By Megan Gramlich
Democrats in Congress are pressing for an increase in the national minimum wage, which is currently set at $7.25 an hour. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) plans to introduce a bill that would raise the minimum wage to 12 dollars by 2020. Senators in support of the bill will surely face difficulty getting it passed in a Republican-controlled Senate; however, many Americans support increasing the minimum wage in order to counteract rising income inequality and to aid workers who struggle to make living wages. Clearly, issues surrounding the minimum wage will be front and center during the 2016 elections.
Recently, strikes held in over 200 U.S. cities featured demonstrations in support of a $15 minimum wage. The movement is particularly geared toward helping fast-food workers that are prevented from effectively confronting their corporate employers because of federal labor laws. Protestors have been holding signs with such taglines as: “Why Poverty?” And that is, indeed, the question. Why should any hard working American, anyone who provides a service that helps fuel the economy, struggle to put food on the table? Why should a prosperous economy remain skewed in favor of the wealthy when so many Americans are paid too little to afford basic expenses? Many Americans are rallying around the effort to help low-wage workers and fight against poverty. Unfortunately, some politicians, businessmen, and voters deny the real struggles faced by low-wage workers. Some people treat poverty like it’s a mere symptom of laziness, and “why can’t they just stop being poor?” is an all-too-common mentality in politics.
Nevertheless, while some people make absurd claims when arguing against raising the minimum wage, others express real concerns about the effect raising the minimum wage would have on the job market. They argue that such policies actually harm those that they purport to benefit by decreasing the number of jobs available to low-income workers. However, such concerns would only be valid for large increases in the minimum wage. A moderate increase in the minimum wage would greatly assist low-income workers who struggle to afford food, rent, and other necessary expenses on $7.25/hour salaries, and would not adversely affect the labor market. Economic research backs the claim that a moderate increase in the minimum wage, such as the $12/hour proposal, would benefit, rather than harm, low-wage workers.
Further, many corporations that employ low-wage workers, such as those in the fast food industry, can afford to increase salaries. Thus, a moderate increase in the federal minimum wage would ensure that corporations, which seek to maximize profits and oftentimes do so at the expense of their workers’ well-being, provide living wages. At the same time, these corporations would still yield large profits with the same number of workers and would likely refrain from implementing mass lay-offs. A moderate increase in the minimum wage, therefore, would protect low-income workers–individuals who are susceptible to insufficient pay.
An increase in the minimum wage is long overdue. Since the federal minimum wage was last increased to its current value in 2009, it has not kept pace with inflation or the costs of living. The current federal minimum wage is not sufficient to provide a decent social minimum for low-wage workers. It is morally imperative that the government provides a social safety net and creates policies that establish conditions under which all individuals can afford the basic means of survival. A sufficient minimum wage is an essential component to the social safety net, and it must therefore be corrected in order to reflect the current needs of low-income workers. Voters must continue pressuring Congress in order to ensure the passage of higher minimum wage legislation and to effectively preserve the livelihood of millions of Americans.