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Minimum Wage: My Case to Raise It

Introduction

In my opinion, minimum wage should be raised.  It is time for the United States to stand up for the original purpose of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The low wage is hurting the economy as a whole because it is squeezing the lower income level so tightly that they have to make choices between paying rent or buying food.  The three main reasons for this increase are as follows.  First, an increase in minimum wage would directly impact those at the bottom of the economic ladder.  Second, by increasing minimum wage, you also increase the value of work.  Third, because the cost of living has increased so much, the cost of work must follow its lead.  Due to these reasons, minimum wage must be raised.

History

In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed.  This was a reaction the hard work of women like Jane Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt who were trying to end child labor and increase the standard of living in the poorest communities. The labor unions were advocating for it as early as the late 1800’s when women in the Lowell factories claimed they deserved equal pay and treatment.  Its passage was also influenced by industrial disasters like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, which killed many of the young workers in New York.  The Jungle written by Upton Sinclair about the struggles of the working class in Chicago, influenced politicians and communities and caused them to start looking at its workers in a different light and with increased understanding.

It set the maximum work week, standards of child labor and overtime pay.  It also created minimum wage.  This is the idea that there is a minimum standard of pay that everyone should be given.  It was set at twenty five cents an hour.  The act succeeded in many ways but it failed in keeping pace with inflation.  Originally, this was written into the act.  Now, raising minimum wage to keep pace with inflation has become a political issue. Usually democrats are in favor of raising the wage and republicans are against it.  Because the federal government has failed to protect its people by raising the wage, many states and cities have taken it upon themselves to raise their own wages.

Argument against

The conservative argument against raising the wage is primarily economic.  They say this action hurts the whole economy and doesn’t help the lower classes at all. (Chapman)  Their argument is that if employers have to pay more, they will limit the employees they have or even take their work overseas, which is a valid threat.  They claim that in reality, the people who benefit are in higher economic classes because they learn to manage their businesses more efficiently and the boom lines their pocketbooks.

My Argument

As my thesis demonstrates I disagree with the conservative stance.  I feel that an increase in the minimum wage would help the people intended.  It would add value to what they do and keep up with the cost of living, as it was originally designed to do.

The lower income families in the U.S. are hurting. “Today more than 28 million people, about a quarter of the workforce between the ages of 18 and 64, earn less than $9.04 an hour, which translates into a full-time salary of $18,800 a year—the income that marks the federal poverty line for a family of four.” (Working and Poor)  It is extremely difficult, if not impossible to raise a family on that amount of money.  The argument has been made that you can make more money on welfare than working for minimum wage.  What kind of lesson does that teach?

So, is the answer raising minimum wage.  According to Jeff Chapman in his brief for the Economic Policy Institute, it is.  “If the federal wage were raised to $7.00, the bottom 40% or households would receive nearly 60% of the benefits.” (Chapman)  He goes on to say, “Raising the minimum wage provides income support to families in need.  While it is important to understand that the minimum wage should not be judged solely on its efficiency at targeting low-income families, research shows that it does just that.”(Chapman)

Business Weekly agrees with these finding. “Lifting the minimum wage by $1.50 an hour, would boost the incomes of 10 million workers.” (Working and Poor) My research indicates that raising the minimum wage would be an effective way to target lower income workers and increase their income.  This would help offset the cost of inflation, as I will prove is a necessity.

Originally, the wage was designed to increase as the cost of living increased.  This system makes sense.  If things cost more, people need to make more money to afford them—not luxuries, necessities.  If this adjustment is not made, the consequences affect the family, not just the worker. “Some experts on homelessness say the numbers are growing because of the widening gap between low pay and high rents.” (Kaufman) “Real pay for the bottom 10 percent of wage earners rose less that one percent in adjusted dollars from 1979 to 2003, according to the Economic Policy Institute. (Kaufman)

If the wage doesn’t keep up, how can people afford rent?  If I make just enough to cover my bills, and my rent increases but my salary doesn’t, I have no choice.  I would have to get another job, which may not be a possibility, try to work overtime, which my job might not allow, or move.  What if I live in the cheapest apartment available?  This is the cycle that must be stopped. It leads to hopelessness, debt and in some circumstances, homelessness.

“Even if the minimum wage were not well-targeted at helping those in need, it serves an important role in the U.S. economy and society.  It is a fundamental statment of principle about the value of work, opportunity and the responsibilities of employers.” (Chapman) Increasing minimum wage validates the worker.  As the girls in Lowell were looking for acknowledgement of the value of their work, so do the workers of today search for validation for what they do.

When the government raises the wage, they are sending a clear message that they value the workers and understand their position.  The C.E.O. of Costco is quoted as saying, “We no longer have a motivated working class.” (Working and Poor)  This is a huge problem.  If you can’t take pride in your work, what’s the point of working at all, especially if you can take advantage of the welfare system? If no one values what you do, why try to do any better than the bare minimum?

Raising the minimum wage demonstrates employer accountability.  The government is making them responsible for the people their success rests upon.  “No employer should be allowed to unreasonably profit by exploiting the lack of negotiating power of low-wage workers.” (Chapman)  Labor simply has no power anymore.  The unions have been broken and they have no voice.  Someone has to hold the employers accountable.  Someone must step forward for the workers.

An increase in the wage would do just that.  As I have shown, it does have a direct affect on those in the deepest need. “Everyone should have the opportunity to earn a decent wage.  No American should be compelled to work at a rate that amounts to the federal poverty level.  This is equally true for a middle-class youth working to raise money for college as it is for a single mother supporting a family.” (Chapman)

Conclusion

Minimum wage is one small part of the Fair Labor Standards Act that was designed to protect the worker.  Society saw its people falling through the cracks and they stood up for those people, claiming that everyone who works hard deserves a chance to succeed.  Minimum wage is the foundation of that success.  I have shown three strong reasons for the need to increase minimum wage.  The first is that raising the wage directly affects those in the greatest need.

They do benefit from a raise as it corresponds to the raise in the cost of living. My second reason demonstrated this.  As the cost of living increases so should the minimum wage.  This way, workers can easily adjust their earnings to cover new expenses and not have to make hard decisions that could greatly impact their families.  The third reason is philosophical.

Adding value to the worker validates the job that is being done.  When employers are held to greater accountability, the working class feels they are appreciated.  This is so important for our society.  Welfare shouldn’t have to be an option for a family willing to work and take part in the economy.  Without a raise in the minimum wage, this might be a serious threat.  “Equality means dignity.  And dignity demands a job and a paycheck that lasts through the week.” (Weisman)  I feel this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. conclude my thoughts on this subject.