Salary and Finance, Workplace Issues

Paychecks and Self-Worth: An Introduction to Industry and Economics Part II

The salary offered at most workplaces isn’t a reflection of the worth of the individual performing the task, but the value of the service they offer. Minimum wage is the going rate for grocery baggers… and that is likely to remain the same whether the man performing the task is a High School dropout or a Physicist with two PhD’s. There are plenty of people who are willing and able to perform the task for the pay being offered and, as a result, most employers have no reason to pay an individual more than the going rate.

So is this a reflection on the money-grubbing, power-hungry activities of free market business men and women? In some cases, yes. But in many (if not most), it’s simply a reflection of the labor market’s equilibrium (the price at which, on average, people are willing to sell their labor and at which, on average, employers are willing to purchase it.) Simply put, it’s the free market system at work.

So what about businesses that generate millions in revenue, but don’t pass it on to employees? Is that fair? Well, to begin with, it’s important for those of us seeking higher wages to recognize that the whole point of going into business in the first place is to make a profit. If it weren’t those who currently own companies wouldn’t be risking their own time, money and effort to start a business – they’d let someone else do that while they worked for a regular paycheck like the rest of us. It isn’t unusual for those who take a risk to feel that they deserve the reward for doing so. In business, that reward is profit.

Profit drives business and, indirectly, it also drives pay. It can be easy to take a quick glance at a revenue statement that suggest a company is rolling in dough and then complain that they don’t pay their employees enough. While it’s true that some companies do underpay (and sometimes dramatically), it’s also true that a revenue statement isn’t the whole picture.

Simply put, revenue is just the dollars received in exchange for a good, service or idea. It doesn’t take into account fixed costs like the rent on the building in which the business is housed or variable costs like heating that building during the winter months. Expenses like these are often lumped together as “overhead” and they can make up a huge amount of a company’s expenditures long before labor (a variable cost) is ever factored in.

Start subtracting the cost of cleaning supplies for the bathrooms, those improvements to the company break room, and the updated parking lot security and the difference between revenue and expenses rapidly begins to decrease. The statement that shows this difference (known as “Profit and Loss” or “P&L” for short) can be very telling. It isn’t unheard of for a company to make a few million dollars in revenue, but end up in the red – having spent more money than they made.

When they do end up in the black (having actually made a profit), business owners are faced with choices, each of which is influenced by a variety of factors. While they may choose to award that profit to employees in the form of higher wages, they may also decide to reinvest it in a new computer system, the replacement of aging facilities and equipment, or in new lines of stock or alternate business ventures. The result? Low or unchanging wages – even in the face of increasing profit.

So what’s the bottom line? While there are many factors which influence the wages we make, only a few are tied to us as individuals. And most of those are influenced by the labor market, itself – what skills do we have, how high the demand is for those skills, and whether others with the same skills willing to work for less. None of these factors are tied to our worth as a human being. Our paycheck does not reflect our value.

In the end, there is only One person who was ever willing to pay what we are worth as individuals created in God’s image… and that was God, Himself. Our value is reflected in Christ’s atoning death for us.


Salary and Finance, Workplace Issues

Paychecks and Self-Worth: The New Testament and Human Value

Last week, in “The Old Testament and Human Value”, we took a brief look at human value in light of creation. This week, we’ll explore several passages from the New Testament and examine human value in light of our re-creation.

In few places do we see our Creator’s love or the value that He places upon humankind as clearly as in the Gospels. John 3:16 declares that, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Throughout His life on earth, Jesus made a career of helping those who could not help themselves. (Mark 2:17) He devoted Himself to healing the blind and lame, curing the lepers, and raising the dead. Through His words and His actions, He made it clear that He did not value human beings as we value each other. And he proved it by His death on the cross.

In Romans 5:6-10 we read, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” And Ephesians 2:4-8 tells us that, “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In Revelation 5:9 the saints declare, “You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Race, nationality, social position, education, skill, mental ability, good deeds, and our income level find no place in God’s evaluation of us. His care and concern is not limited by our love for Him or the size of our paycheck. What He has created has value simply because He created it. And that should be enough for us.

But is it? To be honest, despite a firm belief in this Truth, many of us still struggle to define ourselves within the constructs of our society. We may be valuable to God, but that doesn’t mean that we are always seen as valuable to others. Our battle to prove this worth, to fight against injustice (either real or perceived), often takes the form of a fight against society. And in few places is that battle as fierce as in the realm of employee wages!

We’ll take a look at this issue next week, but in the meantime, feel free to share an encouraging Scripture or two in the comment box below.


Salary and Finance, Workplace Issues

Paychecks and Self-Worth: The Old Testament and Human Worth

Last week in “Determining Society’s Winners and Losers”, we examined the perspective that a person’s worth as an individual is determined by the number of digits in their paycheck. We discussed the role that popular culture plays in perpetuating this view, and we posed the counterview that neither Scriptural nor economic principles lead us to this conclusion. This week, we’ll be taking a look at the first of these as we explore what the Bible has to say about the origins of human value.

Genesis 1:27 tells us that, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Each of us from the very beginning until the present day bears the mark of God’s image. We are unique among all His creations in that He has given us not merely intellect, but a soul. “The LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

That God intended for this image to be guarded is evident. In Genesis 9, verse 6, He commands that, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” There are no caveats which exclude those of a certain race or creed. There is no exception made for age or infirmity. And none are excluded on the basis of wealth or poverty, education, skill, or their potential as contributing members of society. Humans, all humans, have value simply because they are the handiwork of their Maker.

More importantly, this handiwork is not and never will be an accident. In Jeremiah 1:5, the Lord declares to the prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” And in Psalm 139:13-16 we read, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”

While our parents may not have planned for our advent, our Creator did. He knew exactly when and where we would be born, how we would live, and who we would become. While He didn’t create us with equal abilities or equal opportunities, we can be assured that each of us were created with equal care. Each of us has value in the eyes of God. And for that reason, alone, we ought to value each other.

Salary and Finance, Workplace Issues

Paychecks and Self-Worth: Determining Society’s Winners and Losers

A wise man once told me that, “No one will ever pay you what you’re worth. So find something you enjoy and do it.” It’s sound advice – especially in a world where so many of us mistakenly confuse our worth as human beings with our worth as units of labor. Indeed, for far too many, the greatest workplace struggle isn’t conflict between ourselves and our coworkers, getting along with a difficult boss, or adjusting to long work hours. Instead, it’s overcoming the sense that our value as individuals is somehow tied to the number of digits on our paycheck.

This isn’t surprising, since popular culture all too frequently perpetuates this confusion, labeling individuals as “winners” or “losers” based upon income and lifestyle. The winners are those who have demonstrated initiative by getting an education, making good money, and living a lifestyle of comfort and luxury. They are those who contribute to the economic and material prosperity of our society. The losers, on the other hand, are the undereducated and the underpaid – those who provide, at best, only a limited financial benefit and serve to consume that which is produced by others.

This message that individuals can be labeled as either “winners” or “losers” based upon their annual pay begins to penetrate our psyche sometime in grade school; If you want to be “worth something” as an individual, you need to be a contributor. To be a contributor, you need to make money. And to make money, you need an education.

The National Center for Education Statistics tells us that, on average, a 25-34 year old who is employed full-time can expect to earn $45,000 a year… provided they possess a coveted Bachelor’s degree. Those with High School degrees, however, are unlikely to earn much beyond $23,000. Because higher wages equal a greater contribution to the economic well-being of the country, higher education is encouraged. Those who don’t pursue a degree often feel demeaned by those who did. After all, they’re merely a drain on the resources made available by these “benevolent” producers.

Sadly, those who subscribe to the perspective that income determines society’s winners and losers demonstrate a dangerous lack of understanding. Why dangerous? Because it has the ability to influence workplace attitudes – stirring up dissatisfaction and malcontent where, in reality, there ought to be gratification and fulfillment. Fortunately, this “winner-loser” scenario is deeply at odds with both the teaching of Scripture and basic economic principles… and we’ll be taking a look at both in the coming weeks.