Minimum Wage Jobs and the Artist

So, you’re an artist. You might play music, paint or take photographs. It’s your passion — your dream — and you pursue it every day. Some chase their dream never wanting to become financially successful doing it, while some believe there’s a record deal right around the corner. You have one, two, maybe three jobs so you can pay your bills and still pursue your dreams, and these entry level positions are imperative. They don’t require a hard-to-acquire skillset; most require no real skillset other than being on time and doing a menial task assigned to you. Many also have highly flexible schedules.

There is a downside, however. These jobs don’t pay much. That’s the deal. You get to not have to learn a skill that require months or years of training and you get fairly flexible hours, but the pay isn’t much.

These jobs were never conceived of as something to help you support yourself or a family. In a bad economy, sometimes these jobs are the only ones available and whatever the economic situation, the jobs don’t change nor does the pay scale.

How many of these entry level positions would cease to exist if they were forced to pay $15 an hour? The reality is that many of them would go away because the business owner simply could not pay that hourly rate. The idea that the business owner could just “raise their prices” doesn’t work either because price and volume are directly connected. If the price of a pizza went from $15 to $25, people would stop buying as much pizza as they did when it was $15. Each pizza would be more profitable, but if sales dropped by 50%, the business makes less money. If the price of overnight office cleaning suddenly cost $100 more a week, the office would likely stop the cleaning service.

The owner of the business would have to figure out if the business remains profitable at all. Maybe the owner can run the business in a limited fashion, letting everyone else go. More than likely though, the business will simply cease to exist.

So now we’ve eliminated jobs because the math simply doesn’t work. But since the job didn’t pay enough to make a living wage, who cares? Actually, you care.  You care because that job allowed you to eat while you chased your dreams.  The generations coming up behind you care because there will be fewer jobs that will allow them to get their feet wet in the job market. Now they must have a skill of some kind, like being an RN, auto mechanic, welder or plumber before they can even get a job.

Here’s another less thought about problem. If everyone must have a skill to work, than the supply of people with those skills would naturally increase, correct? However, nothing in this scenario increases demand for these skillsets. Simple economics state if you have a ready and increasing supply of something but not an equivalent demand, the price for the supply side goes down. In other words, the living wage that these jobs provide slowly erodes until it is no longer a living wage.

Minimum wage jobs are actually for you, the struggling artist, teenagers and mothers looking for a few extra dollars. Upsetting this apple cart will have lasting negative effects on those who typically take these kinds of jobs.

Chasing your artistic dreams is not only your right, it’s your decision to make.  To do that you must be prepared for both the good and the bad consequences of that choice.

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