Recently fast food and other minimum wage workers have been protesting, saying they need to earn $15 an hour – a “living” wage. How did they choose $15 and hour? And what is a “living” wage? Now, I don’t begrudge anyone the ability to earn more, I’m just wondering why they came up with $15 per hour. Why not more? Why not $20, $25, $50 an hour? And what standard of living is it based on? One where the worker can pay for rent, food, and a car? Or one where they can pay for rent, food, a car, smart phone with unlimited access, a big screen TV, tattoos, nails, video game system, weekends out with friends, every new toy that comes along?
Is that a wage problem or a problem with knowing how to budget finances? How many of us have received a raise thinking we would just bank that money since we weren’t used to getting it anyway, only to slowly add it to our “living” wage income and put ourselves in a position to now depend on that money? We would be in financial trouble if our wages suddenly went back down. Were we not earning a living wage before that raise, doing just fine? Some of it is simply what we get used to, and what we consider luxuries. After a while the luxuries become necessities – in our minds. We simply can’t do without our smart phones or our 300 TV channels.
Financial responsibility is not a topic that is taught to kids. Not by parents who don’t have those skills themselves and not by schools that spend more time trying to politically brainwash kids rather than teaching useful life skills. You know who gets taught those skills, the “Life Skills” classes in school? Kids in special education classes. I find it ironic that those kids can come out of the public school system better able to function as independent responsible adults that the “typical” kid.
The latest thing in working with families is something called “A.C.E.s” – Adverse Childhood Experiences. The theory is that the more negative experiences that a kid has during their childhood, the more likely they are to grow up and do things like use drugs, try suicide, end up in jail, etc. The goal of this program is to intervene and help kids before these things happen. During a training I attended on this, one thing in particular stood out to me.
No amount of money could change their situation. The program learned that if a family had multiple issues and was simply given more money, nothing changed. Just because their financial situation changed, their behaviors and their lifestyles and their choices didn’t change. Yet that’s what we keep wanting to do in our society. We think if we just keep giving people money, things will magically change for them.
Washington already pays the highest minimum wage in the nation – so why hasn’t that already magically solved everyone’s problems? In my work with families, it has become very clear that many who end up in bad financial situations do so simply because they don’t know any different.
We teach history, math, social studies and on and on, but never teach how to actually survive as an adult. We need to spend our money teaching people how to manage money so they can manage their lives. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t people who are truly struggling no matter what they do. But demanding a wage hike that will cost so much that it will actually end up causing workers to lose their jobs is not the answer.