All posts by Sean Huang

Minimum Wage

Minimum Wage
A hefty, affluent man who is sipping champagne and relaxing amidst piles of ‘record-level profits’ is identified as ‘big corporations’ and sits atop a stone labeled ‘immorally low minimum wage’, crushing people below it. Wolverton underscores the issues prevalent in the United States’ upper class with regards to the helplessness of the working poor.

Minimum Wage

Monte Wolverton – April 21, 2013

The political cartoon, “Minimum Wage,” was created by Monte Wolverton and published in The Cagle Post on April 21, 2013; it depicts the helpless nature of the lower and middle classes in terms of the attempt to raise the minimum wage in the United States as well as the superiority that the upper class possesses. Similarly, John Francis Knott’s 1933 political cartoon, “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More,” parallels the issues of inadequate wages, the contrast between the upper and lower classes, and poverty. Wolverton’s cartoon in combination with Knott’s cartoon and related contemporary articles brings to light the manner with which the term ‘minimum wage’ evolved, the stark contrast of the concept of minimum wage from the past to the present, and the proposed inadequacy of these wages with regards to how poorly they affect lower classes.

The term ‘minimum wage’ is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as an amount of money that is the least amount of money per hour that workers must be paid according to the law (“Minimum Wage Definition”). Furthermore, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) – which generally controls the employment and compensation in the United States – requires that a minimum wage be paid to employees regardless of if they are paid by the hour or by salary (“Minimum Wage”). This provides a foundation for an employee’s basic rights for adequate payment. Statistics show that from 1955 to 2014, the minimum wage in the United States gradually increased from $0.75 to $7.25; while this appeared to be a wage that aided the lower class in maintaining a stable life, proponents of a minimum wage increase would say otherwise (“Federal Minimum Wage Rates”). On the other hand, the term ‘living wage’ also comes into play. While a minimum wage is set by the law, a living wage is set by an individual’s standard of living; it should be large enough to provide an individual with the basic necessities to live an acceptable life (“Living Wage Definition”). There are currently two sides to the issue of raising the minimum wage: proponents of this issue state that the minimum wage should be increased due to the inability of the lower classes to work their way out of poverty, while its opponents argue that raising the minimum wage would lead to higher unemployment and an overall lack of a positive effect on the issue (Hasset).

The accompanying article to Wolverton’s cartoon, published by Tina Dupuy in The Cagle Post and titled “Don’t Like Food Stamps? Raise the Minimum Wage,” emphasizes proponents’ views to raise the minimum wage and outlines why their opponents’ perspectives do not appear to be the best option for the country. According to Dupuy, approximately ten million out of the forty-six million impoverished United States citizens are the working poor – she emphasizes that ‘work’ for the working poor does not buy food and shelter and that raising the minimum wage would help an individual with a full-time job and a child surpass the requirement for food stamps (Dupuy). On the other hand, opponents of raising the minimum wage, such as Kevin Hasset of the Los Angeles Times, believe that it would only increase the cost of hiring younger, low-skilled workers and raising it from $7.25 an hour to $9.50 an hour would only aid about eleven percent of impoverished workers (Hasset).

While the debate between whether or not the minimum wage should be increased continues, it is important to view the issue from a holistic perspective; Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune states that while both sides make valid arguments, there are points to consider from each angle which contribute to the long-term effects for the country. Huppke states that on one hand, raising the minimum wage could potentially improve the lives of the working poor; on the other hand, it targets all minimum wage workers rather than just the working poor. Improving the lives of all minimum wage workers rather than solely the working poor reduces the action’s effectiveness due to an inefficient distribution of financial assistance and thus sheds light on alternative opportunities to relieve the situation using other investment methods (Huppke). This thought process leads to the idea that raising the minimum wage without further action to permanently eliminate poverty would only create a vicious cycle and cause the problem to reappear.

Wolverton’s cartoon embodies the current wage inadequacy. It can be correlated to another political cartoon published in the Dallas Morning News on October 20, 1933 by John Francis Knott titled “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More” – in Knott’s cartoon, an upper-class man is depicted giving a ten cent loan to a man in tattered clothes who represents two million cotton planters. The two cartoons differ in terms of their depiction; however, they share similarities through meaning. Wolverton’s cartoon parallels Knott’s cartoon due to the way it visually parallels – the rather rotund and well-dressed man sipping champagne and grasping the ‘record-level profits’ represents Knott’s Uncle Sam, the ‘immorally low minimum wage’ stone represents the ‘ten cent loan’, and the crushed bodies underneath represent the ‘two million cotton planters’ in tattered clothing.

The two cartoons are similar in the sense that they both deal with the call to aid the impoverished and underscore that the inadequacy of the current minimum wage is simply crushing the working poor. The humor that can be extracted from Wolverton’s cartoon is from the plump, smirking man increasing the downward force of the ‘immorally low minimum wage’ stone to crush those below him – this is humorous due to the accuracy with which the upper class is represented according to proponents of raising the minimum wage as well as how helpless the working poor is depicted. Additionally, the idea of minimum wage vs. living wage creates new meaning for the people crushed by the ‘immorally low minimum wage’ stone. They are suffering due to the insufficiency of the minimum wage they are being paid; these lower class individuals – while lawfully paid – are not being paid enough to accommodate their standard of living, causing them failure to be self–sufficient. The prominent message conveyed by Wolverton’s cartoon is that more attention should be given to the lower class along with the methods in which we plan to eliminate poverty; actions must be taken in order to benefit the country in the long term, not just for temporary relief. Through the reparations for the working poor, the future for all of the socioeconomic classes may seem more optimistic.

