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Opinion: Minimum wage: A wage worth working for?

The stagnation of the federal minimum wage is hurting American workers.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/andyga0/" target="_self">Andy Gao</a>

Andy Gao

June 15, 2022

Imagine working 10 hours a day, six days a week on a minimum wage. Because you earn far below the poverty line, you’ve had to give up your car and your house, and you rely on food stamps in order to be able to afford something to eat. 

Sometimes, you don’t have enough money for the bus to and from work, so you walk, rain or shine. 

This story is a reality for many of the hundreds of thousands of workers that earn the federal minimum wage. First established by the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 at $0.25, the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 since 2009, nearly 15 years ago.

Due to inflation, the federal minimum wage in 2021 was worth 21% less than 12 years prior, and worth 34% less than in 1968, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Despite the stagnation of the minimum wage, the cost of living in the United States continues to rise, as the price of goods and services increases.  

Therefore, the federal minimum wage should be raised to protect vulnerable low-wage workers from rising costs of living and alleviate income inequality. 

An increase to the federal minimum wage would undoubtedly provide millions of low-wage workers a livable wage. An analysis from MIT found that the hourly wage required to cover the cost of food, healthcare, housing, and other basic necessities in the United States was $16.54 per hour. 

The current federal minimum wage sits at less than half that amount. 

It is an unquestionable fact that a low-wage worker cannot afford to pursue an education, build savings, or simply have a life outside of work without falling into absolute poverty. 

Rapid inflation due to aggressive fiscal policy and supply chain shortages has only exacerbated the exorbitant cost of living. In the month of April 2022 alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an 8.5% increase in the price of common goods, reaching a new 40-year high. 

As inflation and costs of living continue to reach record-high levels, minimum wage workers simply cannot support themselves and, especially, their families. Raising the minimum wage is a requirement to help these workers afford basic necessities. 

Common arguments against a higher minimum wage tend to be founded on the belief that mandated increases to minimum wages could result in decreased employment opportunities. 

In 2021, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that raising the minimum wage to $15 over four years would cost the US economy 1.4 million jobs. To offset the higher cost of labor, businesses may lay off or hire fewer workers. 

However, the evidence just doesn’t support such an argument. 

A meta-analysis of minimum wage published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found no increases in unemployment after 10% pay bumps to the minimum wage. 

Another analysis of the minimum wage from UC Berkeley supported these findings, concluding that there was no evidence that a wage hike would lead to adverse effects on employment or significant job losses. 

Time and time again, studies demonstrate that increasing the minimum wage has not damaged the job market, but instead has provided significant benefits for low-wage workers. The minimum wage is not something that will harm the economy, but rather is a ladder out of poverty for millions of Americans and their families.

Finally, raising the minimum wage promises a more equitable economy. Most low-wage workers are adults, and they are disproportionately people of color. 

As reported by the Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage would increase wages for about one in three Black workers and one in four Hispanic workers. In fact, the low federal minimum wage is one of the driving factors of the wealth gap between people of color and their white counterparts. 

Raising it would greatly benefit these underpaid groups through a fiscal approach to equity, ultimately allowing for greater opportunities to save money for retirement, to build generational wealth, as well as to work fewer hours in order to pursue an education that would guarantee higher salaried wages. 

In his 1937 speech before Congress, “A Fair Day’s Pay for a Fair Day’s Work,” 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt had hoped that his minimum wage would provide wages of decent living. 

Despite his aspirations over eight decades ago, the minimum wage continues to remain as a ceiling for the low-wage workers of America.

If you’re asking, “Why should we raise the minimum wage?” 

It’s because for someone like Nicole Mason, a single mother of two boys, it would mean going back to nursing school and being able to put aside money for her kids’ futures, she shared with RaiseTheMinimumWage.org, a project of the National Employment Law Project in 2016.

Because for Elizabeth Singh, a home healthcare provider, it would mean being able to afford her daughter’s treatment for thyroid cancer without working three jobs, she shared with she shared with RaiseTheMinimumWage.org in 2016.

According to WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, for Kaede Montooth, it would mean being able to feed her family something more than $1 pasta sides without cutting into her Wi-Fi budget. 

For these workers who work to live and live to work, it is finally time to end this endless cycle. 

We can all take steps to support them by reaching out to our representatives on the local, state, and national levels in favor of a higher federal minimum wage. 

We can treat low-wage workers and jobs with respect, beyond the “teenager jobs” they are commonly known as. And when it comes time for us to vote, we can all vote for candidates that believe in wages worth working for.