Farrel Klein (August 2020) argues that raising minimum wage is unsound social policy because businesses must make a profit.
Profits vary widely. The average net supermarket profit is 3-5%; Facebook’s net profit for the first half of 2020 was 31%. It’s supermarkets where people often work for minimum wage. Adjusted for 2020 dollars, the average 1965 supermarket cashier’s salary was nearly $44,000. In 2020, it’s $25,000. FB’s average salary is almost $122,000.
Many chain stores keep employees’ hours below minimum benefit requirements; employees lack health insurance or paid time off. Their constantly shifting work schedules, made a week or two in advance, make it difficult to plan anything else.
Cashiers, packers, truckers, farm workers, farm owners and slaughterhouse workers allow us to buy a variety of food cheaply. In a sense, these people are our servants. We don’t have to plant, harvest, slaughter and preserve our own food. Jewish rules governing servants are so strict that we are taught “Whoever buys a Hebrew servant buys a master for himself.” We no longer buy Hebrew servants, but should we treat our current servants less well? Even if they are not Hebrews, should we act like Egyptians?
Klein asserts that “unemployment leads to crime ….” Maybe it’s people who hold down more than one minimum wage job and struggle to pay rent, food and medicine who resort to crime. When people have nothing to lose, they become desperate. Desperation leads to revolution, which often starts with attacks on people who have just enough: teachers, civil servants, small business owners. Too often attacks start with scapegoats like immigrants – and Jews.
If we’re willing to pay for Alexa to operate gadgets for us, we can pay more for food so those who serve us can live well. I’d rather turn on electronics myself, pay more for food, and know that people who have risked their health and possibly their lives to provide that food are able to live decent lives. That’s a basic Jewish value. It also makes sense.