This is less a blog and more me trying to figure out with myself why a higher minimum wage is necessary. Also, I have not written a blog in more than a month, so it seems about time.
Within the last few days, New York (city?) adopted a fifteen-dollar minimum wage for fast food workers. I thought this was great. But why?
I believe in a living wage. If a company is paying someone who works full-time a wage , should not the wage ensure that the employee is able to be above the poverty line? This is not the case at the current minimum wage, even in California.
There are two counterarguments of the minimum wage that I would like to address. The first is the idea that people who work in fast food do not deserve to be paid so much, that fast food work is just a ‘starter job.’ But I question whether a person who argues this means fast food only, or menial jobs in general. Because someone works in a menial job, they do not deserve a living wage? I find this reprehensible. For many people, fast food work is the only job they can obtain, whether through opportunity or education. If nowhere in your neighborhood (which I use loosely) is hiring but the local fast food place, what is a person to do but work at the fast food place? This may not happen that often, but it happens. Say, for example, a person works full time at a fast food restaurant and also has children. A minimum wage below ten dollars per hour will not support the family. Truly, even fifteen dollars per hour may not cover all familial expenses, but I suppose the line must be drawn somewhere. Also, if a person only has a high school education, which is the highest guaranteed free education in this country, then a person’s options are limited. Higher education is expensive, so even if a person works at a fast food place and does not have any children, that person will struggle to pay for school. As has been proven empirically, a college degree does not guarantee a high-paying job.
The second counterargument is related to the first. I spoke with someone recently who said that ambition will get someone a higher wage. For example, a longtime fast food worker will move up on the corporate ladder and earn a higher wage. This person suggested that everyone should have ambition though. But what if a person does not have ambition? I think insisting that someone have ambition is akin to insisting that all people have black hair or green eyes. It is impossible to insist that someone have a trait they were not born with.
Also, where did this idea of a ‘starter job’ come from? Who says what a starter job is? Is it legally defined? Because it seems like a starter job to some people does not mean it is to everyone.
I recently read an article that noted how people in Seattle who were working for the new minimum wage of fifteen dollars per hour were asking to have their hours reduced because they were now making too much money to receive welfare. I will grant that this sounds like they want to be lazy and receive government benefits. However, I took away from the article that the fast food restaurants were taking advantage of the lower minimum wage before the increase to pay their workers below a living wage and having the government, us taxpayers, make up the difference. If a company can only make money by paying their employees below living wage, should it exist?
I feel like people who advocate against a minimum wage have not read a history book recently. There was a time in the United States, before unionization and the minimum wage, when employers obviously took advantage of employees. Carnegie had his steel workers work twelve-hour shifts during the day and night, but they alternated. When the workers alternated from day shift to night shift, the workers did not get a day off. Instead, the workers had to work twenty-four hours straight. Would anyone now work twenty-four hours straight? Without overtime? I doubt it. We can all thank those workers who protested against such conditions and formed unions.
I firmly believe that workers should be able to capitalize off of their labor, much in the way that companies should be able to capitalize off of their products or services. Unionization makes capitalization of labor happen. By extension, protesting and bring to the attention of lawmakers that a person deserves to be paid a living wage is well within their rights as citizens.
There is a reason why we have a minimum wage, and it has less to do with the actual wage and more to do with the historical evidence that if companies are given the ability to decide their wages, they will inevitably take advantage of their workers because the bottom line for companies is not to treat people like people: it is it to make money. And should not people be able to protest and win their right to make more money as well?