consumers would not be able to do what we do.

This goes from the lowly guy or gal pushing shopping carts on a WalMart parking lot to the cashiers of any company checking you out at where ever you go to buy services to the loaders on any of the loading docks across this nation making sure you can get your goods you desire.

They deserve a decent and fair wage as well in order to pay their bills just like everybody does.

Maybe they do not want to go into some office type of job or into some other field. Maybe they are happy right where they are.

Does this mean they should be penalized so the rich become richer still? Hell dam no it doesn't! They are in those jobs most times because they like what they do and instead of cutting wages and benefits those employees should be receiving full benefits because with out alot of them grinding on those jobs daily this country would be in deep stuff too quick.

Those low to mid range workers are the base line in keeping America running 24/7/365. With out them this nation would not have gotten to where we are today.

With the costs of housing,utilities and food as well as the other essentials going up the National Minimum Wage should set at $7.50 across the entire board so all of those workers can live decently and not have to worry if they can afford to heat their homes or to buy food or worry which one is going to be more important.

(Report Comment)
Robert craig January 4, 2009 | 11:55 a.m.

Mr. Dudley:

Just out curiosity. Who do you believe pays for the wages employees earn?

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 4, 2009 | 12:03 p.m.

Chuck: "Maybe they do not want to go into some office type of job or into some other field. Maybe they are happy right where they are."

Me: In that case, they have made a conscious decision to stay in a job that offers a certain pay scale that they should not be complaining about, since they CHOOSE to stay there...

If one does not want to advance and better theirself in the workforce, then why should everyone else have to pay for it?

Rick.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 4, 2009 | 12:06 p.m.

Well Chuck, according to the Tribune story below that I had not yet read due to the holidays, it's going to $7.25 at the federal level in 2009. Does that make you happy, or do you want to see it raised higher and we'll just let some of those people go when the business owner can't afford the costs?

http://www.columbiatribune.com/2009/Jan/...

Kurt from Shakespeare's has it pretty well-nailed when he says he can't pay minimum wage for his employees because the free market for those employees drives the wage higher in order to keep them. I wonder why Leigh Lockhart doesn't do the same for her employees?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 4, 2009 | 12:08 p.m.

I'll also add that the only time I earned minimum wage was the warehouse job I worked part-time during college. Once I got my degree and earned my first "real" job, my employer was paying me well over $3.35/hour.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 4, 2009 | 12:16 p.m.

John Schultz: "Once I got my degree and earned my first "real" job, my employer was paying me well over $3.35/hour."

Me: But that was back before the Great Depression, wasn't it John? So, anything over $3.35/Hr. was EXCELLENT pay; right?

Just being humorous John. I hope I did not offend, I figured a "poke" at your age was innocent enough... LOL.

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 12:32 p.m.

Chuck, the next time you visit a restaurant that you know pays only minimum wage, will tip far more than the base 15 percent in order to ensure that those who "deserve a decent and fair wage" get it -- if not from their employer or the government, then from you? In fact, are you already doing that?

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 4, 2009 | 12:37 p.m.

Ayn_Rand: "Chuck, the next time you visit a restaurant that you know pays only minimum wage, will tip far more than the base 15 percent in order to ensure that those who "deserve a decent and fair wage" get it -- if not from their employer or the government, then from you? In fact, are you already doing that?"

Me: I ALWAYS tip above 15%. But.... But to be fair, we should also recognize that working in a restaurant as a waiter or waitress is really not the "ideal model" for a discussion about minimum wage, because the pay model in these jobs is "tip reliant", and some of these employees make UNDER minimum wage because of the money they can make from tips...

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 12:47 p.m.

I'd argue that waiters/waitresses are fine examples for a discussion about minimum wage because their tips reflect their perceived value: Do the bare minimum, and you get 15 percent, maybe even less. Do an outstanding job, and you'll probably get more. Same way in life: Work hard to the point that you impress your employer, and you'll make more money. Of course, then you'll be required to pay more in taxes to support those who prefer to skate by in life -- or not even work at all.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 4, 2009 | 12:47 p.m.

Robert craig we all pay for those wages they earn. Every single consumer.

