I am not picking on Nicholas Ruiz. He is a good man, and I hope that he does succeed in his efforts to unseat John Mica in 2014. However, it was Nick’s recent post, and the ensuing conversation we had, which has actually formed the spark and starting point for today’s epistle. In particular, these words:
My politics are progressive. I aim to raise the minimum wage.
First, I am not opposed to raising the minimum wage. I agree that it needs to be raised. Let me be clear about that. No one can live on the minimum wage at its current level and as it currently exists. I have a conservative friend who argues that the minimum wage was never intended as a livable wage. It is his contention that the minimum wage was intended only for kids that were getting their first jobs, interns learning a craft, and the like. That is, quite simply horse puckey and shows either that he is completely ignorant of history, which would be very typical of most people, or that he has been brainwashed by the right, which would also be very typical.
A very brief history lesson on the minimum wage, and if you are interested in more, then I will trust that you know how to use either the library or the internet. The minimum wage was first enacted in Australia. It traveled from there to the UK, and did not finally make its way to the US nationally until 1938. In 1907, a legal decision was rendered in Australia that clarified the intent of the minimum wage. This was known as the Harvester case, and it made it clear that the minimum wage “means that the wages shall be sufficient to provide these things, and clothing and a condition of frugal comfort estimated by current human standards.” In America, it was specifically summarized as being intended to achieve the “elimination of labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standards of living necessary for health, efficiency and well being of workers.”
A wholly different concept has been at various times discussed and even implemented, and that is a training wage. Perhaps it is this which my friend has confused for the minimum wage. That’s possible. (Conservatives are often easily confused.) A training wage is still often used at a new position. An employer will pay a new employee a lower amount during training, and at the completion of that training period, a raise will go into effect. Again, though, that is an entirely different animal and should not be confused with a minimum wage, which is intended to provide at least sufficient wage to live upon. According to research done recently, one can not live on the minimum wages we are paying.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in West Virginia, a worker earning minimum wage has to work 63 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom unit at fair market rent. That is the fewest hours in the country, and the highest is in Hawaii at 175 hours per week. Ponder that for a moment. At minimum wage in Hawaii, you have to work more hours in a week than there are just to afford rent on a standard two bedroom unit.
From their 2013 report, another way to look at it, in order to afford a two-bedroom rental unit at fair market value without paying more than 30% of one’s income, one would have to earn $19.14 an hour. The lowest in the 2013 report, is in West Virginia at $12.35. (Not counting Puerto Rico at $10.41) The highest is still Hawaii at $32.14 an hour. These are not wages to live extravagant lifestyles. These are just to be able to afford a two-bedroom home. Family friendly.
We are a long way from providing a minimum wage that would allow for even living in “frugal comfort.”
So then, what do we do? Certainly, the minimum wage should rise. The cost of living has gone up. Inflation affects everything, and the minimum wage is no exception. However, all wages, except at the top have been stagnant. And, there is a question that has been bugging me about this. One that I will tell you right up front that I do not have an answer to. If we raise the minimum wage to where it really should be, say somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 to $18, then what happens to the rest of our wages? Those would necessarily need to be raised as well, yes? If not, then is the effect not to have brought everyone’s wages down? Rather than the “rising tide that lifts all boats”, have we not, instead, sunk all but the biggest ships? And, that is what the right has been doing to us for years.
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