The Tasty Pick of American Exceptionalism: Minimum Wage Or Incarceration?

American Dream - photo by Jim PotterAmerica is exceptional all right, its exceptionally jaded, exceptionally cynical, exceptionally resentful, and exceptionally callous. We are so judgmental of others, so righteous of our own strengths, so high on our own self-worth, we believe we need to be exceptionally tough when it comes to anyone who does not measure up. And nowhere is this more true than America’s “tough on crime” stance. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have laws. I’m not saying criminals shouldn’t go to jail. What I’m saying is we need to take it down a notch or two or a thousand. And we need to stop taking discretion away from judges and juries with “mandatory minimums” and other similar legislative “solutions” to crime.

But our righteousness and rancor do not end with the criminal justice system. We are nearly, if not equally, as sanctimonious when it comes to economic opportunity and economic class. We have the audacity to pass judgment on people because of the jobs they work. Many people look down on those making lower wages, including minimum wage, yet some of these same smug jackasses reject any initiative to increase the minimum wage. They think they know better. They think they are smarter, better educated. They will explain to us how things work, and that you can’t increase the minimum wage because (a) it will result in fewer jobs, and (b) it will result in a merit increase without, well, merit. Tell this to low-income workers next time a CEO gets fired and walks away with millions of dollars in compensation. Meritocracy my ass.

And it’s either a slap in the face, or simply perverse, that the annual cost of federal incarceration per inmate ($28,893), is nearly double the annual income ($15,080) of a minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) full-time employee.

Federal Register — The fee to cover the average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in Fiscal Year 2011 was $28,893.40. The average annual cost to confine an inmate in a Community Corrections Center for Fiscal Year 2011 was $26,163.

Now of course I’m not saying one would rather be incarcerated than free and making minimum wage, but there is something seriously wrong in America when tens of millions of low-income workers make less per year than it costs to imprison someone who has committed a crime.

And speaking of crimes, as if this article isn’t already depressing enough (sorry about that), if you need another reason to raise the minimum wage, this would be it:

The Contributor — A study determined that due to low wages and employee’s reliance on government subsidies, a typical Walmart store costs taxpayers over $1.7 million per year, or about $5,815 per employee.

So let me get this straight. We can’t raise the minimum wage, because it would result in fewer jobs, right? Are these the same jobs that already don’t pay enough for people to live, therefore requiring government subsidies? And guess who benefits twice in this equation? — Walmart. They get to pay their workers shit, the workers receive government assistance, like food stamps, to make up the difference, and then where are these people likely to shop? You got it, Walmart. Nice gig if you can get it. — Walmart executives, that is.

photo by Jim Potter

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