All of the above commentary sure does sound like the Republicans are not very happy one bit,except for John Schultz and we all know where the Libertarians always stand.

Ayn Rand I always tip according to the meal and service given not by the 15% amount.

Once again people with out all of those low to mid range workers this country as a whole would be in deep problems. Instead of looking down upon them you all should be thanking them alot more.

By not wanting to be accepting of them receiving a good wage they can live on you show your real colors of your loathing for their hard work they do.

John Schultz do tell us sir how far that $7.25 will go when most employers are only hiring "part time" employees and not paying any benefits?

Do tell us John Schultz how far it goes when those workers have to pay for housing,utilities,a vehicle, insurance,clothing and more. Oh we did not include possibilities of day care and food in there did we.

It does not go very far at all.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 12:58 p.m.

"Ayn Rand I always tip according to the meal and service given not by the 15% amount."

So why should you demand that employers pay more to people whose service/skills is no better than anyone else they can pull off the street? Just as they add no value to that business, a ho-hum waiter adds no value to your meal, which is why you tip accordingly.

"Instead of looking down upon them you all should be thanking them alot more."

No, they should be thanking those who are forced to pay more in taxes in order to subsidize their unwillingness to acquire skills that enable them to pay their bills. Why should someone who went through years of college or technical school be forced to support someone who dropped out of high school?

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 4, 2009 | 1:25 p.m.

Ayn_Rand: "I'd argue that waiters/waitresses are fine examples for a discussion about minimum wage because their tips reflect their perceived value:"

Me: I understand your message AND AGREE WITH IT, but this does nothing either way to further the argument on minimum wage, because tips take the "cap" off of the income at an entry level position, whereas minimum wage is already predetermined at entry level positions that pay minimum wage.

I am NOT saying that a person is "doomed" to minimum wage. Quite the contrary, I think it is a person's CHOICE to stay at minimum wage and not work hard to get pay raises and promotions, go to school to get a better job, etc., etc., And I have a hard time mustering any sympathy for someone that makes a conscious decision to to keep theirself in a situation that they are also complaining about.

Personally speaking (and I can't speak for anyone else) I tip above 15% even if the service is not "up to par"; because I know these people that are relying on tips are using these tips to supplement a wage that is below the minimum wage. Now, if service is EXTREMELY poor they might see a "tip reduction".

What I am saying here is that the "wage model" for minimum wage and the "wage model" for a person making tips is so different, that I don't believe an accurate comparison can be made between the two. It goes without saying that if you work hard, you should be able to increase your earnings. However, the person making tips has more of an opportunity to take advantage of the "work hard, earn more" concept than the person making minimum wage.

If a person goes into an entry level position earning minimum wage, and works hard, they should be able to significantly come out of the "minimum wage bracket" within a year. If they are consistent, and WANT to significantly improve their financial situation, they should be able to do this within 4 years. It takes hard work, consistency (staying at one job, working hard, attending work every day, getting along with your co-workers, and doing other things to improve one's marketability i,e: college, community college, classes, seminars, certifications, etc., etc.). There is not much of an excuse for having to work a minimum wage job for over 1 year, and not much excuse for not being able to pull yourself up into a much higher income bracket after 4 years; other than laziness and sorriness. And I have no problem with someone that chooses to be lazy or sorry, just don't expect me to "pick up the slack for you", and don't let me have to hear your complaints about a conscious decision that you are making to stay where you are at.....

I am speaking in general here, Ayn_Rand, not about you..

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 1:32 p.m.

Good points, Rick. You know how to make a compelling, rational argument. Certain posters on here would do well to learn from the way that you make a case.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 4, 2009 | 2:05 p.m.

Did anybody ever think that some of those people might actually love those types of work they do and because of that is why they stay in those jobs years on end?

For dedicated service oriented employees like that there is no valid reason not to pay them accordingly.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 2:11 p.m.

Chuck, you might have a point. Every minimum wage job that I worked, all of my colleagues routinely expressed their love for their work.

Not.

They're flipping burgers and scrubbing toilets because they're unwilling to put in the effort to move up.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 4, 2009 | 2:25 p.m.

Some people do actually love those measly jobs nobody wants in the service industries due to since nobody wants them they have job security.

Look at some people who work at WalMart in the various departments whether it be grocery,meats,produce,bakery, housewares or automotive. Those employees are there because alot of them do love those kinds of work.

Sure not everybody is the case but if they are living with in their means and they are happy being of service to others and it makes them a good and happy employee then why not give them a good wage to keep them happy.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 2:43 p.m.

Chuck, if Wal-Mart workers believe that they're underpaid, they're free to look elsewhere for better pay. Of course, they will need skills in order to make a case for being paid more than the minimum wage. Otherwise, good luck arguing that you should make $15/hour simply for showing up.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 4, 2009 | 3:13 p.m.

Chuck: "Some people do actually love those measly jobs nobody wants in the service industries due to since nobody wants them they have job security."

Me: Then that is a conscious decision that they make; where they have an opportunity for advancement but refuse that opportunity. And I have no problem with that, and apparently they don't either (because if they did they would make a conscious decision to advance in their job). So the question is, if they don't want to advance, and make better pay; why would they they gripe about not making better pay?

And the next question is, if they don't care why should we?

And most importantly, if they don't care, why should you?

Rick.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 3:20 p.m.

Another scenario: If you have three kids by the time you're 21, your cost of living will be higher. But that was your choice. So why should those of us who choose not to overburden and overextend ourselves be forced to support those who do?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 4, 2009 | 3:27 p.m.

Ayn Rand nobody said anything about $15.00 an hour wages. We are talking about the minimum wage that is required to be paid.

Obviously you have not been in any service job you enjoyed being in.

(Report Comment)
Robert craig January 4, 2009 | 3:38 p.m.

Mr. Dudley:

So. Since you believe that we all pay an employee's salary, what would be the limit? $9, $15, $50? My point is that government should not dictate salaries. If a local employer pays low and treats their employees badly, they can look elsewhere. That employer will soon either correct their behavior or go out of business.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 3:42 p.m.

So what should be the minimum wage, Chuck? Give us a figure. Then explain how you arrived at it.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 4, 2009 | 4:14 p.m.

Ayn Rand at our current state of economy and the fact that "everything" is going up in price why shouldn't employers be required to pay a base minimum wage of as John Schultz posted earlier $7.25 per hour?

Give us all some reasons why these service workers should not be paid this wage for the "serve work" they perform that not only keeps American running but this state,county and city too.

After all everybody benefits in one way or the other from all of the various "service worker" positions these workers are employed in whether indirectly or directly on a daily basis.

Did you know all hospital maintenance workers get a raise each year across the board as well? This is from the cleaning personnel to the laundry workers to the food service workers. It is a set raise of a percentage that is not only at one hospital but at all hospitals.

I suppose you do not think some lowly floor maintenance worker deserves a raise because he is not in some "hi-tech" job huh? My question is could you run a floor buffer or swing a mop half or all of the night long?

So explain to the readers here why these "service related workers" should not be paid a good honest wage so they too can pay their bills in this ever more expensive economy.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 4:33 p.m.

Chuck, raising the minimum wage is a solution to a non-problem. Less than 1 percent of American workers earn minimum wage. Sixty percent of that 1 percent work part time, which is one of the reasons why the median household income for someone earning minimum wage is about $46,000.

How is it possible to make minimum wage and yet have such a high household income? One reason is because the minimum-wage-earner is not the sole breadwinner. So earning minimum wage doesn't mean having to struggle financially. Just the opposite, when you consider that $46,000 is more than $12,000 more than Columbia's median household income.

Sixty percent of those making minimum wage or less work in restaurants and bars. Keep that in mind when you're tipping. Or maybe not, considering that many don't pay taxes on those tips, so the majority of their income is tax-free.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 4, 2009 | 4:50 p.m.

I think you missed the question, Chuck. So, I will reiterate for Ayn_Rand:

"So what should be the minimum wage, Chuck? Give us a figure. Then explain how you arrived at it."

Maybe you did not "miss" the question.. Perhaps you just AVOIDED the question?

