Christian living- dealing with one 'oops' at a time…

Posts tagged ‘poverty’

The Minimum Wage Fallacy (And A Possible Solution)


FB rumor has McDonald’s in NYC considering raising their minimum wage to $15/hour and the young adults on my FB feed are excited and are posting about how they should move there. Bad idea. Why? NYC is an expensive place to live and, the truth about wealth is that it is not about how much you make, but about how much you can buy with it. Let me explain.

If you make $500/week and an apartment rents for $300/ month in your area you are doing okay. But, if you make $500/week and an apartment in your area rents for $1,000/month you have a lot less money for extras, and chances are the ‘extras’ in your area cost more too. So in one part of the country $500/week is a living wage, while in another part you may need a second job to make ends meet. This is the problem with living in NYC versus upstate NY; everything costs more in NYC.

Now let’s look at raising minimum wage in general. Here’s what typically happens:

1. Minimum wage goes up.

2. The price of everything you buy goes up as businesses need to make more money to pay their employees. People are often laid off as well to cut expenses.

3. Taxes on goods increase, since sale tax is a percentage of what you pay for an item.

The result:

1. Less people have jobs and the things you buy now cost more.

2. The people who were making slightly more than minimum wage typically do not get raises, so they are busted down to living a minimum wage lifestyle again.

How to tell how much you truly make:

Bread is a great indicator of wealth, since it represents how much it takes to feed your family. If you make $7/hour and bread in your area costs $3.50/loaf then you make 2 loaves/hour. If minimum wage increases to $10/hour, but the price of bread goes up to $7/loaf you can no longer buy two loaves of bread for an hours worth of work, so even though you have more money in your pocket, it is worth less and you are poorer. This is typically what happens when minimum wage is raised, and the poor now have to work harder for less spending power even though they technically make more than they did before.

So how do we actually help the poor?

1. Encourage job growth. More jobs means more demand for employees. Employers will therefore be motivated to pay higher salaries to get the workers they need. In areas where there are a lot of workers and few jobs wages tend to be low and working conditions less desirable.

2. Educate people from a young age about the importance of a good work ethic. Employers will pay more to keep a good worker. Further, when your place of employment is known for its quality more people buy there and they will often pay more money for the service. More money for the company means there is more money for employees’ salaries and benefits, and since every company wants to keep their good reputation, being the best means they will pay more to retain your services as well. Doing things well pays off in the end.

3. Mentoring. Encourage job shadowing early in high school and mentoring later, even through the adult years. People need to be in contact with people who have ‘made it’ to where they want to be in the world. Why? Because there are skills and habits successful people have that some people need to learn in order to succeed. They will not learn business manners unless they are exposed to them. We can all think of someone who did something really inappropriate on the job (and was subsequently fired.). The sad fact is that they probably did it out of ignorance. Mentoring also lessens the feeling of ‘why bother/ it’s impossible/ I’ll never make it’ by showing the person that there is a real person (flaws and all) who did what they want to do, and who can show them how to do it too. Many people do not want to bother others, or do not feel they are good enough to be a more successful person’s friend, so the mentor needs to be pro-active in continuing the relationship.

4. Aggressively counter the victim mentality whenever possible. My adopted son tried pulling the race card once (and only once). He had not been discriminated against (half of the police force here looks like him…), but he did not want to accept that he got what he deserved because of his own actions. Whenever possible the principle of cause and effect needs to be clearly defined so that whatever ‘stinkin’ thinkin’ exists that causes people to feel that it is not worth trying is eliminated, or at least minimized. Any real discrimination needs to be dealt with as well, harshly so others will not do the same. Being made to feel like you cannot succeed (learned helplessness) is a serious crime. (Ironically, my son-in-law (white) grew up in a situation where he felt it was useless to finish high school. My daughter (dark skinned) passed his level of education despite multiple issues that affected her ability to learn. Expectations matter.)

