Last week’s article covered how the Employment Development Department (EDD) and their lucrative bonus payments to the unemployed have essentially made the national $15/hr. minimum wage debate a moot point. Another contentious debate called the “Living Wage” debate, will likely now be turned on its head as the higher wages forced up by the EDD payments will result in exposing the vicious cycle of wage push inflation its effect on the living wage debate.
Not only has the minimum wage debate been obsoleted by the EDD payments, those same payments are now causing even faster inflation in the economy than previously witnessed.
We can see this new “wage push” inflation as businesses, in line with my previous articles, are now, in many instances, offering over $15/hr. to entice potential workers to get off the couch and get back to work.
As inflation takes off, I have seen more and more commentary that the $15 rate, which was previously determined by many to approach the so-called “living wage”, is now grossly insufficient as consumer prices skyrocket.
There is a reason why what once was determined to be at least close to a sufficient living wage is now quickly being dismissed as grossly deficient. Plainly put, economic reality is taking hold.
Although higher wages are not the sole cause for higher consumer prices, higher wages coupled with soaring commodity prices are crippling business balance sheets as operational costs soar.
In a free-market environment, businesses will always pass increased costs onto the consumer through higher prices and that is what is occurring.
Inflation is starting to burn hot and that is being confirmed by recent government statistics. The latest inflation data out from Uncle Sam shows an annual inflation rate of over 4%. Many analysts claim government inflation figures vastly understate the real inflation rate. If that is true, the real rate might be even higher
What happens next is why living wage proponents are calling for even higher wage rates as prices rise. They see the $15 rate, do some quick math, and realize $15 will no longer facilitate a living wage, so the calls go out for an even higher wage.
On the flip side, many argue against the very concept of a living wage saying it is arbitrary and doesn’t consider geographic realities. An example would be the cost of living in New York compared to Modesto.
But others claim a more sinister thing is at work here. As wages rise, consumer prices follow. Therefore, with each increase in the wage rate, inflation rises, even more, negating the higher wage rates. A vicious cycle yet a familiar one to astute economists.
Because of this, many argue, including this analyst, that the living wage debate is a nonsensical argument. Wage inflation will always push consumer costs faster and higher than sufficient wage equalities.
Since it is an accepted fundamental in the study of economics that wages are a lagging indicator to consumer price inflation and also in its occurrence, the argument is put forth that the “sufficient wage” called for by many can never be reached by mandating wages ever higher. In fact, those mandates may be the cause of the problem. Inflation will always “outrun” wages and it is why some find themselves repeatedly calling for an even higher wage, and then wondering why it is never enough.
Opponents to the minimum wage mandates, which include opposing the very concept of a “living wage” (which is an arbitrary opinion depending on who’s making the argument), point to the fact that an unmolested capitalistic system would correct wage/inflation conflicts. The argument is extended to address the current system as one that has been highly manipulated away from capitalism and more towards massive intervention which distorts the checks and balances of a capitalistic system. The result is what we see now: insufficient wage rates exasperated by rising prices.
No matter which side of the argument one believes, a true solution to a problem solves the problem. Repeated attempts signify failure.
The minimum wage has been raised 22 times to combat inflation and the living wage commentary is constantly raising its level in response to inflation. The cycle is akin to a cat chasing its tail, which is basically an attempt of futility.
This would lean into the argument that income inequality is at least partially caused by inflation, which in turn owes its existence to the very wage policies that attempt to correct it.
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