Eight Two Five

What do the numbers eight, two and five mean? Well, if this was the latest spy thriller (think Jason Bourne) analysts in a secret hidden bunker would start typing away on computer keyboards and shouting out possibilities to each other. Is it an area code, the first digits of someone’s social security number? Could it be a combination that would allow a terrorist access to secrets on a computer that would destroy America? No, nothing as exciting and heart pounding as that. The numbers simply mean one thing… poverty. You see, when you combine the numbers eight, two and five, what they add up to is the minimum wage in Illinois. Eight dollars and twenty five cents an hour is the minimum an employer can pay, because politicians are looking out for you… Otherwise, those evil business men and women would pay two or three dollars an hour. My goodness, who knows, they might even force you to pay them to work!
There has been a lot of discussion lately at the state and federal level about raising the wage for the poor (literally) working stiffs of America. Why all the talk? Because more and more people find themselves forced into taking jobs that pay minimum wage.
Thank God (or thank no one if your agnostic) that many Americans are making more than poverty wages. However, with the slump the economy has been in, millions of our fellow citizens are working for the bare minimum. So, the answer to this problem is to raise the wages, right? Governor Quinn over the next four years wants to see employers pay ten dollars an hour. President Obama has said nine dollars should be the minimum. Who am I to argue with great minds such as these… Of course in order to solve a problem, you must first ask the right question. And with all due deference to the aforementioned politicians, they don’t know what the right question is. Before we enlighten them, let us take a look back thru history to see what we can learn about the origins of the minimum wage.
Labor unions had sued in court in the early 1930’s trying to force employers to pay a minimum wage. In 1936 the Supreme Court of the United States said such a edict would be unconstitutional. Their reasoning was simple and straightforward. Passing such a law or court order would limit a “working man’s” ability to negotiate his own wages… Which is exactly the trap that working people find themselves in today. When you enter the work force and attempt to negotiate a wage, the deck is stacked against you. The negotiations take place around a number that is dictated by the federal government. And the government has no right to tell you, or the employer what wages will be. In a free society, that is to be determined by the individual, not the almighty government. So, how did we get a minimum wage you ask? After all, the Supreme Court ruled against it. In 1938, just two years after the decision, President Roosevelt had Congress pass a law making the minimum wage twenty five cents an hour. The Supreme Court did nothing (sound familiar) to stop the President. The last seventy five years, the American employer and employee have been stuck working with an edict that the court said wasn’t constitutional…
Something to ponder as we wrap up our history lesson on the origins of the minimum wage. In the two decades that preceded President Roosevelt’s new law, we fought World War One without his grand solution. In the 1920’s Americans bought more cars than Henry Ford could produce… folks bought appliances, wired their new homes with electricity and traveled the country on newly paved highways. All without the minimum wage. They didn’t call it the “Roaring Twenties” for nothing. So, when I wrote earlier that in order to solve a problem, you had to ask the right question… Well you see, in this particular case, the question is the problem. Why do we have a minimum wage…


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