40 Hours and a Mule
Should working full-time guarantee a middle class lifestyle?
December 26, 2013 - 3:00 pm
As a movement to raise the minimum wage continues both nationally and in the several states, the Left’s media organs pump fresh rhetoric in support of old ideas. Their message appeals to the all-American virtue of hard work. In essence, they assert that working hard ought to guarantee a certain lifestyle. From the Huffington Post:
By one estimate, one in four private-sector jobs in the U.S. now pays less than $10 per hour, well below a living wage in many areas of the country. Compared to better-paying positions, these jobs are also more likely to come without regular schedules or benefits, like health care coverage, paid vacation time or sick leave — the basic trappings of middle-class work. In other words, employment doesn’t guarantee a life above the poverty line; according to census data, more than one in 10 Americans who work full-time are still poor.
Employment doesn’t guarantee a life above the poverty line. The unspoken assertion is that it should — that life should include “the basic trappings of middle-class work” regardless of the job in question.
Such rhetoric proves convincing. It resonates with a popular notion advanced by opinion-makers across the political spectrum. If you work hard and follow the rules, you should expect a comfortable living. So we have been told.
But is that true? Is working hard all it takes to earn a living which includes all the trappings of the middle-class?
I could go out this week and spend 40 hours digging a hole in my front yard. It would be harder work than the vast majority of people do at their jobs. At the end of the week, after all that work, no one would owe me a dime.
Hard work carries no value in and of itself. It must serve a purpose which creates value in someone’s life. If my 40 hours of digging is the first step toward installing a swimming pool, then I have something for my effort. If I am hired by someone else to dig the hole for their pool, the agreed upon pay acknowledges the value of the job.
To understand the effect of the movement to guarantee a certain lifestyle for full-time employment, we need only look to the effect Obamacare has had upon the kind of work employers offer. The market finds a way to adjust to intervention. If we continue to insist that full-time employees earn a certain kind of living, we will only limit the kind of work which can be offered full-time. You can mandate what people pay. But you can’t arbitrarily alter the economic value of a particular job.