Meet You in the Middle

By Shay McNeal

Our State of the Union was another hour-plus recitation, as usual for most presidents; this one focused on dressing up and emphasizing what accomplishments they deem have been worthy

to cast upon the weary citizenry and then deftly avoiding taking responsibilities for their failure of leadership on their agenda as stated in their previous State of the Union addresses. Unfortunately, not much talk of meeting in the middle. However, this time there is something causing a fair amount of talk on each side of the aisle and something about which  with some serious effort  both sides could meet in the middle. The minimum wage increase issue is looming. Each side should roll up their sleeves and solve this issue before it breaks out as another attempt to divide the country and justify the efforts of some spin masters to gin up class warfare.

Let’s take a hard hopefully non-emotional look at the minimum wage topic. It is apparent that we are dangerously close to the atmosphere that existed in this country about 100 years ago with the “super rich.” An aside, those “super rich”/”robber barons” did build wonderful and thoughtful museums, art galleries, endow universities and much more that even today society still benefits from their philanthropy. Granted Bill and Melinda Gates have set a wonderful example of altruism and generosity but we need so much more from our present day “super rich” community. Maybe, in the large, no one is really to blame for where we find ourselves today in a stagnated situation on jobs.

We have passed legislation from time to time that has unintentionally hit our workers hard here at home but another real challenge is the explosion of technology that has reduced the number of bodies required to produce so many products today. General Motors once employed approximately 600,000 workers to render the near same profit that Google does today with far less than 100,000 workers. Extrapolate that throughout most industries. The result is a shrinking workforce not just here but around the world. There was a time in the not too distant past that corporations automatically factored in 25 percent for labor cost  generally not so now because of the technological advancements.

What to do with the resulting profits and how do the businesses share them?

Often, I’ve wanted to be a benevolent dictator for long enough to formulate a scheme for true enterprise zones that would work something like this: Small dying hometown America towns would receive real help from the government and industry would be encouraged  bribed through incentives  to come back to South Carolina and other states that are really ready to happily receive them. Make the hardware for the technology here at home, bring back portions of the car production in Mexico for an example, export to China, India, etc. by designing more competitive programs that can be executed and made in a financially feasible way in our small towns and communities. Infrastructures exists in these towns at least sufficient to start the effort and clever bond programs insured by the government could raise the money to bring the towns up to speed for the corporate entity that decides to brand this town as their own.

Think baseball and football stadiums and you Mr. or Mrs. Corporate America buy the brand of Small Town, S.C., N. C., Iowa, Indiana, North Dakota (already happening) and on and on. This enterprise zone effort would assure the enhancement of the already existing infrastructures supporting these dying communities. The birth of the Internet and now today with connectivity virtually everywhere, consumers could have anything they want at their fingertips even in the least populated villages. Goods are no longer an issue. Supply is at their beck and call. A simply session on the computer will have a delivery to them without ever leaving their homes. How does this relate to the minimum wage you say?

Well, here we go. The shrinking middle class can no longer support the purchase of the goods produced by our manufactures whether here or abroad. Because so many people have fled to the large metro areas they cannot support their dreamed of lifestyle on the wages of today. Remember, Small Town, South Carolina, Iowa, etc. A living wage in these towns can  in a two-person wage earning household  support a family and even buy a house in the $45,000 - $60,000 range and these homes are readily available in Small Town, USA. But everyone wants  like herds  to be where everyone else is and where it’s “happening.” Remember the “Dust Bowl” and the Depression when the American worker traveled to find work? Well, maybe they will have to travel again. The large urban areas, even on $15.00 - $20.00 an hour will still not afford a pleasant lifestyle for families.

Let us see how we might reach a consensus to raise our minimum wage, as they did in England when on October 1, 2013, under the government of the Conservative Party, they came together in unique manner. Our minimum wage increase could be coupled with the “branding” of these Small Town, USA communities that are in desperate need of financial support and revitalization. Returning to the UK, they have raised the way but done with a segmented work force as follows  the adult rate increased to 6.31£ (approximately $10.29 today) the rate for 18-20 year-old was established at 5.03£ ($8.20) on to 16-17 year-olds 3.72 ($6.06) and an apprentice rate of 2.68£ ($4.37). Maybe we should stop right there. An “apprentice rate” sounds like a splendid idea  someone must really learn something before being turned loose on the unsuspecting public.

Just raising the minimum wage without a grand scheme to help restore the American Dream simply won’t be enough. Yes, we would have a little more buying power for the middle class but we would not have the promise of social mobility; the latter is key to keep the American Dream alive. We as a nation have wrestled with tough problems before and have developed innovative solutions. Take our emphasis on secondary education around the turn of the century, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) coming out of the Great Depression, the GI Bill after World War II and Eisenhower’s fantastic aggressive Interstate Highway project he executed just so we would have a place to land planes and move goods during wartime.

We can be truly innovative. We have a centuries-old tradition of innovation but we must we set aside the squabbling and meet in the middle to keep the American Dream alive  not just for our young workforce and immigrant communities  but also for our long-lived residents of all backgrounds. All these citizens stretching back generations have given their all to this grand experiment called the United States of America; they deserve much better opportunities.

Shay McNeal is assistant publisher and editor at large of the Charleston Mercury; she divides her time between Northern Virginia and Charleston.

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