February 12, 2013

Make Minimum Wage a Living Wage

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Last summer, I spent nine weeks immersed in research, projections, talking points and graphs focused on raising the minimum wage. As an unpaid intern, I appreciated the irony of this project, but I also appreciated the immediate need for a minimum wage increase, a sentiment shared by President Obama in his State of the Union Address.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, the minimum wage of $1.60 in 1968 would be $10.59 today when adjusted for inflation. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour— that’s a far cry from $10.59.

Even with tax relief like the Earned Income Tax Credit in place, a full-time worker with two dependents will still live below the poverty line. States have realized the cruelty of this; as Obama noted, since the last time Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have taken action and increased their state minimum wages.

Addressing this issue has far-reaching effects. We all know about the obesity epidemic plaguing our youth. We all know that education reform is a necessity. We all discuss how challenging it is for a small business to succeed. While only comprehensive reform in each one of these arenas will ensure systematic and successful change, raising the minimum wage can certainly help.

Raising the minimum wage would help ease the burden on families. When a parent needs to choose between buying a healthy food option for one child and being able to feed both children, the parent will choose the latter every single time. Giving those families just $15 more a day means the difference between healthy food options and unhealthy food options.

And you know what? If a child is receiving proper nutrition, he or she will be able to focus better on their studies. True, we need more teachers (Teach for America’s final deadline is February 15, by the way), and our schools definitely need more funding. However, for some students, better nutrition will make a world of difference, and if raising a worker’s wage by $1.75 an hour can make that difference, how can we in good conscience prevent that increase from taking place?

Last night in his speech, Obama said, “Let’s also recognize that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it’s virtually impossible to get ahead.” Countless studies have shown that increasing the wages of the lowest paid workers in a community will actually increase profits throughout that community. It sounds wrong, but it makes sense: if you increase the salary of the lowest paid workers, they will still not be earning enough to put money away in the bank. Any extra money they earn will be spent on immediate needs, such as food for their children. Basically, raising the minimum wage is actually beneficial for small businesses because the extra money being paid out will be brought right back into the business.

Making minimum wage a living wage has beneficial effects across the board. It’s time to raise the minimum wage and actually give the lowest paid workers a chance to succeed— or at least a chance to nutritiously feed their families.

This isn’t about people not working hard enough to get ahead; they’re working day and night just to survive. It’s time to give them a chance to thrive because, as President Obama said, “Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.”

Original Author: Jaime Freilich

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