The Times West Virginian

September 15, 2013

Is it time for increase in minimum wage?

Times West Virginian

— If you work hard and are a good person, you’ll get ahead in life and make a comfortable living.

Well, at least that’s what Horatio Alger believed. And his prolific writing career — by his death in 1899, he had written 100 novels — probably helped craft “The American Dream.” You know, little blue house, white picket fence, 2.5 kids, a dog and Sunday bar-b-ques with the neighbors.

Most of his works had one central theme: A young, impoverished boy continues to work hard and help provide for his family, stays honest and pure of heart despite temptations and by a stroke of fate, earns a job that catapults his family into the middle class.

It was a rough time for America, which was recovering from a Civil War that had splits the states, ruined the economy and killed many of the young, strong men who would provide for the nation. By 1866, he moved to New York City and saw much of the poverty first-hand, as Americans flooded the city for new opportunities and immigrants flooded the nation to chase that dream of a better life.

That’s when he started to pen his works, which many have dismissed a pure propaganda. From rags to riches. The same story over and over again, with the names changed and the circumstances slightly altered. Work hard. Keep your nose clean. And you’ll get ahead.

Of course, there’s one thing that was also central to every single one of the stories. The poor boy who kept working despite all of the obstacles in his life was always lifted from poverty because of a wealthy benefactor. He may have found a large sum of money or rescued an elderly man from a carriage accident. But there was always one dramatic point in his life where a rich benefactor “saves” the boy from poverty It’s a great story.

But, really, how often does that happen?

The working poor in America are not often visited with such a gift from a wealthy mentor. No, they exist on federal minimum wage at $7.25 per hour. If the job was full time, that would be about $15,000 per year before taxes. Though many minimum wage jobs are not offered at 40 hours per week.

And there are thousands across the country who want to see that change, especially in the fast food industry and Walmart.

Dominic Ware was recently fired from his $8.65-per-hour job at the massive box store because he was protesting outside the corporate headquarters in Arkansas. He was labeled a “troublemaker,” who is now homeless and living off the charity of friends and family. Is he a troublemaker?

“If they would ask me that, I would ask them how they would like to survive on $13,500? I would invite them to come into the break room at their store and listen to people debate whether they should eat that day or put gas in their car,” Ware told the San Francisco Chronicle.

During a recent protest, Derrick Langley pointed out to a Los Angeles Times reporter the scars up and down his arm from cleaning the grill and fryers at a national chicken chain.

“They don’t seem to care. It’s horrible how they manage us, how they talk to us, how they treat us. They don’t respect us as human.”

They’ve taken to the streets, holding up signs and chanting “Hey, ho! $7.25 has got to go!” They say they’ve kept quiet long enough, while the economy was staggering. But protesters say that Wall Street is making gains again, fast-food restaurants and big box stores are raking in billions, so it’s time to increase the minimum wage.

But is it all falling on deaf ears? The president has declared he wants to see minimum wage raised to at least $9 per hour, but Congress hasn’t taken up the issue.

Where do you stand? Last week, we asked our readers that question. Those who log on to had the opportunity to have their voice heard on this question: Thousands have recently protested over fast-food workers earning federal minimum wage for companies that are raking in billions.Where do you stand on the issue? And here’s what you had to say:

• If federal minimum wage goes up, all other wages should go up, too. And then we’re back where we started — 10.29 percent.

• Raise their wages — minimum wage is barely above poverty levels, and it’s ridiculous how much executives are bringing in to keep costs down — 28.68 percent.

• If you can’t make a living wage, move on from working in fast food to companies with room for advancement and better compensation — 61.03 percent.

Stayed tuned. With off-year election approaching, Congress may change its tune.

Oh, and speaking of Congress, let’s talk about their performance this week. How do you think their doing?

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond directly online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor