March 5, 2014

THROWDOWN THURSDAY: Raise the Wage

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By ERIC PESNER

Last year, McDonald’s released a website meant to help their employees learn how to make and stick to a budget. On this site, the company posted a sample budget which was met with widespread outrage and disgust. Not only did this sample understate or simply ignore the costs of most household expenses, it admitted that McDonalds employees needed to have a second job to survive. The budget also presumes an after-tax monthly income of $2,060 — that’s about 75 hours per week at the current minimum wage (and McDonald’s starting wage) of $7.25 per hour.

This case forcefully illustrates a common corporate mentality — a willful ignorance of the realities that many of their workers face on a daily basis. It is entirely unrealistic to assume that a minimum-wage worker can find 75 hours of work per week let alone successfully maintain that work schedule over the long term. Health insurance costs more than $20 per month and heating isn’t free. No minimum wage worker can live following a budget like this, but their companies expect them to. The plight of the working poor is ignored by upper management.

This is why I can’t take companies like McDonald’s seriously when they vigorously oppose raising the minimum wage. They claim that raising the wage would cut into their profits — profits which are actually at an all-time high. They have such a keen eye for profits that it’s no wonder they can’t see that their employees are struggling. While profits have been booming, wages are stagnant and the minimum wage is worth over 10 percent less than it was 50 years ago.

Notwithstanding the few companies like Costco that pay a living wage, employers generally refuse to pay their workers any more than they legally have to. This is why the government must raise the minimum wage — it’s the only way that wages will go up.

Of course, not everyone wants wages to increase. Companies don’t want their profits to drop a single penny, and they’ll fight so that their earnings are maintained. And the Republican Party has staked its opposition to the minimum wage on a claim that it will hurt employment. So it was really no surprise that the Republicans exploded in fury and indignation at President Obama’s suggestion to increase the Federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. And this time, at least, it wasn’t simply because the President is a Democrat.

Notwithstanding the few companies like Costco that pay a living wage, employers generally refuse to pay their workers any more than they legally have to.

A Wall Street Journal poll in December found that 63 percent of Americans support raising the wage to $10.10. But in the Millionaires’ Club that is Congress, proponents cannot even find enough support to form a majority. The Republicans have closed ranks and refuse to consider a hike, despite clear support for one from the American people. They have rallied around a CBO report that says that raising the wage will cause job losses — conveniently ignoring the parts of that report that talked about lifting nearly one million people out of poverty and increasing the incomes of families living in poverty by $5 billion.

The Republican Party seems perfectly content to ignore not only the will of the American people but also the suffering of the poor and how a minimum wage increase could help them. They have blocked any possible consideration of an increase at the Federal level. The Democrats have instead opted to take the increases to the states and, in many cases, directly to the American people in the form of ballot measures. This is really where the battle to raise the wage will be fought for the next year. And the Democrats will be the ones fighting for it.

We’ll be fighting for it because we recognize the true face of the minimum wage: Those workers at McDonalds who needed help filling out a budget. Those workers are the ones who stand to gain so much from the raising of the minimum wage. Their incomes will increase and they may finally have the means to rise out of poverty. And maybe the Republican are right and there will be job losses — maybe those McDonald’s workers can quit their second jobs.

Eric Pesner is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at erp55@cornell.edu. Dems Discuss appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

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