The case for a living wage

Protesters across the country are joining the “Fight for $15” movement, demanding a living wage for fast-food workers. With cities such as Seattle putting plans in motion for a $15/hour minimum wage, these demands are not far-fetched. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25; in New York, it is $8.00. In Irondequoit, New York, protesters are demanding a $15 minimum wage.

The minimum wage was originally created to protect workers by guaranteeing them a minimum standard of living. Today, this is not the case.

McDonald’s has a hotline to help employees sign up for food stamps and welfare and the hotline specifically encourages full-time employees to sign up for public assistance. A minimum wage—which ought to be a living wage—would not put increasingly productive full-time workers below the poverty line and on public assistance.

The minimum wage in NY is set to increase to $9.00 by 2016, but that is not enough. The Center for Economic Policy & Research found that if minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would have been $9.22 in 2012. If minimum wage had kept up with worker productivity, it would have been $21.72/hour.

For comparison, the Economic Policy Institute found that CEO compensation––adjusted for inflation––had increased 937 percent from 1978 to 2013 as compared to a 10.2 percent increase in the typical worker.

Corporations can take steps to ensure that their employees—especially those working full-time—receive a living wage, many of which can learn something from Starbucks. When the company raised prices by 1 percent last year, they still saw a 25 percent increase in profit.

Likewise, a group of professional economists supported a Florida proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.50, estimating that fast food business costs would rise by approximately 2.7 percent.

To put this in perspective, McDonald’s could cover more than half of these extra costs by raising the price of a Big Mac from $4.00 to a reasonable $4.05.

In light of this, we must end the falsehood that young adults can someday laugh in the faces of their less intelligent peers working at McDonalds; CNN Money reported that 260,000 college graduates were working minimum wage jobs in 2013.

Whether or not those working minimum-wage jobs are underemployed does not undermine the fact that the minimum wage as it stands, is not a living wage.

Concerns about raising the minimum wage are not meritless. It is for this reason that cities like Seattle plan to incorporate a higher minimum wage over several years. Critics should note that a recent study by the Center for Economic Policy and Research found that job creation was faster in states that raised the minimum wage in January 2014.

The continued devaluation of service work is not an incentive for young adults to do better or aim higher; it is harmful rhetoric that reinforces the belief that service workers do not deserve a living wage. This group is increasingly comprised of adults who must feed their families and pay their bills, not high school students who are looking for extra money.

A call for a living wage on a federal or corporate level is not a sign of laziness, entitlement or incompetence. It is a reflection of inflating corporate salaries, state negligence to adjust the minimum wage for productivity and inflation and an increasingly devalued working class.