By: Robert Scott
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
Newspaper deadlines the weekend before an election mean that this week’s columns need to address issues that will be with us regardless of whom we decide to entrust for the next few years as our elected leaders and representatives. Hunger is that kind of issue, an issue we can and should do something about whether our government is led by Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. All religions and moral codes call on us to “Feed the Hungry.” There is a Food Bank in Johnston, the BI-LO has a food collection point for food (and surely its successor will, too), and, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are Salvation Army and Golden Harvest food drives. We in Edgefield County are doing a lot better at feeding the hungry now than we were, say, 50 years ago, right? Actually, we’re not. Let’s look at some numbers, using the online “CPI Inflation Calculator.”
In the beginning of November 1970, the Dow Jones average was at 758, or 4,982 adjusted for inflation. This past weekend it was at 26,500. We’re much better off now, at least those of us fortunate enough to own stocks. Per capita income back then for the median counties in the United States was $2400, or $15,800 in today’s dollars. It has risen to $51,000 here in South Carolina this year, with a mean household income of $70,000. Most of us are way more prosperous now than we were 50 years ago.
How about those at the bottom of the income scale – those earning minimum wage? We’ve had a mandated minimum wage ever since the Depression in the 1930’s; almost everybody thinks we should have one, but at what level? In South Carolina, a little over 5% of employees today are in minimum wage jobs – and unlike the rest of us, they are worse off now than they were 50 years ago. In 1970, the minimum wage was $1.60, or $10.50 per hour in today’s dollars. However, our elected politicians have kept today’s minimum wage at $7.25 for over ten years now. That’s 25% lower than it was fifty years ago! Can you imagine the outcry if we woke up tomorrow morning and the Dow Jones average or the per capita income for everybody in Edgefield County were suddenly 25% less than they were 50 years ago, even adjusted for inflation? Speaking of elections, we’d vote out all our office holders, and right now! One thing for certain: we would have more hungry mouths to feed.
There’s a big difference in the minimum wage level on the one hand, and the Dow Jones and per capita income levels on the other. Even the President can’t mandate changes in the Dow Jones or per capita income levels; we should all be happy about that. However, our government – state as well as federal – can repair the broken minimum wage level. Shouldn’t we agree to pay those employed at the bottom 5% not only at the level we did 50 years ago, but at a level that reflects our overall increased prosperity? The other 95% of us make much more money than we did back then. Raising the minimum hourly wage not only to a 1970 equivalent of $10 but instead to $15 per hour would still be much less than the rising prosperity the rest of us have experienced, but it would be a step in the right direction.
When we have prospered as we have here in Edgefield County over the past 50 years, it’s just plain wrong to keep those at the bottom 5% of our working population not only from sharing in that prosperity, but actually reducing their real wages. Today’s minimum wage is so low that people earning it cannot afford to feed their families. They are hungry, and we feed them through charity drives and food stamps. We should fix the system not by giving them more food, but by paying them enough to buy food. I have been writing about “they” and “them.” But in truth, there really isn’t any “them.” It’s about helping us, not about helping a fictional “other” somehow different from us.
A rising tide lifts all boats. Raise the minimum wage. Feed the hungry.