Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Why can't we pay a living wage in North America?

I normally don't get into political topics here on my blog - but I've been reading a bit about the low wages paid at Walmart (and probably other discount retailers) and it has me concerned.

http://www.msnbc.com/the-ed-show/leaked-document-shows-what-walmart-really-pay

We are so used to looking for low prices, that sometimes we forget that real people work for the companies we shop at - either locally at the retail level or international at the manufacturing level. I do think businesses have not only a responsibility to their shareholders, but also to the communities their businesses impact.

What does that mean to me? A small (extremely small!) entrepreneur who makes a small line of products at home and attempts to sell them online and in person locally?

Many consumers have become so accustomed to low prices (made on the backs of workers who are not making a living wage - defined here in Wikipedia) that they don't understand the costs that go into a handmade product. I belong to a group of online quilt sellers and a common complaint is the consistent requests that we sell our products for less than our asking price.

When you are buying a quilt online or from a local quilter you are buying:
  • the expertise of that quilter - the skills and techniques they have learned and their ability to turn design and fabric into a product that is beautiful and useful.
  • the quilter's equipment - sewing machine, needles, pins, scissors, etc.
  • the actual materials - fabric, batting, thread
  • the design - a pattern from another designer or an original design or an adaptation of a traditional pattern
  • the actual time to make the quilt - from pressing, cutting, piecing, quilting, finishing at an hourly rate that reflects the expertise of the quilter (skilled labor is more than minimum wage!)
As a consumer, it is YOUR responsibility to do your homework! I'm not saying don't shop at Walmart, but let them (and your politicians!) that it is not ok to do business and expect the taxpayers to pick up the slack when your employees are not paid a "living wage". When you buy from an artisan or local crafter, realize that most are not making millions doing what they love, just using what they love to pay some bills. Ask them about what goes into their product - they will love to tell you. And maybe, you will love their stories so much you will buy their product for what they are asking!

Tell me what you think about wages, consumer mentality and product pricing! (I may regret this, but I really want to know!)

--Ann



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