 

Works Cited

(1) “Federal Minimum Wage Rates, 1955–2014.” Infoplease. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

(2) “Living Wage Definition.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.

(3) “Minimum Wage.” Encyclopedia of Small Business. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2007. 743-44. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. 

(4) “Minimum Wage Definition.” Merriam Webster. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

(5) Dupuy, Tina. “Don’t Like Food Stamps? Raise the Minimum Wage.” The Cagle Post. Daryl Cagle, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2015. 

(6) Hasset, Kevin A., and Michael R. Strain. “The Minimum-wage Debate.” Los Angeles Times 10 Mar. 2013: n. pag. Print. 

(7) Huppke, Rex. “In Minimum Wage Debate, Both Sides Make Valid Points.”Chicago Tribune 17 Mar. 2014: n. pag. Print.

(8) Knott, John. “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 20 Oct. 1933, sec. 2: 2. Print.

(9) Wolverton, Monte. “Minimum Wage.” Cagle Cartoons. Daryl Cagle, 21 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. 

Can’t You Spare a Nickel More

Can't You Spare a Nickel More
A cotton planter in tattered clothing is being given a measly ten cent loan by a much wealthier looking Uncle Sam. Knott emphasizes not only the strains placed on cotton farmers, but also the inadequacy of the payments received.

Can’t You Spare a Nickel More

John Francis Knott – October 20, 1933

The political cartoon, “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More,” was created by John Francis Knott and published in the Dallas Morning News on October 20, 1933. It depicts the cotton planters of the United States with regards to the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the economic aspects that accompanied it. The cartoon reveals the economic issues faced by the United States and the twenty million cotton planters depicted in the image. Knott’s cartoon highlights the negative effects that the U.S. government and its New Deal policies – such as the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the Commodity Credit Corporation – had on cotton planters nationwide. These negative effects included the acreage reduction’s failure to raise crop prices, the tenant farming system’s lack of productivity, the Texas Cotton Acreage Control Law of 1931, and the overall economic incongruities which were created.

The Great Depression spanned from the late 1920s to the late 1930s. While the depression was most known for its negative effects on American society and the crash of the stock market, it was also associated with the sharp decline of profitable cotton prices; this was devastating due to the increased agriculture during that time period. Therefore, it was important for farmers and cotton planters to get back into business. In 1933, the U.S. government created a program that financially helped farmers for lowering cotton acreage, which reduced supply and thus created higher prices. The program, known as the New Deal, brought about interesting changes to the agricultural aspect of the nation – it constituted the Agricultural Adjustment Administration which called for a forty percent cotton acreage reduction and the Commodity Credit Corporation which provided a ten cent loan for each pound of cotton as long as planters promised to reduce its acreage in the following year (Golay 204).

“Can’t You Spare a Nickel More” depicts stress on the cotton planter’s face as well as Uncle Sam’s (Knott 2). These difficult times created a bleak outlook for the nation along with its twenty million cotton planters. Even after the Agricultural Adjustment Administration enforced an acreage reduction on cotton, thirteen million bales remained to sustain the world demand for the rest of the year. This countered the goal of raising the price of crops. In addition to this issue, the tenant farming system – a system in which tenant farmers contributed their own land and labor for capital resulted in wastefulness and inefficiency. It caused trouble for the South’s traditional cash crop and created conflicts between planters and tenants due to its many internal economic problems (Hawkins).

The accompanying article, “The Price of Cotton,” explains the cartoon’s exchange of ten cents profoundly; it questions the unfairness of lending of ten cents per pound of cotton rather than fifteen cents and explicitly states that the discrepancy is inadequate (“The Price of Cotton”). The Texas Cotton Acreage Control Law of 1931 further emphasized the strains placed upon cotton farmers by requiring that the amount of cotton planted in 1932 and 1933 could not surpass thirty percent of that of the preceding year (Jasinski). The synthesis of these two sources develops the notion that the combination of reduced cotton acreage and lowered payment to cotton farmers only created an increasing lack of sustenance as well as an overall miserable lifestyle.

The humor in this cartoon is evident in the distinct contrast between the two parties depicted and their relation to the underlying meaning of the image. Despite the fact that the wealthier man is not explicitly labeled as Uncle Sam, it can be inferred based on the combination of the cartoon, the article, and knowledge of American popular culture. While the man representing the twenty million cotton planters of the U.S. is illustrated in tattered clothing with a grim expression, the man who appears to be Uncle Sam handing him the ten cent loan looks stern yet well dressed which emphasizes the economic gap as well as the issues which were created by the loans and cotton reduction (Knott 2). The prominent issue that Knott’s cartoon focuses on is the unfair loans given to the cotton planters by the government. The cartoon focuses attention on the twenty million cotton planters receiving a ten cent loan which insinuates that the planters are not receiving sufficient funds for their duties, thus creating a cycle of internal and external economic incongruities.

 

Works Cited

(1) “The Price of Cotton.” Editorial. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 20 Oct. 1933, sec. 2: 2. Print.

(2) Golay, Michael. America 1933: The Great Depression, Lorena Hickok, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Shaping of the New Deal. New York: Free, 2013. Print.

(3) Hawkins, Van. “Cotton Industry.” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

(4) Jasinski, Laurie E. “Texas Cotton Acreage Control Law of 1931-32.” N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2015. 

(5) Knott, John. “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 20 Oct. 1933, sec. 2: 2. Print.

(6) Novak, James L., James W. Pease, and Larry D. Sanders. Agricultural Policy in the United States: Evolution and Economics. London: Routledge, 2015. Print.