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Letter: Increase needed in minimum wage

To me, the American way is to promote self-reliance and dignity through work, not dependency on government assistance.

It seems contrary to that premise that some working people find themselves needing government assistance to subsist. An October 13 report co-sponsored by the universities of Illinois and California, states, "The families of more than half of the fast-food workers employed 40 or more hours per week are enrolled in public assistance programs." When you include all industries, the cost to taxpayers for Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Food Stamps for working families averaged $243 billion per year from 2007 to 2011.

It is unacceptable that profitable, public companies like McDonald's are shifting the burden to taxpayers to supplement the inadequate wages and benefits given their lower skilled employees who, as a group, lack power and influence. In 2013, McDonald's net profit was $5.6 billion.

I am a strong proponent of our system of capitalism. As good as it is, it is subject to greed that leads to unfairness. Recently, a hedge fund manager on CNBC emphatically rejected raising the minimum wage by echoing the conventional view that a company's first responsibility was to make money for its shareholders. That statement was unabashed self-interest to make the rich richer because 80 percent of stocks are owned by the wealthiest 10 percent, according to a Jan. 28 CNBC report.

I was fortunate to work for an enlightened senior executive who believed employees are more important than shareholders because engaged employees get and keep great customers, and that is the life blood of a business. Employees do the actual work of a company and contribute much to its success. He also believed employees have more skin in the game by investing their time and talents and gambling their careers, pensions and families' security on their company. Shareholders do invest money, but their commitment and loyalty are as short-lived as a computer keystroke to sell their stock.

So how do we improve wages for the working poor and reduce government assistance payments? Unionization could provide some wage and benefit leverage, but unions also restrict work rules and productivity unnecessarily. Companies are unlikely to raise wages on their own. Raising the minimum wage appears to be the only viable alternative. If shareholders accepted a little less return and customers paid a little more, our country would be better off.

Steve Tokarz

Westminster

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