Minimum wage should be a livable wage
By Meghana Bharadwaj
By Marisa Sylvester
Have you ever tried living off of $7.25 an hour?
For the majority of us who haven’t, take it from those who have: it’s nearly impossible. Truth is, the idealistic view that the American Dream is attainable for everyone is simple not the case. All the hard work, sincerity, and dedication in the world can still prevent someone from achieving the American Dream due to personal circumstances, socioeconomic background, systemic racism, and an innate lack of equal opportunity for all. However it can be attainable for everyone with a little help, which is exactly why I argue for a gradual increase in minimum wage.
As time progresses, the standard and cost of living increase and it is completely unreasonable to expect someone to work and maintain a decent living on $7.25 an hour. For instance, since the 2009 minimum wage increase, the price of milk has increased by 21%, a percent increase that is reflective of almost all living costs from groceries to housing to utilities. Essentially, the value of the minimum wage has dropped drastically and thus the buying power of people who earn minimum wage has arbitrarily been reduced to nothing.
Opponents of increasing the minimum wage suggest that small businesses cannot afford to pay their workers higher wages as they would go out of business. This is essentially a fallacy. According to a national poll about small business owners with employees conducted by the American Sustainable Business Council, 61% of small business owners with employees support gradually increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. They even support adjusting it annually to keep pace with the increasing cost of living. Furthermore, many studies have shown that the job losses incurred after the 23 times our country has raised the minimum wage are statistically insignificant, meaning there is no true difference between the job losses before and after the increase in minimum wage. Clearly, increasing the minimum wage does not drastically or negatively impact our businesses or labor force.
While there may be heavy arguments regarding how much of a welfare state America is, most Americans support, at least to a certain extent, government welfare, social security, and Medicare and Medicaid. So, why is it so hard for us to think of increasing the minimum wage as a form of corporate welfare? Ultimately, government has to compensate for public benefits for workers of low-wage industries. For instance, according to a study done by University of Illinois and UC Berkeley, 52% of families of front-line fast food restaurant workers are enrolled in one or more public programs. In just the fast-food industry, that’s $7 billion a year in public assistance, $1.04 billion in food stamps, $3.9 billion in Medicaid-the list goes on. Note, that over half of the families enrolled in those programs are families who have workers who work full-time, 40 hours or more. I would much rather allow the people to sustain themselves through corporate “welfare” (i.e. increase in wage) than use billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize workers to put them essentially at the poverty line and create a culture of dependency. Is not our goal to provide our citizens with opportunities to escape the cycle of poverty? When the CEO of McDonald’s can earn a 368% raise in 2015, would it really kill the company to bring more of his workers off public programs?
Finally, many opponents attempt to argue that minimum wage only affects teenagers and entry-level workers. This is blatantly wrong. According to research by the Economic Policy Institute, 7 million parents would earn a “raise” if the minimum wage was increased from $7.25 to $10.10. That’s 4.7 million mothers and 2.6 million fathers who would be better prepared to support their families, save for their children’s college education, and enjoy a decent retirement after years of long, hard work.
While America isn’t necessarily founded on the principle of income equality, it cherishes the value of equal opportunity for all. I will not sit back and watch as my fellow hard working Americans struggle to make ends meet for themselves and their families when it is our duty to guarantee that ALL Americans are able to pursue their fullest potential. No genuine, responsible and hardworking American working 40 hours a week deserves to be at or below the poverty line.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”
I hope and ask that you’ll join me in the slow but steady fight for gradual minimum wage increase to ensure that the American Dream isn’t just a vision rooted in our deep set optimism but a reality that is reachable for all.
Many candidates in the upcoming 2016 elections have proposed raising the federal minimum wage, despite the disastrous potential effects on the American people and economy. According to her official website, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $12/hour as a baseline for even larger increases. This issue firstly plays into the age-old American debate over states’ rights. The federal government should not demand such high wages in all 50 states without considerations for the vastly different costs of living in different states. In order to ensure that an individual state’s economy can handle the changes, wages should primarily be left to the jurisdiction of each state.
Another issue associated with the minimum wage is its potential effects on businesses and job availability. A 2015 Purdue University study found that raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, the ultimate goal of many Democratic lawmakers, would lead to a 4.3% increase in prices at fast food restaurants alone. With these higher prices, the cost of living would increase as well, almost negating the increase in wages. This effect would only become magnified across the entire economy, as prices rise to accommodate businesses’ growing employment costs. In some cases, employers might even need to cut jobs, particularly small businesses. The effects of the government meddling in the economy could lead to severe consequences to both businesses and consumers, despite the benefits for employees. Speaking as a former minimum wage employee, I nonetheless strongly believe raising the minimum wage will do more harm than good.
Over the summer, I worked as a part-time retail associate for $9.70/hour, just 10 cents more than Vermont’s minimum wage. One may think this experience would push me in favor of raising the minimum wage. However, this job taught me one important thing about my labors: they were utterly replaceable. I spent two hours shadowing a fellow cashier before tackling the register on my own. Within a week, I was entirely comfortable with the work expected of me and felt confident in my abilities. I knew my duties were simple, easy to learn, and replaceable if necessary. I hated cleaning the bathrooms or dealing with rude customers. As unpleasant as these tasks were, I knew they took few real skills, making higher wages an unreasonable demand.
My own desire to make more money as a minimum wage employee inspired an ambition to work as hard as possible in my life and schooling so that I can find better employment and make higher wages. When looking at my paychecks, I felt outrage: not at my own wages, which were low for low-skilled labor, but at the large chunks taken out by bloated, ineffectual state and federal governments. Rather than raising the minimum wage, the American government should focus on using the tax dollars they take out of it responsibly and frugally, with respect to the hardworking employees whose livelihoods they diminish.