The chosen locale for the press conference was on the sidewalk directly in front of the new Sam's Club construction site on 34th street in Saint Petersburg. There seemed to have been more press reporters in attendance than organizers or protesters. Perhaps the role of social media and the internet in general provides a “stay at home” avenue for political engagement. This may also be due in part to last week's digital tempest which U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young stirred up on the Internet with his remarks about minimum wage increases. When Konvanis had the opportunity to ask Congressman Young whether he would support a bill in congress which would increase the minimum wage to $10 the following terse exchange was had:
Young: "Probably not.”
Kovanis: "It's 10 bucks an hour. It would give us a living wage."
Young: "How about getting a job. Why do you want that benefit? Get a job."
Kovanis: "I have a job, but it's not enough to get by on...”
The video of this conversation between Young and Kovanis went “viral” on the Internet.
Friday's press conference was kicked off with a written statement from Bill Hurley, a Pinellas County resident who says has continuously been rebuffed by Congressman Young for a meeting to discuss minimum wage improvements. The thread which ran through Hurley's prepared speech was the inequities experienced by the low wager earners and the middle class. He invoked the Occupy Movements vernacular of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent to illustrate how out of touch some politician are with their constituents.
When Hurley had concluded reading his statements he immediately yielded the lectern to Pepe Kovanis.
Kovanis stood confident and prepared as he cycled through some of the same points which he enumerated after his terse exchange with Young. He said that what he really wants is “...to sit down with Young and have a dialogue with him and have him apologize to me and all the low wage earners he insulted.” Kovanis went on to say that, in fact, he has voted for Young in the past. Konvanis later revealed that, although he holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of South Florida, he is now self employed. He hopes his company, Edible Gardens, will eventually be able capitalize on a more robust consumer economy if the minimum wage is increased to $10.
He went on to say; “(You would)...see businesses grow because people will have more money to spend at my business.” This train of thought shouldn't be unfamiliar; it's just a different form of trickle down or trickle sideways economics. The concept is simple if not always attainable; when more people have more disposable income they spend more and that spreads like a speck of oil in a pool of water. So far the political mantra, held by some, that the US needs to coddle “job creators” because the money and opportunities will trickle down, hasn't come to a meaningful fruition since the Reagan era. However, there seems to be a kernel of truth in a trickle sideways economy and raising the minimum wage to $10 is at least a step in the right direction. Kovanis told me that he's definitely not alone in this rationale. He went on to say that he has received over 1000 comments, all of which have been in positive and motivating support of his advocacy of raising the minimum wage. How does minimum wage play out in the socio-economic real world? Let's take a look at the numbers game.
If the minimum wage is set to $10 an hour, it would equate to somewhere between $1600 and $2000 a month before taxes if we use the benchmark of a 40 hour work week. That works out to be an annual income before taxes of between $19,200 and $24,000. Let's allow the raw numbers to do some more talking and illuminate what it means to survive on a hypothetical $10 an hour minimum wage. The US Department of Health and Human Services, using the 2010 US census, has established thresholds for determining poverty guidelines. As a single head of a household earning $19,200 and $24,000 a year would put you well above the poverty guideline which is set at $11,170. However, when you factor in 2,3 or 4 additional family members, $15,130 $19,090 $23,050 respectfully, then the anxiety of making ends meet becomes exceedingly more palpable. Florida has a set it's minimum wage at $7.67 which translates into an annual earning before taxes of between $14724 and $18408. I can only surmise that our Tallahassee representatives either innately feel that we should all run single households or they ipso facto advocate a “DINKY” style of partnership. Perhaps they endorse of policy which allows raising children to be done primarily by daycare because a double income is clearly needed to keep a family of 3 or 4 above the poverty threshold. Whatever their ideological motivation is the fact remains that many people in Florida are on the precipice of abject poverty and a minimum wage of $10 doesn't help much let stand one of $7.67.
The world wide economic crisis as it devolved into a world wide recession has put a financial burden on everyone with or without a job. If you are fortunate enough to have weathered the storm until now by staying employed, as Pepe apparently has, then half the battle has been won. Nevertheless, with downsizing, outsourcing and foreclosures being the rule rather than the exception in today's economic landscape, the sense of a sustainable secure income above the poverty threshold is at best quixotic. However, some world economic powers understand the inherent need to grease the machine by establishing a policy of equitable fair pay. Germany has emerged in the Euro Zone as the financial white knight who is attempting to save the damsel in distress European economies from fiscal melt down.
Kate Katharina Ferguson, of the German periodical Der Spiegel, states in her article that the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) deems anyone earning less than €9.62 ($11.72) per hour as belonging to the "low-wage sector." The irony is that Germans feel that this number is alarmingly substandard. Furthermore, Germany doesn't have a federal minimum wage law but rather chooses to federally supplement the income to a socially accepted norm. This may all be changing when the 2013 general elections in Germany are held. Regardless, the Germans have almost a statistical full employment at 7.2% as of March 2012 (full employment is 6% unemployment) and a viable safety net for bolstering the mean income of wage earners above the poverty threshold. Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed around a 6% pay increase for government and municipal employees as well as massive financial guardrails to ensure an above poverty quality of life for all Germans.
It would be comforting to think that Florida's policy makers in Tallahassee might take a page out of the financially responsible book of Germany, but that may be too much to ask in an election year. Falling short of that, Florida could take exemplary measures to protect the livelihoods of its residents both young and old, single or familial. As far as I know Florida doesn't have any policies to ensure an above quality of life through government subsidies so enacting a respectable minimum of wage set at $10 an hour just makes sense on an economic and ethical level. If you agree or want to support efforts to increase the minimum wage then you can visit Kovanis' page on the signon.org website. A spokesman for FCAN said that signed petition will be hand delivered on the 24th of July to Congressman Young by a delegation of FCAN representatives, groups of constituents and Pepe Kovanis. The date was chosen because it is a national day of action and marks the 3rd anniversary of the last minimum wage increase.