RICHMOND

As we celebrate the day when Paul Revere and others put us on the road to independence, we have a population of thousands that are like indentured servants of the economy.

They are the people who take home the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour -- and sometimes less. And whether to raise it or not seems to raise the body temperature and the vocal decibels of people on both sides of the issue.

It’s mostly Democrats who want to pass a law that would get the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour within a couple of years. They are quite vehement about the fact that better paid workers need less federal assistance from subsidy programs and will also spend more, boosting the economy.

It’s mostly Republicans who rail that an increased minimum wage will hurt the economy because employers will cut their work forces to accommodate the change. And they predict that higher pay will bring on higher prices for all consumers.

It’s hard to know whether any or all of these predictions would come true, but the basic facts are quite real: No one can live on 40 hours a week at $7.25 an hour. And while it’s true that many recipients of that wage are teenagers -- not supporting families -- it’s also true that many adults make that money, too.

Unfortunately, those businesses and individuals who pay cash to workers can get away with paying even less than $7.25.


Advertisement

But that’s a separate issue involving the long-standing practice of paying under the table so both employer and employee escape taxes.

Those who want to keep the $7.25 minimum apparently have no idea what goes on around them. Our granddaughters, for instance, can rake in $10 to $15 an hour for taking care of only one child, and sometimes that child is asleep in his bed. They are free to watch, listen and spend the evening texting their friends for a healthy take-home pay.

It makes me laugh about the days when I was, like my friends, paid 25 cents an hour to baby sit children during daytime hours. The young mother I worked for could not wait to get out of the house and leave her baby (whose diaper was likely to need serious changing) and her more than mischievous 4-year-old in my care. I was to clear up the dishes piled in the sink and make supper for both before she came home. I remember balking at scrubbing off the baby’s pasty Pablum where he smeared it on the side of the refrigerator. And I was glad I wasn’t working the day the 4-year-old set the living room curtains on fire.

Opposite my 25 cents an hour was a minimum wage of $1.25 an hour, so it’s apparent that times have changed. Now babysitters get paid at higher rates than people who flip hamburgers. For another perspective, consider the people who are employed as nursing aides, orderlies and attendants in the health care industry.

Their job is to feed, bathe, dress, groom and move patients, plus changing linens, according to Bureau of Labor statistics. Not unlike my babysitting. But translating that work into reality creates a picture of some distinctly unpleasant, sometimes difficult, tasks. The Bureau of Labor lists hourly mean wages for this group at $13.61 in Rhode Island, $11.70 in Maine, $10.04 in Arkansas -- less than baby sitters in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and no time to text friends.

The other interesting thing is that this lower end of the health care industry -- an entry point to better things for many young people -- is already above the proposed new minimum wage. It’s also doubtful that anyone will mow your lawn for $7.25, including your offspring, and house cleaning has become a good business at more than double the minimum wage. Things are out of whack, including what CEOs make.

Happy Patriots’ Day.

Ruth Bass is a novelist and free-lance writer. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.