In his State of the Union address, President Obama brought up the long-overdue idea of raising the minimum wage, and there’s been a TON of debate about it since. There are those who say it’ll cause “job creators” to stop hiring if they have to pay their employees more per hour. I understand where this idea comes from, but I don’t think it’s accurate.
First of all, the wage increase will only apply to minimum wage jobs: those making the current $7.25/hour. No one else is going to get a wage increase, so it’s not going to apply to anyone higher than entry-level. That means it’ll mostly affect service personnel – those who work in retail, food service, gas stations, childcare, or cleaning companies – those who work 40 hours per week and still find themselves at or below poverty level.
The truth is, there are plenty of jobs available. Within four miles of my house, there’s a Joann’s, Starbucks, Panda Express, Stop & Shop, AC Moore, and Sears that have constantly been hiring for the past year, but these are jobs that most people don’t want. And the reason people don’t want them is because of the low pay and hard physical work. Because of uniforms that make you a faceless cog and having your personal items searched after every shift to make sure you aren’t stealing. Because of shift managers who schedule you against your stated availability, forcing you to scramble to trade shifts and wreaking havoc on your life. Because of being spoken to like you’re an idiot day in and day out – because obviously if you were any smarter, you wouldn’t be working HERE.
At the current minimum wage, even if you work an 8 hour shift 365 days per year, you will only make $21,170 per year – before taxes. That presumes you never get sick, snowed in, have car trouble, or take a single day off. This rate reduces hard-working people to subsistence laborers, and that’s just to provide for their own living expenses. Raising a family on that income means that hard decisions will have to be made. Pundits like to complain about parents who aren’t home with their children, don’t take the time to read with and to them, but how on earth is a low-income worker supposed to do those things if they’re pulling double shifts just to pay rent and buy groceries? This is a situation that perpetuates the cycle of poverty, of exhaustion, of hopelessness.
Nobody wants these jobs. People take them because they need them. Because low pay is better than no pay. Because the jobs that are hard to find are the ones that require years of training, education, and experience, and you might not get a lead for just as many years.
We all rely on these people to make our lives work. As individuals, we should be treating hourly workers with respect and dignity in our regular interactions. As a society, we should be able to agree that paying the people we rely on enough to pay their basic bills is only fair. And the vast majority of us do, but I think those who “represent” us in government need to be reminded.