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A collection of short essays by Acton writers, click a link to jump to that article: 

The $15 minimum wage is pushing New York’s car washers to the margins

Joseph Sunde, Acton Institute

As cities such as Seattle and Minneapolis, and states including California and New York, have adopted a $15-anhour minimum wage, the negative consequences have hit small businesses and lowskilled workers the hardest.

Take New York City’s car wash industry.

Unions and politicians have spent the last decade trying to fix prices and pressure shops to unionize. The result: a flurry of closed businesses, a spike in car-wash automation, decreased consumer options, and a black market in hand car washing services.

“After six years, organizers have unionized 11 businesses, or about four percent of the city’s registered car washes,” writes Jim Epstein in Reason magazine. “Two of them have since closed down, and the union withdrew three more because of a lack of support from the workers.”

The reason for the lack of traction? Workers seem to be largely content with their situation and struggle to see the value of union membership.

“Protection from whom?” asks Ervin Par, a car washer, who emigrated from Guatemala. “If I don’t like working here, I’ll go find a job at a different place. There are many places to work where they pay the same.”

Ultimately, the union’s efforts to champion the $15 minimum wage succeeded through politics, and local businesses began adapting – by closing their doors or laying off workers following automation.

One of those is Best Auto Spa, located at 810 Pennsylvania Avenue in Brooklyn. “The $15 minimum wage means that this business model is no longer viable,” Epstein writes. “Two years ago, [the owner] installed $200,000 worth of equipment, which allowed him to lay off eight workers.”

Automation can be good and productive, both for workers and consumers. But when the driving reason is not consumer feedback, the delivery and quality of services shift based only on the whims of the policymaker.

The material pains include increased unemployment and shuttered businesses. And the poor bear the brunt.

Americans are more likely to find their ‘meaning in life’ in money than in faith

Joe Carter, Acton Institute

What makes your life meaningful? For Christians the answer should be some variation of our faith in God. But if that’s your answer, you are distinctly in the minority in the U.S.

The Pew Research Center conducted two separate surveys asking Americans to describe what makes their lives feel meaningful.

Americans are mostly likely to say family is an important source of meaning (40 percent) and to report they find “a great deal” of meaning in spending time with family (69 percent). About a third (34 percent) said they found meaning in their careers, and almost a quarter (23 percent) find meaning in money and finances.

Only one in five (20 percent) said their religious faith was the most important source of meaning, and only about one in three (36 percent) said it gave them “a great deal” of meaning.

Evangelical Protestants are the group mostly likely to mention religion-related topics (43 percent). Among members of the historically black Protestant tradition, 32 percent mention faith and spirituality, as do 18 percent of mainline Protestants, and 16 percent of Catholics.

Evangelicals are also the most likely (65 percent) to say it provides “a great deal” of meaning in their lives. Among members of the historically black Protestant tradition, 62 percent say it provides “a great deal” of meaning, as do 41 percent of Catholics, and 39 percent of mainline Protestants.

Mainline Protestants are the most likely to say family is the most important source of meaning (54 percent), as do half of Catholics (50 percent), a third of all members of the historically black Protestant tradition (37 percent), and a third of evangelicals (31 percent).

Americans who identify as conservative or very conservative say they find “a great deal” of meaning in their religious faith (62 percent and 50 percent), while those who are liberal or very liberal are more likely to say they find a great deal of meaning in arts and crafts and social or political causes (30 percent and 34 percent).

Liberal Americans are also more likely than conservatives to say that social or political causes provide them with “a great deal” of meaning (19 percent versus 10 percent). And among those identifying as “very liberal,” three in ten (30 percent) say they find a great deal of meaning in social or political causes, almost three times the rate seen in the general public.

Four good news stories you might have missed

Joe Carter, Acton Institute

Death, destruction, and divisiveness tend to dominate the news cycle, but there were also many positive trends in 2018 that you may have missed.

Half the world is middle class or wealthier: “For the first time since agriculture- based civilization began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty. By our calculations, as of this month, just over 50 percent of the world’s population, or some 3.8 billion people, live in households with enough discretionary expenditure to be considered ‘middle class’ or ‘rich.’”

Less than a billion people live without electricity: “[O] ver 120 million people worldwide gained access to electricity in 2017. This means that for the first time ever, the total number of people without access fell below one billion, according to new data from World Energy Outlook 2018.”

Black men are succeeding in America: “[T]he share of black men in poverty has fallen from 41 percent in 1960 to 18 percent today. … [T]he share of black men in the middle or upper class — as measured by their family income — has risen from 38 percent in 1960 to 57 percent today. In other words, about one-in-two black men in America have reached the middle class or higher.”

Nearly six-in-10 countries are now democratic: “A Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year in 38 countries [found] the number of democratic nations around the world is at a postwar high.”