I`ve been so busy blowing off steam on American gun laws and crime, a blinding truth eluded me. Something so basic, it escaped consideration until tonight. Forgive me if the nuances of my point are a little rough – I`m pondering as I type. While exchanging comments with wordpresser Behind The Booze, I innocently discovered the minimum wage for employees receiving tips is $2.13 an hour. Scraping my jaw off the floor I asked if she were yanking my chain. Her assurance convinced me to do a little research. Looking back I should have picked up on this sooner; my son has an American friend who told me in the state of Washington overtime is only paid after working more than 40 hours in a week. Her employer can legally schedule her for 3 – 12 hour shifts a week without paying a dime in overtime. That in itself was shocking; I should have realized sooner the problem ran much deeper.
Taking a crash course in American labour law is tricky. As of 2009 the federal minimum wage was set at 7.25 an hour. But wait; did I mention exemptions. Employees who receive tips have a minimum set at 2.13, theoretically they keep their tips and if they average less than the federal minimum after wage and tips combine – the employer is supposed to top it up to meet the federal standard of 7.25. The wage for `tipped`employees varies from state to state, $2.13 is the lowest. Not as low as farm workers who only earn $1.60 an hour depending on the state. It gets better! Employers not conducting interstate business, whose income is less than 500,000 a year are exempt from paying minimum wage. As are seasonal and migrant employees, students, and certain disabled persons. Holy crap! These waters are far to muddy to wade through in one sitting – my feet are barely wet, yet I`m having trouble wrapping my head around what little I know. There are state laws, federal laws, exemptions, and exclusions – a lot to sort out.
Well over 30 years ago I visited San Francisco for the first time. An incredibly beautiful and vibrant city, yet for the first time in my life something struck me as odd. My sub-conscious tried to make sense of it – it wasn`t seeing homeless women and families for the first time, though that was certainly a piece of the puzzle. The ah-ha moment came when it dawned on me – San Francisco was a city of the very rich and extremely poor – no middle class in sight.
Over the years since, and many American cities visited; I`ve laid eyes on the same situation, over and over again. On one of our marathon road trips we found ourselves off the main road in east St. Louis. Not an area of `projects`, but a once thriving residential neighbourhood. Neglected infrastructure – pot holes large enough to swallow a car, street lights dark, abandoned businesses, families crowding dark porches of decrepit houses to escape the stifling heat, and most surprising – an abandoned hospital; squatters had taken up residence, with bed sheets covering broken windows.
Getting back to the ponder sparked by Behind the Booze….
My full on assault against the American mindset on guns and violence neglected to consider the minimum wage and convoluted labour laws. The average American has every right to be terrified of criminals – knowing this is a broad generalization, but grasping for a moment why crime might be more appealing than minimum wage – I`m thinking the lack of incentive to work, could account for oppressive crime rates.
Life is a crap shoot. Born of the wrong colour, wrong side of the tracks, or handicapped mentally or physically – odds are stacked against you. Sure, people rise above, but ponder options the majority are offered. Who can live on a minimum federal wage of $7.25 an hour. Convoluted exemptions, state vs. federal laws, and loop holes favouring business – no wonder crime looks more attractive.
My warm, fuzzy, mildly socialist Canadian view makes it difficult to comprehend unacceptable minimum wage. My part time bartenders make $16.00 an hour to start. In British Columbia the legislated minimum wage is $10.25, no ands, ifs, buts, or maybes. Time and a half is paid after 8 hours work, double time after 12, any time a worker has less than 8 hours between shifts, or with less than 36 continuous hours free from work in a week. Even without benefits – those employed as part time or seasonal – universal, not for profit medical care treats every citizen equally.
I doubt I`ll ever be able to reconcile the legality of semi-automatic weapons, yet received a glimmer of understanding why crime is such a problem in America. Unskilled jobs in America are incapable of supporting a family, let alone any individual trying to get ahead. Our world has become unbalanced – I suggest we stop blaming violent video games, or perish the thought – working families or the lack of `God`, and start taking a long hard look at what incentive there is for those dealt a lousy hand to get a job.
Before anyone jumps down my throat – I`m not painting everybody with the same brush by suggesting crime is the path of least resistance. That said, pondering wages certainly expands my understanding of American problems.