Apparently people are on multiple pages about wages.
Seattle food-industry workers went on strike in late August to protest low minimum wages and benefits. Since then, blogs and news outlets have blown up with comments and opinions on the topic. Some outraged, others ecstatic. Basically, everyone has an opinion, and the debate over minimum wage has not been a simple one.
Washington currently has the nation’s highest state minimum wage, $9.19 an hour. The protesters are pushing for that number to jump to $15 an hour—almost double the previous wage.
I have decided based on the articles and blogs I have read on this topic, that there are three types of people who are vocal in this situation:
First, we have the worker. The 20-year-old college student at Subway, or the 47-year-old mother of three at Burger King. These are the people that feel the immediate impacts of a low-wage job. Then we have the employers, ranging from the big wigs at Wal-Mart to the smaller local entrepreneurs. Lastly, we have the knowledgeable economists who attempt to look logically at the situation and offer timelines and predictions and strategic analyses.
Currently, I identify most with the first category of people, the worker, because of my many summers working in customer service. But I have done my best to look also into the opinions of the business owner and the economist.
Ultimately I believe our opinion depends upon who we are rooting for to win: the worker or the business owner.
I might be pointing out the obvious when I say that we all have our own agenda. We are creatures motivated by self-preservation.
Protesters are asking for $15 an hour because that would be the minimum necessary to have housing, according to Arby’s worker Amanda Larson, 23, quoted in an article on MYNorthwest.com. A higher wage is necessary for self-preservation.
“We’re asking for $15 because in order to support one person in a one bedroom apartment you need to make $14.88. We don’t make anywhere near that and we’re all on food stamps,” Larson said.
For the small business owner, however, self-preservation would mean the total opposite of the worker: Don’t raise the minimum wage. When a store is making just enough to stay open, it has to keep wages as minimal as possible in order to stay in business. Also, if they have to pay their workers more, then it might be harder for people with small resumes to get a job. Employers could get pickier with their hiring.
So what is to be done, then? When either decision leaves one party vulnerable, who do we root for?
Seattle Times blogger, Thanh Tan, discussed some of the reasons not to increase minimum wage. According to her, the conversation needs to focus more on the roots of poverty. We need to invest more in education and programming in order to help people develop the necessary skills to compete in our economy.
She is right, of course. We could always be spending more money on skill development and educational programming. But simultaneously, I believe the conversation around minimum wage to be more complex than that. For me, it can be a quality of life issue.
When we talk about homelessness and poverty, we focus on jobs. We want to get people employed, moving, and producing something useful. But if we aren’t allowing them to make a living in those jobs, then what change have we actually accomplished?
This is where the economists have joined the conversation to say that giving more money to consumers is always a good idea.
According to the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute, a higher hourly rate could actually help everyone. The fast food industry is “projected to create 10 time more jobs than aerospace engineering” wrote MYNorthwest.com.
Basically, if people are making more, they are spending more. And maybe that’s a good thing.