5. Do everything you can to discourage single motherhood. Single motherhood is a big factor in children not doing well. Fathers, even if they do not marry mom, need to be encouraged to be productive, helpful, ever-present parts of their children’s lives. If there are single mothers, support is needed. Not hand-outs, but help. Families who come up beside the mother and help her learn how to handle the terrible twos, or the sulky teen will do much to improve the child’s future. But you must come up along side the mom. Trying to replace mom and subtly implying that their mother is less-than typically undermines her authority and makes the situation worse long-term. Mom is the authority figure in this situation and, unless she is completely neglectful (in which case social services may be needed) she is the one who must ultimately be in charge of the child.

6. Encourage small business start-ups. Many poor people have skills, and do not realize that they do not need an employer to profit from them. (Heck, my cleaning lady runs two crews of young girls and probably makes more than I do!) House cleaning, yard work, repair jobs etc can result in large profits and the eventual employment of others when organized well. Paintings, jewelry and other items can also be sold on-line, so even though there are not buyers who appreciate or have extra money for these things in your community, you can reach those who are interested anywhere in the world.

Things that hurt the poor (that we think help):

1. College. College is great- if you have a career goal and know what to do with your degree when you are through. College just for the sake of going loads young adults down with debt and does not result in a job. Without a clear knowledge of where to apply with said degree and how to interview well enough to be wanted in that field many twenty-somethings return home with large loans and no way to pay them off. Some degrees require a masters, MBA or PhD to be marketable. It is good to know this before you start down that path. Others require great inter-personal skills. Introverts may not find they are a good fit if they did not understand what the job really entailed, and may not get hired because the employer was looking for a ‘people-person.’ Again, college is great if you are obtaining a skill you need to achieve your goal. College is wasted if you choose something you are ill-suited to do, or if you do not complete all the education typically required in your field. Guidance is needed for children of all socio-economic levels so they understand this point.

2. Government programs. Do you know how many times I have been working with someone who is starting to succeed and then they quit because they now qualify for a ‘program?’ Programs without mentoring are useless. Money is needed when you are poor, but so is education. Local help works so much better than a check. One of my favorite charities pays the participants for learning in credits that can be used in their store. The classes involve homework to be done before class, a video, then a session with a volunteer where the video is discussed. Most of the classes are on life-skills such as parenting, and it works. The participants improve their situation, develop relationships with the volunteers so they have someone to ask questions of when life gets tough and they have access to clothing and other everyday items they need for their family.

3. Subsidized housing. It is not the subsidy that is the problem, but the fact that it tends to put the poor in one place. Poor people need access to people who have succeeded, or they will not likely learn how to succeed. There are many ways to de-segregate the poor (and it should not be forced, or there will be resentment). Churches are a great place for people to inter-mingle, as are sports and other community activities. For self-destructive behavior not to be reinforced there must be access to role models who live differently. Placing the poor in one area does minimize crime in other areas, but exponentially increases its likelihood in the places where life is seen as ‘futile’ and trying hard is ‘useless.’

We need to be pro-active when it comes to the poverty problem.

Schools in poor neighborhoods would do well to invite professionals who came out of the neighborhood to speak to the children often so they know it can be done. (And these people know how the children think so they will be more effective in reaching them than you or I would.)

Less traditional teaching methods and out-of-the box thinking must be used to encourage the children to achieve. Anything that is not working must be replaced. Children from environments that do not emphasize the need for school require different approaches than schools that are full of children whose parents reinforce the need to do well. Home school resources have addressed every type of learning style (and then some) in order to make learning fun and effective. Let’s allow the teachers access to what is already available as well. Let’s also allow volunteers from the surrounding communities to help. One-on-one attention for a struggling student is priceless.

Schools also need to keep the teachers excited and motivated. Burned out teachers do not teach well, and children who are not sure why they are even in school are tough to work with. Teacher rotation, encouragement and training by teachers who have been successful with children like theirs may be necessary. (Listening to Mrs. So and So who taught at the prestigious private school may not result in knowledge that applies to this population of children.) (School choice may also help with this.)

