Exploratory Essay: Is The Minimum Wage High Enough
If you have ever worked for minimum wage, I am sure you have felt as if your time was worthless. After taxes you brought home next to nothing, no matter how often you worked. That’s at least how I felt when I worked for minimum wage. In high school I had nothing to pay for but a cell phone. I worked for minimum wage and it seemed like I barely could afford it. I had basically no bills and I worked around twenty hours a week, and it seemed like I couldn’t save any money. I always wondered how my coworkers, who were adults, who had real things to pay for pulled it off. After reading Barbara Ehrenrech’s Nickel and Dimed it really made me wonder if the current minimum wage is really high enough.
First, I wanted to find out what minimum wage is. According to Google minimum wage is defined as, “A wage below which employers may not legally pay employees for specific kinds of employment.” Next I wanted to know how the wage was calculated, So I searched and found a page on the International Labor Organization’s page that listed the six criteria for setting the minimum wage. Criterion 1: the needs of workers and their families; Criterion 2: the general level of wages in the country; Criterion 3: the cost of living and changes therein; Criterion 4: social security benefits; Criterion 5: the relative living standards of other social groups; and Criterion 6: economic factors, including the requirements of economic development, levels of productivity and the level of employment.
Now, I had heard of something called a living wage before and I was curious if it differed from the minimum wage and if so how. I learned the living wage is different and it is defined as: “At an absolute minimum, a living wage is the amount a person would need to earn to stay above the federal poverty level.” Then I became interested in whether or not the current minimum wage was high enough to be considered the living wage. Unfortunately the minimum wage is only $5.15/ hour while, “The living wage In 2000, amounted to $17,050 a year for a family of four, or $8.20 per hour for a full-time, year round worker.” Obviously the minimum wage is not high enough to be considered the living wage. Which led me to believe that someone could not live off of the current minimum wage. This didn’t make sense to me because according to the International Labor Organization one of the criteria for minimum wage calculation is the cost of living.
This made me wonder why minimum wage jobs exist? And what kinds of people are taking these jobs. Well, when I hear the phrase minimum wage job the first occupation that pops into my mind is working at a fast food restaurant flipping burgers. That doesn’t seem like an intellectually involved job. And when you look at a typical minimum wage job setting such as a fast food restaurant you typically see high school students, high school dropouts, and mentally challenged people filling these job slots. The common theme would have to be a lack of education. And just because someone is uneducated does not mean they do not need money to support one’s self or one’s family.
I then went back to thinking about how the minimum wage is substantially lower than the living wage. The first solution that popped into my head was; Why not raise the minimum wage to something near the current living wage? Would that help out? It sounded like a simple solution to a simple problem. If the minimum wage is too low, then why not just raise it? According to the Economic Policy Institute analysis of current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group, “If the federal minimum wage were raised to $7.00, as proposed in the fair minimum wage act of 2004 the bottom 40% of households by wages and salaries would receive nearly 60% of the benefits despite the fact that they earn only 15.8% of earnings.” Well, if that were true then it would be safe to assume that those who live on minimum wage now would greatly benefit from a raise.
I then thought that maybe I should consider how raising the minimum wage would affect others. I wanted to know what would happen to the families who are now above the poverty line. Would moving the low-income standard up also bring the standard for the middle class down? Would we just be including more of the middle class into the lower class? The Economic Policy Institute also stated “For those above 200% of the poverty line, the earnings of low-wage workers are essential to their incomes and therefore their standard of living. In fact, 1.4 million families with incomes hovering above 200% of poverty would drop below that line if it weren’t for the earnings of those families low-wage workers. For such families, though not impoverished now, the minimum wage is important for keeping them in the middle class.” I thought that was a valid point, after all if the middle class makes a given amount of money then why wouldn’t bringing the lower class’s
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