Many of these posts are universal in nature, or at least global; but when I get specific while staying general I keep the conversation centered on the United States. That’s where I live, after all; and where nearly my whole life has taken place. The issues here are a little more close to home for me, simply because this is where I was born and where I continue to live. Since I have more field experience here than anywhere else, I’m more familiar with what’s going on in what most folks call America.
So it is with minimum wage.
We do have two levels of minimum wage in the U.S., one which is mandatory for all states and can be enforced by the federal government. The other is state minimum wage, which naturally varies from state to state. State minimum wage is always the same as federal minimum wage, or higher; but there is a broad category of people that are not affected by either law. Those people are business owners.
At first, I wanted to call this post ‘Entrepreneurs and artists have no minimum wage!’ Unfortunately, that was a bit long. I thought of dropping the ‘and artists’ part, but I didn’t like the way that sounded. Then I did a little research on the word ‘entrepreneur’ and realized it isn’t really the giant umbrella term many people use it as. The origin of the word is both interesting and specific, and I leaned even further away from using it.
‘Entrepreneur’ comes from two Latin words smashed together. ‘Entre’ means ‘to swim out’ and ‘prendes’ means ‘to capture’. As much as this makes sense, it actually forms the word ‘entreprendes’, which is not a word at all. I kind of assumed, before looking it up, that the word could be broken up into ‘entre’ or enter, ‘pre’ or before, and ‘neur’ or newer. That would mean an entrepreneur is basically just someone who enters into a field before it is new; which I thought sounded pretty cool, but isn’t what I found. I like either breakdown, although they both exclude the business owner who follows a pathway to income that generally takes them through the valley of below minimum wage at some point.
Not that I begrudge people the use of that word in describing themselves. Everyone from franchise owners to real estate agents to independent authors refer to themselves as entrepreneurs, and that’s only a few of the professions on that list. While the word is popular, I prefer a more blanket term that includes everyone excluded by minimum wage. Thus, here we are talking about business owners.
Artists and inventors are business owners, as are independent contractors and folks with actual storefronts. Not all business owners wanted to be a business owner when they started doing what they love, but many passion projects don’t exactly come with the promise of a profit. Whether you are skilled at painting or mechanics or writing, you have to offer value to others if you want to turn your skill into a business. Not only that, you have to bear in mind that most businesses fail within the first year; and most of the rest of them fail within ten.
Also, in the meantime, no one cares if you’re making money.
You may have great skill, and spend long hours practicing and honing that skill; but no one is paying you to practice. Not only that, no one cares that no one is paying you to practice. You can go get a job that requires little or no skill and know you will make a certain base wage as enforced by the federal and state government; but no one is giving you any credit for being a starving artist if you don’t.
Of course…if after working five or ten or fifteen years you make a bunch of money…then nearly everyone will say they always believed in you and that you are lucky to be an overnight success. They might even resent you for finally getting paid for all that effort you put in, and for putting minimum wage so far in your rearview mirror. Rarely will anyone understand how much of yourself you put into your business or how great the risks you took to build it were.
And that’s fine, at that point. The business owner has a huge part in our society, and each example must take the journey in their own way. Even if no one knows how much it took to get wherever you get, you still know. Even if your business failed before you went back into a job market with a wage guaranteed by the government, you know what it’s like to strike out on that path and try to help others while making your own life better. Also, there’s always another opportunity waiting when you’re ready. You won’t be guaranteed a minimum wage, or any wage at all; but you will be back in the game we might all do well to play.
After all, business owners are both the most poor and the most rich people in America. No one has an opportunity to acquire wealth like a business owner, which is why so many musicians and painters and writers have turned into business owners. Rather than give up the lion’s share of the profits of sales from their work, artists of all kind have started creating their own labels or galleries or publishing houses. Of course, most of them fail, and possibly end up in debt…but the ones that succeed have no ceiling on that success, and artists that have their own businesses are enjoying great success in every field of artistic endeavor.
I guess that’s the upside to having no minimum wage. Business owners have no maximum wage, either. They depend on their own hard work to create their success, and the better they do that work the more potential they have for great wealth. Even doctors and lawyers have to start their own practices and firms to really make good money, or join up with firms or practices that have already been established; being on staff might guarantee you a minimum wage, but it comes with a maximum wage as well.
This works out great for the business owners that reach some level of success, and even better for those that reach awesome success. It still leaves out all those folks working for nothing, or very little; but at least those folks have hope. Tomorrow their years of work might make them an overnight success, after all. Then they can hire some staff, as long as they pay minimum wage or better.
The subject of minimum wage is one with many sides to it, as are most social issues. We aren’t done talking about this yet, but next week will be a bit of a break between the posts about it. Since it’s a new year, and I just kept posting like I hadn’t occasionally hinted that this blog may end when 2017 did, I thought a little explanation and recap might be in order.
Next week I will officially announce that I will keep doing this blog, and I’ll share a little about what it has been like to write these posts over the last year. I hope this is happy news for you, and that you come back next week to read about my decision. The post will be called…
‘I’m going to keep doing this!’
I hope you come back for it, and more talk about minimum wage in America the following week.
Thanks for reading!
Oh, and Happy New Year!
All the best,