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Unfair wages are an insult to those who make the wealthy comfortable

Jennie Young • Feb 3, 2014 at 11:42 AM

One of the defining moments of Mitt Romney’s campaign for president in 2012 was televised on the grounds of the billionaire owner of Papa John’s Pizza. Romney spread his arms to encompass the lavish estate and declared amazement that pizza could build such a place, that Republicans wanted this for all Americans, but Democrats want no American to have such wealth. This was before his unfortunate remarks about the 47 percent who are “takers,” which probably doomed his odd campaign.He was wrong on so many counts. Sure, many head to Wall Street with visions of becoming the next obscenely wealthy hedge fund manager, or launch themselves into the high-powered arena of corporate lawyering or whatever. Most of us, though, who can afford college chose fields that complete us and, often as not, work to heal our world. We’re teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers or artists.We help children overcome speech problems, brighten people’s lives in nursing homes, improve the environment, work on sustainable energy technologies and make documentaries. It’s enough without riches. Those who don’t find their way to fulfilling occupations have few grandiose notions. A fair shake through decent wages and basic benefits would be appreciated, a good first step to a more fulfilling life and more hope for the kids.He was wrong, too, on what Republicans want for us. A look at the inner workings of any fast food pizza franchise reveals a cadre of earners among the lowest on the wage scale, with no benefits and a heavy sense of expendability. That built the estate, itself kept functioning in all likelihood by low-wage earners who mow the lawn, clean the pool and cook the meals. Romney’s majestic but distorted vision falls apart without a steady flow of grossly under-compensated workers. They’re the necessary souls on whom his world depends, but “takers” if they need a little help.He was also wrong about Democrats. We begrudge no one wealth or a showy display of accomplishment, if legitimately and fairly gained. What matters are underpinnings of fairness, decency and respect. That means a living wage for work done and a say in policies that guarantee fair treatment. We believe it’s a major socioeconomic failing that it isn’t so. In a just society, when the country progresses, the bottom and the middle share in the prosperity.Democrats think there is something very wrong in a culture where four members of one family, the Waltons of Walmart, control more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans, particularly when around half their employees are so poorly paid they have to endure the indignity of food stamps or food pantries to feed their children and emergency rooms for health care. It needn’t be. The University of California’s Berkley Center for Labor Research and Education posted a study which demonstrated the small cost to Walmart shoppers if the company raised their hourly minimum wage to $10 and passed all the cost to consumers. Average consumers would pay 36 cents more per trip or $9.70 per year. High spenders would pay $1.47 per trip or $87.98 per year.Democrats have an answer to House conservatives who intend to cut food stamps arbitrarily by 40 percent. Raise the minimum wage so the bulk of folks who now need assistance can independently feed their families. The program will shrink on its own without mean-spirited congressional displays. A sizeable majority of Americans favor the Democrats’ approach because, by all accounting (and common sense) increased pay will naturally strengthen the economy. Poverty-level wages are and always have been detrimental to economic growth and create more tax burden — along with a whole slew of negative indicators of a nation’s health. It’s a depraved ideology which opposes both fair wages and social assistance.It’s not wrong to provide comfort for ourselves. It is wrong to deny the same comfort to others. Conservatives warn that Obamacare will cause long waits at the doctor’s office. As for me and those on my side, it will be an honor to wait a little longer now and then so fellow Americans can develop a lasting relationship with their medical providers.It’s a matter for conscience and one’s sense of decency.

Jennie Young of Elizabethton is a retired language arts teacher.

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