Another idea is to capitalize on what the students do know. In our area many of the less-successful-in-school children know two languages poorly. We need translators, and they have a head start having spoken both languages from birth. Offering classes that clean up their grammar and spelling and lead to a job translating in the courts, hospitals, tourist areas or even the UN would be helpful. (I was astonished that, in a largely Hispanic area, the federal court translators we saw on a field trip were not Hispanic. This is likely because, while we have many, many bilingual citizens there were likely not many that could pass the required test.) In other areas children grow up loving cars (mechanic, engineer, design classes), art (typically graffiti) could lead to graphic design courses etc. We need to get creative and real before these children’s talents are lost and they do not know what to do with their lives.

These are all just ideas. It is up to you to decide what will work in your community and make it happen.

Poverty Mentality

Photo by Matija Barrett


I have lived amongst the rich, and among the poor, and among those who are in between. Here are some of the fallacies that keep the middle class from succeeding.

1. My teen needs a job so he learns the value of hard work.
Unless you are very selective, or lucky, what your teen will learn from most minimum wage jobs is how to submit to poor authority, and, unless he is shown examples of good authority in the future, he will learn by example to be poor authority as well (which will limit his opportunities for advancement).
What you teen needs are skills that he can build on and use as an adult. Many of these skills will result in income, some will not. A job should not be the ultimate goal, but instead every opportunity should be judged by what your child will learn from it. Having a job merely to have a job can be counter-productive and rob your child of time he needs to learn other things. Some jobs are valuable, others are not.

2. No matter how wealthy I am I will never hire I housekeeper and will do my own yard work.
Poor people believe that having others do jobs around your house is a sign of laziness. Wealthy people understand that time is money/productivity. If someone else can do it, then they have time to use their skills elsewhere. And this is not selfish. The person being employed is grateful for the work, and the time the wealthier person spends on the job leads to more of whatever is making him wealthy to be available to the public. For a doctor, this means more hours of healthcare available to the community. For a businessman, this means the company is more productive, which leads to higher salaries and more people employed.

3. My son needs to go to college so he can get a job.
It is nice to be employed, but it is better to be your own boss. Employees only make so much money. Owning your own business means the sky is the limit. There is nothing wrong with employment, but if you truly want to succeed, creating something new that you retain the rights to is the real goal. College is great for acquiring skills, but it is not the only path to success, and is sometimes not the most efficient one.

4. It shouldn’t matter how I look. People should judge me for who I am.
In an ideal world, this would be true, but the fact is that most people will size you up in the first few seconds and if you do not make a good impression, that is all the time you will ever spend with them. Life is busy. You need to use everything at your disposal, including your appearance, to help you succeed. So speak clearly, shake hands firmly, look people in the eye and dress for the position you wish to have. (Looking at my appearance right now, I obviously want to be home with the kids!)

True story: My son wants to run his own business one day, so he was looking for management level jobs at a young age. He was hired as a ‘house boy’ at a hotel. He dressed like he was hired for management. One of the other houseboys told him that he did not have to dress like that for work. My son (19) is now a supervisor, being groomed for management and the adult who gave him this advice is still a houseboy. Did I mention my son was labeled as special-needs in school? How you look, and act matters.

5. It’s not my job.
Some people are always on the defensive. They are worried about their ‘rights.’ They complain that people are asking too much of them, or taking advantage of them. People who advance in life are looking for learning opportunities. They know these exist at the top levels of the company and will do anything to get there. They stay late, arrive early and bring work home. They do not worry about whether, or not it is in their job description, or when their break is. They also realize that the reason someone may be giving them more responsibilities is to see how they handle things before promoting them.

True story: When my cousin graduated high school he worked in the real estate field in NYC. He worked crappy hours and was generally taken advantage of in order to learn the business. He now owns multiple companies, and gives lectures to others who want to know how to get ahead, and because of his success, he now has plenty of time to play (and is contemplating buying an airplane).

6. It takes time to find yourself and figure out what you want to do.
While your child is sitting on your couch finding himself and figuring out what he wants to do in life, other people’s children are gaining skills they will need for the future. Once you have a family, it is hard to catch up. The years between high school and marriage are the years to put the pedal to the metal and learn everything you can, before diaper changes and late night feedings take up much of your life.

