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David Rosman: Conservatives threaten U.S. future by supporting minimum wage and grant cuts

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 | 1:03 p.m. CST; updated 7:50 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 9, 2011

They are at it again. They are rejecting the will of the people who voted to protect those who make minimum wage in Missouri. They are attacking the education needs of our citizens, seemingly not comprehending that without a strongly funded K-12 and post-secondary education system, businesses will not move to Missouri.

Who are “They?” Members of Missouri’s ruling political party and federal conservative legislators.

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Missouri HB-61, introduced by Jerry Nolte (R-Gladstone), would have the following language included into current law: “The minimum wage calculated under this section shall not exceed the federal minimum wage,” or $7.25.

I believe to qualify as a member of either chamber under the Gray Dome, one must work a minimum of six months in the retail or the restaurant industries at$7.25 per hour. I know of few retail stores that schedule full-time “associates” for more than 36 hours at minimum wage plus a few pennies. That $7.25 per hour equates to $13,050 annually before taxes and few benefits, well below the 150 percent ($16,335) of poverty level for a single individual to qualify for many assistance programs. For a family of four, 150 percent of poverty is set at $35,525. How much do you make?

In November 2006, more than 70 percent of the voting citizens of Missouri voted to require that minimum wage be “to the level of the federal minimum wage if that is higher, and thereafter adjust the state minimum wage annually based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.” Were the voters so mislead by this simple language five years ago our legislators now feel compelled to change the law?

Low wages equate to fewer men and women able to afford to go to college without taking on a huge debt. So what are our representatives doing? Threatening the Access Missouri and Pell grant programs.

The Access Missouri grant program is about to take a major hit. This action will make post-secondary education financially out of reach for those with minimal financial means.

Jane Donahue and Faith Sandler, co-chairs of the St. Louis Regional College Access Pipeline Project, said in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, “Missouri has a choice. As these students cross the (high school) threshold, we can thwart our investment and dash their dreams. Or we can leverage our financial and community investment in these young people.”

On a federal level, Congress is threatening the Pell grant. In order to compete for the jobs of the future, people need to train for those jobs today. By cutting the Pell grant, those in poverty will rarely have the opportunity to move out of that caste. Approximately 9.4 million students rely on the Pell grant. As Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) stated on the floor of the House chamber that removing or reducing the Pell grant is “reckless and irresponsible,” and “job killing.” He is right.

Conservatives believe if we reduce the financial assistance to educate our middle and lower economic class citizens through Pell and Access Missouri grants and if Missouri takes dollars out the hands of our lowest wager earner, Missouri will gain employers and jobs. This has to be the worse bit of logic I have heard in my life.

We know corporations move to new locations in part of the educational opportunities offered, from kindergarten though post-graduate degrees. Education is one of a few areas that pays back at equal or greater levels than what had been originally invested. If Donahue and Sandler are correct, that “state investment in each member of the Class of 2011 is approximately $40,000 from their first days of kindergarten to the granting of a high school diploma,” our education investment is worth its weight in gold, platinum, or tax revenue — take your pick.

Picture our economy as a home. A strong and well-footed foundation is needed so the house can protect those under its roof. So why are our legislators trying to destroy the educational and financial foundation of our future?

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.


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Comments

Mark Foecking March 10, 2011 | 8:28 a.m.

Is it just me, or is the level of political hyperbole on both sides getting higher?

Whether they change the minimum wage law or not, the effect of it will be minimal, both on the 2% or so of workers that make minimum wage, and on the businesses that employ them.

Recently, the CPI has risen by 2 or 3%/year. That's about 20 cents/hour to someone making $7.25/hr, or about $8/week. For a business employing 40 FTE minimum wage workers (e. g. an extended hour fast food place) that's an extra $320/week in wages from a business that likely grosses tens of thousands/week. If a business is that close to the edge, they're doing something wrong.

Similarly, what's $8/week to anyone? If it is, then that person needs to look carefully at their budget and see where they can save. I haven't met a person, rich or poor, that isn't spending money (sometimes a lot) on stuff they don't need.

Also, as far as businesses being discouraged from coming here, I'd think we'd care less about businesses that employ large amounts of minimum wage workers, and more about ones that employ skilled laborers, tech and IT people, scientists and engineers, etc, that make a lot more.

This isn't something the legislature need to be wasting time on. Just let the law stand and go after bigger fish.

Also, I question the "9.4 million" students that "depend" on Pell grants. That's almost half of the students enrolled in any year in the US. For a means tested grant, that seems pretty high. The Pell grant is also capped at about $5,300, and drops with lesser financial need, so I'm not sure that loss of these grant would be a huge dealbreaker for most students.

Not that I'm against federal education aid for poor students - it's a good investment in general. I'm just not sure this is as big a deal as presented.

Neither of these things will make or break the future of our country whether we keep them or not. My personal feeling is we should just leave the minimum wage and federal student aid alone, and go after the larger drains on our tax dollars.

DK

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