Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
There is a concern I have regarding a growing trend in our nation today that will affect many, if not most, of the workers in our country. It has to do with the increasing number of jobs that are being offered as part-time, as opposed to full-time.
If this trend does not change, it will inevitably lead to a large segment of our population being unable to afford the basics within our nation, increasing the ranks of those at or under the poverty level, and swelling the ranks of what I refer to as the working poor: Those who work, even 40-plus hours per week, but have barely enough to get by, let alone take care of the difficult to handle extras, like increases in fuel costs, or needing a new set of tires.
Adding to this problem is the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as it has become known. It is the current law of the land, and is, unarguably, a step toward socialized medicine, and is quickly being seen as anything but affordable by Middle America.
But politics aside, what has happened in our nation to make such a law even remotely possible? Besides the agenda of some to move our nation in a more socialist direction, the answer may surprise you.
One of the ethics of the Bible is to “take care of your own.” Another ethic is to “take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.” A third ethic that impacts this discussion is to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In many respects these three are being increasingly ignored within our culture. This, in part, set the stage for what we see today.
I believe it is fair to say that our industrial culture has been able to boast, for the last 50 or so years of the last century, of having great loyalty toward the employees across this great nation. But increasingly, that is ceasing to be the case.
It used to be that when a company hired you, it was generally for full-time employment, and since about 1945, that made you eligible for fringe benefits, including medical insurance. But recently, most notably the last 10 to 20 years, an increasing number of employers have moved to hiring people for an amount of part-time hours that would keep those employees under the number of hours the federal government set as the threshold for fringe benefits.
Many companies, like Wal-Mart, have been implementing this practice at an alarming rate. They do so because it drops their employee overhead, and thus makes them more competitive in the prices they can offer the customer. The problem is, Wal-Mart’s own customer base includes their 2 million plus employees, who now, with less income, cannot afford to buy as many products, especially if they seek to replace the medical benefits they can no longer secure through their employer.
Many other companies, large and small, are catching on, and the situation will only get worse, possibly at an exponential rate. This will occur for two major reasons: 1. They need to catch up with the lower overhead costs of their competitors; 2. The mandates the government is currently threatening them with at the end of 2014 are cost factors that are, almost across the board, much higher than they are currently paying for their employees medical benefits.
In addition to the loss of medical benefits, the overall income for the average worker caught in this situation is almost always lower. Companies usually do not pay as much per hour for part-time workers as they do for full-time workers. So even if a 40 hour worker was cut to 20 hours, and then was able to secure a second job for 20 additional hours, the take-home pay would be less. But again, even if it were the same, when you subtract the cost they now have to pay out for medical benefits that used to be a part of the workers package, the effective take-home pay would be notably less.
But there is an additional problem workers are encountering that the employers apparently have not considered, nor do they seem to care about, as they focus on lowering their overall costs, and becoming more competitive. Most employers who hire part-time employees want to be the primary focus of their employee’s schedule. Thus, if the worker’s other job conflicts at any level with the schedule the employer might want of their employee, even if that schedule of hours changes from week to week, as it does with many of the lowering paying jobs, they must give up their other job or risk being fired. Since most employers do not care about other companies, the employees are placed in a position that limits their options, and makes juggling two jobs very difficult, to say the least.
This is all the result of a corporate mentality that no longer feels a loyalty to its employees. Corporate America increasingly sees its workers as expendable assets, and low value assets at that. The more this downward spiral continues, the lower our national standard of living will become, and that will include our healthcare standards.
The irony of the mandated Obamacare is that it exacerbates an already bad employee medical benefit problem, in an effort to raise medical benefit standards in America. Certainly I cannot blame Obamacare for the corporate mentality of greed and pragmatism that will consign many American workers to a track toward joining the working poor, if not poverty, but Obamacare is definitely adding to a bad situation.
Although the architects of the ACA did not create our current corporate moral dilemma, it is an ill considered and hurtful policy some leaders within our nation have brought into existence in an attempt to advance their ideological agenda, by taking advantage of the lack of corporate concern and compassion for the average worker.
I find it sad and deplorable that in a nation that claims a Christian heritage, in a nation that claims to have compassion and concern for all, and in a nation whose corporations have been built on the back of loyal, hardworking employees, that many of those corporations (and many more to follow) have chosen to abandon their historically loyal workers in pursuit of higher profits.
Many of us do not see this problem first hand—yet, but we still have an obligation to speak out to Corporate America against this newfound practice. Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and others may boast about the tens of thousands of jobs they will offer to veterans, but most veterans need full-time jobs to take care of their families, and that care includes truly affordable medical benefits.
Ethics such as, “take care of your own,” “take care of those who cannot take care of themselves,” or “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” can make a huge difference in America, and that includes Corporate America, if they are applied, and not simply spouted at photo ops.
McCartney is pastor for First Baptist Church of Tooele.