7. Why am I learning this? I’m never going to use it.
Knowledge is never wasted. At the very least, everything you learn exercises your brain so you are able to learn more easily. (This is why the elderly are advised to do crossword puzzles etc.) Algebra skills may not be used in ‘real life’ but they are a part of most placement tests, including the ASVAB to get into the military. There is no such things as useless knowledge. You never know what life will bring, and every piece of information you gain is a piece of something that may come in handy later in life.

8. I don’t need school; I want to be a stay-at-home mom.
Even if life works out perfectly, stay-at-home moms still need to help out with the homework, occasionally do the bills, stay within a budget and other things that require an education. Further, more and more stay-at-home moms are home schooling (which is easier if you actually did well in science and took calculus in high school). In the worst-case scenario, where the husband is injured or dies, a stay-at-home mom must now support her family. It is easier and less stressful for a mom to enter the workforce with a degree and/or a solid educational background then to try to support her family on minimum wage.

9. Grades are everything.
If your goal is to own your own business, chances are no one is going to look at your GPA. Networking is as important as grades. This is why wealthy people send their children to schools that children of other wealthy people attend. While you may not be able to send your child to an Ivy League school, you should know that who you know matters. Making connections is as important as learning a skill. Mentors are invaluable; especially if your child wishes to do something you and your spouse have never done before. Good business partners, investors, customers and even future employees often are the people you meet as you travel through life. It is hard to meet them if you never exit your dorm room. Have you ever noticed that most heads of major companies, and even our presidents were rarely the straight A students, and more often are the smart, but charismatic ones?

10. Grades do not matter.
Grades are an indication of how much you have learned. While it may not be imperative to your career to have a 4.0 (though it may, if the skill-set you are pursuing requires an advanced degree), it is important that you learn the material.

11. Opera, golf and country clubs are stupid.
A person should be willing to try anything with a gracious attitude. No one likes the things they find enjoyable put down. If you cannot enjoy it, at least be nice about it. Further, many of these activities are designed for socializing, so that people can get to know you. Listening to your complaints about how stupid and useless something is does not make a good impression.

12. I am fine the way I am.
In every area of life there are expectations as to how someone is to behave. There are rules for a bowling alley and there are rules for a dinner party. Learn the rules for the situation you are in. Insisting on doing things your way will only make you unpleasant to be around.

True story: When the children were old enough to behave, but young enough to still be at home we attended lunches at the local museum where meals were served with multiple forks etc. I did not make a big deal out of it, and the children picked it up quickly. If you approach life as an opportunity, understanding that nothing is too difficult, you will learn to be at ease in many different settings. By the way: On one particular occasion the older crowd was having an unusual amount of trouble with the cheesecake that was served for desert. Numerous pieces hit the floor. As soon as an ‘accident’ occurred, the wait staff immediately replaced the desert, and then, to my children’s amusement, discretely kicked the offending piece under the long table cloth!

13. Eight years is too long to go to school after high school.
Many children decide not to go for advanced degrees merely because four more years seems like a lifetime to them. Here’s a little knowledge: Four years is nothing compared to the rest of your life, and if the difference in salary and job-satisfaction is significant, then four more years is worth it! What most people do not realize is that most advanced degrees are not four years of intense classroom time. Medical school typically contains a year and a half of rotations, which involve working at the hospital for no pay. Dental school has labs, and patient care, which increases as the years go by, and master’s and doctoral degrees involve research into subjects of your own choosing, and sometimes involve using cool things like wind tunnels, 3-D printers and explosives depending on your major. Going to school for advanced degrees is not the same as sitting in high school. Sure, there are some tough years, but it is not as bad as it seems, especially if it is a field you enjoy.

True story: I was once asked to accompany a PhD student to South America to ride mopeds through the jungle to collect monkey poop. I also worked as a teaching assistant in a gross anatomy lab dissecting human cadavers, and as a physical therapy student had a lab devoted entirely to giving and receiving massages. Some of my friends participated in earthquake research and built model buildings in order to shake them to see how long it took them to fall apart. They also built a cement canoe. (Not sure why, but they had fun.) Advanced education is not entirely books and papers…

14. Work sucks.
Work should not ‘suck.’ If work sucks you are in the wrong field; do something to change it. (If everything in life ‘sucks,’ then you probably need to change your attitude towards life, but that is a different lecture.) Find something you enjoy. This is what you are going to do well, and not mind spending lots of time and energy doing. It is also likely something you are skilled at and find easy, so there is more of an opportunity for success. Work should be something you have a hard time tearing yourself away from, not something you can’t wait to quit. Have you ever noticed that rich people tend not to retire?