And let me say this. Most of us that have decent paying jobs, or a fairly successful business got in that position by working the jobs you are referring to. Many people with "hi-tech" jobs got a college education, and a lot of them got it on their own; meaning they went to class during the day, and worked a "menial job" at night, some even worked 2 after classes. I doubt you are telling many people here anything new about hard work. I myself was a concrete laborer, I have pulled a many a "come along", set a many a forms, tied a many of rebar and have been on the site when it was dark in the morning, and worked with the assistance of lights well after it was dark in the evening. And that does not make me special, as I strongly suspect many people here have worked as hard and harder. Often times, when people get to a better position in life, it is because they worked hard to get their; and I understand how that may come as a surprise to you.

There is one common thread amongst those that CHOSE to work hard to put theirself in a better position in life, that is they WANTED to be in a better position in life, and they made a conscious decision to work towards getting to that better position in life. That is called AMBITION!

I might also mention that those people that started out in these "menial jobs" and worked to get theirselves in a better position in life with a better job, are a testament as to why their is no excuse at staying in a minimum wage job for a long period of time. Just as sure as they had the ambition to CHOOSE to better theirselves by working hard, and doing what is necessary to advance in their vocation, the people that stay in those "menial jobs" CHOOSE to stay in those "menial jobs" by not working hard, performing poorly, or just by not having any ambition to better theirselves.

The opportunities are there, one just has to have the ambition to take advantage of them. Minimum wage is not even an issue to those with the ambition to succeed. And one person's lack of ambition should not be everyone else's problem.

My problem has never been with helping someone that got in a "bad place" because their choices were limited, and they did the best they could under such circumstances. My problem has always been with helping someone that has the choices available to them to help theirself, but yet refuses to do so.

Rick.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 4, 2009 | 4:52 p.m.

Chuck, to add on to what Ayn Rand said, how many people do you think earned minimum wage in Missouri (i.e. cut out the part-time teens) before Proposition Whatever was approved by the voters? My recollection is that number was around 88,000. I have not heard what it may have raised or sank to after the first increase went into effect. But based on some of the recent media coverage I linked to earlier in this thread, some employees are at risk of losing their jobs since their employers cannot afford the mandated increase. Do you think that sounds like a good idea to those workers?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 4, 2009 | 5:07 p.m.

Ayn Rand most of those minimum wage workers make that much because they are part time and have or are forced to work two jobs when they should have only had to work one in that selected service industry they choose to.

No family should be forced to have both adults working two part time jobs each to make the bills. That is just wrong.

This is caused by corporations unwilling to pay full time wages or benefits anymore to save themselves that money thus increasing their own coffers of profited funds. Their own greed is causing the Feds to up the minimum wages.

Ever since the late 70's and early 80's this has been the trend with no good outlook in sight for our future even if Obama gives huge tax breaks to the middle class and the poor class the damage is already done. You can thank the rich upper class for that too. It will take eons to fix it or one hell of a good economic manager.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2009 | 5:17 p.m.

So Chuck, if you don't want them to have to work two jobs -- which ultimately is their choice because they choose not to acquire skills that would earn them more -- what should the minimum wage be? Give us a figure. Then explain how you arrived at it.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 4, 2009 | 5:28 p.m.

Ayn Rand that is not my place to figure that amount but it can and should be left in the hands of the Federal Labor Commission to ensure workers do not get ripped off by employers for their time and the hours they put in.

Would you prefer the Unions get more involved like they are working on doing now around the country. Ask WalMart how much they are sweating bullets about the various Unions knocking on their doors.

Which would you prefer setting wage scales the Feds or the Unions.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 4, 2009 | 5:49 p.m.

Chuck: "Ayn Rand that is not my place to figure that amount but it can and should be left in the hands of the Federal Labor Commission to ensure workers do not get ripped off by employers for their time and the hours they put in."

Me: Seems to be your place to complain about it.........

Chuck: "Which would you prefer setting wage scales the Feds or the Unions."

Me: Neither, how about letting the employer's decide? It's a free market, if someone does not like the wages one employer is paying, they can go apply at another. Whoever pays their employees the best and treats them the best, will more than likely excel the most in the market place. Since, as you said Chuck, these employees are the "backbone"...........

Rick.

(Report Comment)

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