Bullish Bits: The “Family Wage” and the Idea of “Bargain Rates”

I occasionally read evangelical blogs for fun (and amazement!), and sometimes read the musings of evangelical homemakers who lament the decline of a “family wage” (that is, unearned subsidies paid by employers to men with families to support). Since this “family wage” is no longer available, argue the evangelical bloggers, women are “unfairly” forced to work to support their families.

Of course, the “family” wage was never available to single mothers, people in unconventional family structures, or non-white men in traditional family structures.

And, of course, the “family” wage was subsidized on the backs of women and minorities who were being paid less than they were worth. I often think about this while watching Mad Men, specifically watching Don and Roger live the high life while doing very little work.

I thought of this — the fairly incredible idea that the most disadvantaged workers should suffer a loss of wages so that the most privileged workers can take home a little something extra so that their wives can not work for wages at all — when I read the phrase “bargain rates” in this post by Kelly Virella on Dominion of New York.

Virella offers up a Martin Luther King quote she says many will find “uncomfortable”:

“When millions of people have been cheated for centuries, restitution is a costly process. Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate healthcare — each is a bitter component of the oppression that has been our heritage. Each will require billions of dollars to correct. Justice so long deferred has accumulated interest and its cost to society will be substantial in financial as well as human terms. This fact has not been fully grasped, because most of the gains of the past decade were obtained at bargain rates.”

“Bargain rates,” indeed.

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