I knew it was coming as soon as I knew I was putting him in my Thursday column.
Gage Jordan — one of the low-wage workers who rallied in Madison last week for better wages — has no one but himself to blame, I was told in a variety of ways and by a variety of readers:
He should have gotten more training, spent less, chosen not to have two kids by the time he was 18.
Indeed, there are two classes of people whose personal failings never fail to occupy our thoughts: the poor and the famous. Although it’s only the poor we never tire of despising.
On the one hand, my readers are right. Maybe Jordan should have waited to have children, he probably would benefit from more education and we all should live within our means — although when you’re making $9.25 an hour at Dunkin’ Donuts, it’s kind of hard not to.
But does making a few bad decisions disqualify us from making a decent living when, by and large, we’ve played by the rules and worked hard?
Jordan has been with Dunkin’ for 16 months, working full-time at stores here and Chicago and getting a series of raises and a promotion to shift manager.
He said he’s gotten an education, too — having completed his GED and a certificate in masonry in the federal Job Corps program — and plans to start classes at Madison Area Technical College soon.
Jordan is old enough to vote, drive a car, and fight and die for his country.
So far as I was able to gather online from court records here and in Illinois, he’s never had so much as a speeding ticket.
And yet for some of us, nothing short of perfect will do.
It’s not just a matter of fairness, though.
Attitudes like the ones expressed by my readers make it very hard for politicians to raise the minimum wage, tax corporate profits, limit CEO pay or craft other policies that might make “working poor” an oxymoron.
At the same time, it’s the rare hard-hearted American who calls for completely cutting off low-wage workers — and more important, their children — from social welfare programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.
The result? U.S. taxpayers rack up billion-dollar deficits and $17 trillion in debt as Dunkin’ Brands, which owns Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonald’s made $108 million and $5.5 billion, respectively, in profits last year.
What a way to shoot ourselves in the collective foot.
There’s a case to make that raising the minimum wage will hurt the people it’s supposed to help. If you go above $9 or $10 an hour, said Tim Smeeding, director of the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty, employers start cutting jobs. They also might start automating jobs out of existence.
But “downsizing” hasn’t been a corporate buzzword for 30 years because companies have been afraid of doing more with less before, and technology has been killing jobs since about the beginning of work itself.
More worrisome are data showing that the jobs being created in the wake of the Great Recession are mostly low-paying and part-time.
Companies skimp on wages at their peril. Someday, there might not be enough workers with the money to buy what they’re selling.