Speaking of immigration … so how about a living wage?
December 30, 2005
Our fine newspaper has devoted a lot of ink lately to the theme of immigration. It’s a nice fat topic for the holidays, when our public officials have called a ceasefire to newsmaking, and when reporters must fill gaping editorial holes by recounting the dumb things people do to make the police blotters. The classic, of course, is the Three Bears story that gets regurgitated every year when unsuspecting second homeowners arrive for Christmas, only to find that a bunch of squalor-producing no-goodniks have been squatting in their digs for God knows how long, and that they’re really, really mad about it. “It made us sad for the holidays,” they say. “They left crumbs and stains and bad smells.”I digress. You simply cannot say, write or think enough about immigration in the Land Of The Free, whether you think we need to import the entire population of China to Poughkeepsie, or whether you think we need to remove three-quarters of the population of this country and never, ever let anyone cross into our borders again. Sayonara if you accidentally find yourself in Nogales or Saskatchewan.Like most Americans – and perhaps most residents of Summit County – I haven’t met any immigrants who have wrested me to the ground in order to take my house and job(s), but at the same time I think it’s extremely bad manners to cross the border while nine-plus months pregnant with the intent of giving birth to an American citizen. I think it’s bad manners, period, to bring children into the world that you can’t support, but that’s another digression for another column.Some things I’ve observed: Most folks are willing to work the everyday jobs here primarily as a matter of novelty. The fun lasts a season or two, and then the reality sets in that three jobs and four roommates might be a bit much. We have options and we leave for the Real World. But people who live in relatively crappy places in other countries have fewer options and therefore think otherwise, and so they come to work some of those jobs. And I’ve heard more than once that it “works better” this way, because otherwise our fine fellow Americans, if they had more money from working here, would move to Colorado’s mountains for good and build more houses and have more kids and pretty soon we’d be nothing but Aurora infinitum.I’m not saying I agree with that, but as a journalist I meet a lot of people who like to dump the contents of their heads into my space. It’s like a stuck song (I’ve had the all-time party song, “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald,” on continuous loop for 16 years), where it drives you nuts until you pass it on. So tag, you’re it.Anyway, what about the notion of a “living wage,” something that ostensibly would have more real-live Americans lining up to take jobs in the High Country, and ostensibly would reduce the options for illegal immigrants? You can argue that requiring a wage that people could live on from a single 40-hour-a-week job would force a lot of folks out of business and cause a downward spiral in the local economy. Some of us would argue, though, that no one should live in poverty if he/she works 40 hours a week. Unfortunately, there’s world of difference, money-wise, between the two points of view.Just for fun, let’s estimate what it costs to live here each month, assuming you rent your very own bedroom and make payments on a no-frills automobile: Rent, $600; utilities, $150; cell phone, $50; auto payment and insurance, $225; gasoline, $125; groceries, $325; entertainment (including ski pass), $125; clothing, $100; and health insurance, $175. Bear in mind that I’ve rattled these figures from the top of my head, but the estimate comes to $1875 that you’ve got to clear every month. That means you’ve got to clear $431.25 a week, or just below $12 an hour after taxes. That means the employer’s got to shovel out considerably more from his/her end to make payroll taxes and cover things like workman’s comp. This also assumes that if you want to buy a house, get on the phone and call your parents.I’m looking at these numbers and I’m not seeing a living wage hereabouts any sooner than I would predict swarms of pigs to get up and fly to Tierra del Fuego. It seems a lot more reasonable to predict that we’re going to continue to share our space with workers from faraway places – be they legal or otherwise.New columnist Tara Flanagan will write a Wednesday column. She can be contacted at email@example.com.