Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;/But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed/One drop of…blood, thy lands and goods/Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate/Unto the state of Venice. — William Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”
In this age of unparalleled inequality, those who leverage poverty and joblessness, exploiting the market imperfection of low wages, expect a pound of flesh and far more than a drop of blood from their workers and our city.
Our current minimum, poverty wage encourages employers to pay the bare minimum, increasing private profits at a public cost. Kansas City’s minimum wage must increase. It is hard to say that $15 an hour, a proposed eventual minimum wage, really does anyone a big favor when, as MIT estimates, a living wage in Kansas City would be $20.78 an hour for an adult working full time and raising one child.
Opponents of an increase, including franchisees and “development” investors, have shown their hand: flesh alone won’t do.
Enter Pat Murfey, Kansas City chapter president of CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member). He warned council members that if Kansas City raises wages, a “company that employs 100 workers with 15 to 20 affected will not just shift its lower wage workers outside of the city, it will, in fact, shift all 100 workers.”
Murfey, who wants to exempt industrial, distribution and manufacturing companies, argues that local industrial market “leaders” “believe” new construction will be reduced as companies relocate to save money. A daring notion and self-serving “belief” from CCIM members, many of whom receive exorbitant tax abatements and incentives from the city to subsidize their profits in the name of “development.”
Kansas City Finance Director Randy Landes, estimates the city forgoes $60 million to $70 million annually because of the city’s tax incentives and abatement. We give them the farm through tax handouts, yet they threaten to leave our city if they’re required to pay just wages. Order Up!
One pound of flesh, extra blood!
Opponents cite concerns about unintended consequences, such as a wage increase pushing impoverished families off a “benefits cliff.” A family’s eligibility for the majority of such programs, federal or Missouri-based, will not be affected by raising the minimum wage.
A single adult working full time with one child will still qualify for the federal Child Tax Credits, Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Health Insurance Program (for the most part), and Mo HealthNet for Kids. Programs based on a sliding scale, like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are designed to phase out with income increases. Impoverished single workers without families already do not quality for many of these public benefits.
For the few affected programs, the real problem is that the Missouri General Assembly has refused to meaningfully update income guidelines for subsidized child care since 1991 or Missouri’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families guidelines, which already exclude the majority of working families. It’s as if Missouri Republicans prefer encouraging working families to stay impoverished and dependent on welfare.
The real welfare queen, the fast-food industry, forces taxpayers to keep workers healthy enough to subsidize ever-increasing corporate profits — $7 billion in public assistance annually goes to fast-food workers and their children.
I cannot justify anger at the profit-hungry for exploiting benefits that our laws unjustifiably allow, but I am justifiably outraged at their blatant hypocrisy. Workers are left with one reality:
Grieve not that I am fall’n to this for you;/For herein Fortune shows herself more kind/Than is her custom: it is still her use/To let the wretched man outlive his wealth,/To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow/An age of poverty; from which lingering penance/of such a misery doth she cut me off.
Brian Noland of Kansas City is a lawyer and civic activist who has worked in political campaigns for Mayor Sly James and President Barack Obama, among others. Reach him at email@example.com.