I want to talk about the debate over raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hr. In order for me to speak about that, I have to present my credibility on this topic. I’m not a policy expert, I’m just an average citizen, like most of you. My first job was technically babysitting. By the time I was 13, I was also working at a local pizza shop, folding pizza boxes for $0.03 a box. All of this was under the table. I worked full time through most of secondary school and college, working a wide variety of jobs. By my sophomore year in high school, I was working a McDonald’s, making minimum wage.
I will never understand the argument that minimum wage is an after school job for teenagers. Most of my classmates did not work full time or even part time jobs. I worked with people who were not in high school, and ½ of them worked the day shift. I was one of a handful of kids in my school who worked. I would come in, as the day shift was leaving. This was their only income, except some of them also received government assistance. It was never enough, and they struggled to get by.
Congress recently fought over including an increase to the minimum wage, in the now passed COVID relief package. It got taken off the bill. Even if we could have gotten it on the bill, there were a handful of Democratic Senators against raising the wage to $15/hr. Their argument is that it will kill jobs.
This is my question to them, to corporations, and to the entire country. Why should any business be allowed to operate if they cannot pay a livable wage? Why is the “cost of business” that minimum wage workers should be extorted for their work?
For reasons that pass understanding, the federal poverty line for a single individual is $12,800. (https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines) For a family of 4 it’s $26,500. The average rent in 2020 was $1,098 a month (https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/average-rent-by-state). That means, just to not be homeless, a person is going to spend on average $13,176. For an individual at the poverty line, that means they can’t afford to not be homeless. For a family of 4, that means they would have $13,324 left for food, clothes, health care, utilities, transportation, and any other necessities.
Could you survive on that? Would you be able to thrive and not just barely survive?
The federal minimum wage has been $7.25/hr since 2009. That comes out to $15,080 a year, if they have PTO to allow for any time off, and supposing a full year of pay. This is regardless of whether they are an individual, or a family of 4. Subtracting the average rent cost, that leaves $1,094 for food, clothes, health care, transportation, utilities. For the year.
Raising the minimum wage to $15/hr, would bring the minimum wage to an income that is around $30,000 a year. It seems to me that the minimum wage should have to be at least 2x the poverty level, because if it’s not sufficiently above that line, our government is mandating poverty as an acceptable minimum that Americans can receive for their labors..
So what can we do? We can contact our representatives. We can flood the phone lines of their offices, we can send letters and postcards. Put your address in govtrack and find your Reps’ info in 2 seconds. (https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members)
We can demand a clean bill, with just the minimum wage increase, be voted on by every member. Every member of Congress, who makes at least $174,000/year, has the best health insurance in the country, and gets a lifetime pension after 5 years of service (https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/RL30064.html#_Toc29291955). Make them show their vote, and put it to the public, including their constituents, who voted to give them their cushy job, whether Americans have a right to a minimum livable wage or whether the price of business is that extortion must be acceptable.
Any business argument, that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs, is also an argument that businesses should be legally allowed to pay workers a poverty wage, and the government will subsidize those businesses, by supporting their workers with welfare. This lacks dignity and is not self-sustaining.
Should a company be allowed to pay less than a livable wage? Would any member of Congress be able to survive on $7,25/hr, or as Senator Manchin proposes, $11/hr? (https://www.newsweek.com/joe-manchins-11-minimum-wage-more-popular-bidens-15among-democrats-republicans-1573489)
I’d like to see them try.