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A case for a living wage

September 2, 2015
By WILL BRONSON , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Jesus of Nazareth lived about 2,000 years ago. Some of you may know him. He told a story that people didn't like too much, so you don't hear about it much these days. But I was thinking that it makes a pretty good case for a living wage. It goes like this.

A guy went out and hired some field workers at about 6 a.m. and agreed to pay them a normal day's wage (a denarius). Then at 9 a.m. he saw some guys standing around and asked them to work and said he would pay them "whatever is right." Same thing happened at noon and 3 p.m. At 5 p.m. he saw some guys and asked them: "Why have you been standing around here all day long doing nothing?" They said: "Because no one hired us."

"You also go and work in my vineyard."

So, as the story goes: When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, "Call the workers and pay them their wages beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first."

The workers who were hired about 5 p.m. came and each received a full days wage. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one also received the normal day's wage. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner: "These men who were hired last worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day."

But he answered one of them, "Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for the normal days wage (a denarius)? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?"

Now this is a complicated story and you may ask, what does it have to do with a minimum living wage? What if Florida decided that if you want to do business in this state you have to pay a living wage, let's say a dollar more than the current $8.05 per hour each year until it reaches $15 per hour. Or let's say that if you work for the state, we will pay you at least $15 per hour so that you can live and the extra money will boost the economy generally. I'm sure there would be a lot of grumbling, some people saying that certain other people don't deserve that much. Who are you to say I should have to pay whatever? Where will the money come from? Etc.

The answer to the last question in the private sector is that some of those costs would be passed on to the consumer in terms of slightly higher prices, and some might come out of the huge profits of huge corporations like McDonald's and Walmart that currently have workers subsidized by tax payers because they don't pay a living wage.

In the public sector, a slight increase in taxes would cover the extra cost.

I think it would work and I think Jesus' would smile and say, "they finally got it."

Will Bronson is president of the Lehigh Democratic Club.



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