"Income inequality" is increasingly billed as a national menace.

So if our decreasingly free market must be replaced to more fairly distribute America's wealth, who should decide who gets paid what?

And if too many people lose not just their jobs but their homes, where can they go?

Here in Charleston the homeless can go to One80 Place, formerly known as Crisis Ministries - and hope they get a spot before it fills up, as it does virtually every night.

The shelter on Upper Meeting Street changed its name last month to better reflect its mission of helping the homeless turn their lives around 180 degrees. (One80 Place - get it?) That quest will be enhanced by the new $7.8 million facility due to open next month behind the old one.

Think you're not only better off but better than the homeless? Then think about the sad term "down on their luck" - and the hard-times hand the Great Recession dealt to so many hard workers.

No room at the inn?

Beckoning words on the Statue of Liberty, from Emma Lazarus' "New Colossus" sonnet: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Just don't give us more of them than we can handle - a valid concern intensified by the recent human flood, many of them unaccompanied kids, across our southern border.

Back to One80 Place, which has an impressive record of not just feeding and sheltering the homeless (including kids) but of helping "clients" find jobs. Yet though many of the shelter's residents work, those jobs often don't pay enough for them to afford a place to live.

Hmm. Our president wants to boost the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.

Bad idea - at least at that steep a climb. Despite federal efforts to repeal the law of supply and demand, that inexorable economic force endures. Elevating the price of cheap labor by federal fiat would elevate the incentive for employers to seek other options - including staff cuts.

Of course, we who are paid more than $7.25 an hour are more likely to buy into laissez faire than those who aren't.

Then again, my work history includes drawing a scant $1.80 per hour as a cashier at the King Street Book Bag (circa 1972, when the minimum wage was just $1.60). My starting pay as a fast-food professional at Taco Tico in the Clemson Mini Mall was $2.90 an hour (circa 1977, when the minimum was $2.30). My Taco Tico take soared to $3.05 with a promotion to assistant manager (nobody else wanted it).

Thus, my low-paid experience enhances my empathy for the working poor.

So does enlightened perspective gained through 3 decades as a journalist.

OK, so America's hungry and poor should get not just our pity but our assistance - and not just for their own good but for the good of us all.

However, that would be an easier sell if so many "hungry" Americans weren't fat and so many of "poor" Americans didn't have cellphones.

This headline posted Tuesday on The Washington Post website didn't strengthen sympathy for the "poor," either: "This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps."

From that column by Darlena Cunha, an ex-TV producer who's now a stay-at-home mom: "The reality of poverty can spring quickly while the psychological effects take longer to surface."

So what about the long-term fiscal effects of paying too many people too much taxpayer money not to work?

Pay decider for hire

Though few of us who aren't poor want to trade places with someone who is, that doesn't mean we should trade capitalism for socialism.

Or is it already too late to back out of that sucker's deal?

And if we must set salaries by Big Brother order rather than free-enterprise merit, why not appoint a well-informed, compassionate Pay Czar who, like "The Fugitive" in the 1963-67 TV series, knows what it's like "to toil at many jobs"?

Just don't expect me to take on that high-stress chore for low pay.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.