Imagine an ideal reality in which people no longer had to live with a handful of roommates in order to maintain an apartment or needed to work multiple jobs in order to support themselves or their families. Would that not be a wonderful reality? Maybe that reality could be brought a step closer by tackling the topic of minimum wage. The minimum wage is, by law, the lowest amount an employee is required to be paid for hours worked. The minimum wage currently sits at $7.25 an hour and has remained unchanged since 2009. That means it has been nearly a painstaking eleven years, the longest time in American history since the minimum wage has been augmented. Although many states have established their own minimum wage laws and pay their workers higher wages than the federal minimum, in most cases, it is still not enough to account for inflation and the ever rising cost of living. Therefore, the minimum wage should be increased to account for these economic changes.
There are a number of notable reasons worth considering as to why the minimum wage should be raised. A prominent case for raising the minimum wage is that it would reduce poverty and income inequality amongst low-wage workers. Currently, the annual income for an employee working a full-time minimum wage job is $15,080—provided he or she does not take a single day off from the job (States News Service, 2013). According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2019), with these wages, a working family of three is just short of being $5,000 beneath the poverty line. If the minimum wage were increased, even by a mere $2.85, it would benefit these families and help boost them out of poverty (States News Service, 2013).
Several experts also agree that raising the minimum wage would assist the working poor. For example, Rogello Sáenz, Dean of the College of Public Policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio, mentions that, between the years 2009 and 2013, eleven states have increased their minimum wage on three separate occasions. Amid these eleven states, the general poverty rates were reduced by 0.1 percent which shows promise (as cited in Kiernan, 2016). Perhaps even more convincing is a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office analyzing the possible effects of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Although the report is not without its drawbacks, the CBO estimates that by raising the minimum wage to $15 over the course of the next five years, 27.3 million workers would see an increase in wages as income inequality is reduced and families in poverty are lowered by 1.3 million (Zipperer, 2019). In view of these findings, it is not unreasonable to believe that by raising the minimum wage, a sizeable number of people working in low-paying jobs would be lifted out of poverty and receive fair pay for the services they provide.
Secondly, raising the minimum wage could lead to higher standards of living for many low-wage workers as well. The standard of living refers to the amount of wealth, material goods, and essentials available to an individual or the community in which they reside. Tied to the standards of living is also the cost of living. The cost of living is how much money is needed to maintain a certain standard of living, encompassing expenditures like food, housing, and healthcare. While the minimum wage has remained stagnant since 2009, the cost of living has gone up 18% since then (UWIRE Text, 2019). On top of that, the present minimum wage has 35% less purchasing power than it did in 1969 when wages sat at $1.60. Due to this, people with full-time minimum wage jobs struggle to pay even for their necessities.
Not to mention, nowhere in America can a person working full-time on the federal minimum wage afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment (Lu, 2019). That is a sour grievance that ought to be rectified. If the minimum wage were increased, people working minimum wage jobs would likely have more money to support themselves and have their primary needs met. That translates to having enough money to spend on crucial criteria such as basic healthcare, education, food, clothing, bills, and housing. If the standards of living were improved, the overall quality of life for minimum wage workers might improve too. By spending less time stressing over making ends meet, workers could then begin to invest more resources into themselves and their families.
Lastly, raising the minimum wage means there would be less Americans who need to rely on government financial assistance programs. A study by the Economic Policy Institute states that around 11.9 million Americans, or about half of those receiving less than $10 per hour, rely on some type of government benefit program. These benefits include the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, housing assistance, and Medicaid amongst others. It turns out that the full-time employees of certain large corporations, such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, often account for the majority of those relying on government assistance.
In fact, the most prevalent group of workers receiving Medicaid and food stamps in many states are Wal-Mart employees. According to EPI’s study, if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour, as previously proposed by the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2014, over 1.7 million Americans could free themselves of their dependence on government assistance programs. Additionally, higher wages could cut back government spending on these programs by $7.6 billion or more. While these programs are a vital aspect of social welfare, it is disheartening that so many Americans must rely on them to scrape by. If the minimum wage were increased, more workers would finally be free of government dependence and become self-sufficient.
Unfortunately, many people contend that the minimum wage is not meant to be a living wage at all—that is, the amount of income needed for a worker to be able to afford the basics such as food, housing, clothing, and the like. They say that minimum wage jobs are solely meant to serve as entry level positions for new workers to hone certain skills and gain experience—not serve as long-lasting careers. However, this is simply not true. Franklin D. Roosevelt, responsible for enacting the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which first established minimum wage in America, once said: Although it may not be today, it is clear that the minimum wage was indeed intended to provide living wages for all workers, low-income workers included.
Another considerable argument posed against raising the minimum wage is that it would lead to significant job losses. Admittedly, there are studies that both support and deny this position. For example, one study by EPI found that states which raised their minimum wage between 2013 and 2017 had increased job growth than in states that did not (Lu, 2019). Moreover, the U.S. Department of Labor conducted a review of 64 studies concerning minimum wage increases and discovered that there were no distinguishable job losses (Stuck, 2014). On the other hand, one study by CBO projects that 4.5 percent of workers affected directly and indirectly by wage increases would undergo job loss if the minimum wage were increased to $15 an hour (Zipperer, 2019). However, this is merely an estimate. Sadly, a small number of job losses may be an unavoidable consequence of raising the minimum wage by such a dramatic degree. In spite of this, most evidence seems to suggest that the boost in wages would do more good for the majority of workers than harm them.
One final concern toward raising the minimum wage is that the prices of goods and services would increase considerably. In truth, these price hikes are unlikely to be as extreme as people fear. If the burden were placed solely on customers to pave the way to higher wages for employees, prices at retailers such as Wal-Mart would only increase by 1.4 percent (Stuck, 2014). Furthermore, higher wages would also mean that workers would have more money available to spend. That, in turn, would lead to more money being in circulation which would boost the overall economy as well.
In the end, it is undeniable that raising the minimum wage is not a magic wand that will wondrously solve all the problems workers in America are facing. However, raising the minimum wage would be a step in the right direction that would positively affect the lives of millions of people. In some cases, whether due to circumstances beyond their control or not, minimum wage jobs may be the only option available to certain people. Does it not then seem unfair that these low-wage workers should struggle to make ends meet simply because they have a minimum wage job? Surely these people should be given the equal opportunity to support themselves and their families, too. Anyone who works in a minimum wage field, such as fast food or retail, still provides much-needed services that help the world go round. Without them, things would come to a halt rather quickly. Hence, they are no less deserving of a salary that affords them a decent life.
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