15. I’m smart, so I should go into something to do with math or science.
If you enjoy math and science, then go for it, but there are many, many fields to choose from, and smart people do well in them too. Top chefs, interior decorators, event planners, etc are all smart people who have a passion for something society typically does not view as a career choice for those who do well in school. But if it is your passion, your braininess will only enhance your career.

True story: My daughter came home and stated that she should probably think about a career in science because she was ‘smart.’ She has always wanted to be an event planner (wedding planner/ party planner). She is smart, and a total geek who is currently watching her way through the entire Dr. Who series. But she is also a very social child, who once took out the sewing machine in the RV to sew herself a new pair of pajama pants before bed because she did not like the way the ones she had on fit. (Yes, I had a sewing machine and fabric in the RV. These are necessities if you are raising a child like this!) She also made a rice-filled back pillow for a man we met whose back was hurting… She can be a scientist if she wants, but the way she cares about people combined with her creative streak will likely make her a very successful event planner as well, and smoothly run scientific conferences and international events also contribute to the good of society.

16. If I make a lot of money I’m going to give it all away.
You can, but chances are you won’t. Why? Because by the time you have made a lot of money you will realize what money can do. Money, when properly invested, makes more money. This does not mean that you will not be charitable, but it does mean that you will not be giving money away haphazardly. You will take care of your family in such a way that your children will have the best chances to succeed, then you will likely invest in whatever it is that you did well in the first place, knowing that this creates jobs and resources other people find valuable (or they would not have invested in it in the first place and you would not be rich). You also realize that helping people achieve is more of a solution to poverty than any other form of charity we have, so most of your efforts will be to find people who want to work and then investing time and money into making their efforts worthwhile. This will not look like charity since you will gain a useful employee in the process. If the new employee is successful however, you may have also trained your next competitor as well! You will also realize that you having authority over your money means that you control how it is used, and you can make sure it is not wasted. Giving money to ‘good causes’ often means that money goes to line the heads of these organization’s pockets, or goes to efforts that sound good, but do not work. People who have worked hard and succeeded rarely like to see the fruits of their labor wasted. Further people who are wealthy do not enjoy hearing how generous you would be if you were in their place. Their thoughts: You won’t use your time to make money, so why would I believe you would use your money, if you had any, any differently? (Ouch!) They are also likely giving more to charities they believe in than you know.

17. Being ‘rich’ involves having lots of money.
While the focus here has been on making money, money is not the key to having a ‘rich’ life. Many poor people have more disposable income than people making much more than them, and they are living much happier lives. Why? Because they live below their means. Their house, car and other payments do not leave them broke at the end of the day. The extra money means they can afford to go on vacations, have a few extras and spend time with the people they love. Many upper middle class people have nice houses, nice cars and no money to do the things they want. This is no way to live, and it makes life stressful. Whenever you can, budget in such a way that all your expenses are met with a decent amount left over to invest, be generous with and enjoy.

True story: When my husband was an intern we lived in a trailer park. (Our neighbors loved telling people about the doctor who lived next door to them!) Many of our neighbors had enough money to buy a house, but chose not to. Why? Because the trailer park was a nice place to live, and the money they saved enabled them to have big screen TVs, RVs, four-wheelers and other toys. Quality of life was more important to them than the quality of their house. We had a lot of fun there.
Another man we knew lived in a small, one room apartment he built off his shop. He could afford more, but would rather spend his money traveling the world.

Life is an adventure, but it is helpful to do it in ways that do not limit your success. Examine everything you do and ask yourself why you are doing it. Every choice comes with baggage. Make the choices that will best enhance your (or your child’s) life.

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