Editorial: Minimum vs. Living Wage

The public debate over raising the minimum wage has grown to an ever more polarized fervor, with opponents on the right such as Fox News host Steve Varney questioning whether all workers, even those with little education, “really deserve $15 an hour.”

I’ll start with the obvious retort, or at least one that should be obvious to my fellow millennials: I just finished working at a minimum-wage job, and many of my coworkers were college educated, in their 20s and 30s, and some even had families to support. Face it, baby boomers, this is the world you left us. If I’m able to get a job in any non-service, non-retail field when I graduate, I’ll consider myself one of the lucky ones.

But this line of reasoning doesn’t even really matter. Should your level of education or age really be the deciding factor in whether you should be able to feed yourself or have a roof over your head? The argument in favor of a living wage is so obvious, it’s hard to even make. Anyone who is working full time should be able to feed themselves and their families.

Furthermore, minimum wage has actually gone down over time. Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage in 1968 was nearly $11 per hour, even higher than Washington’s is now. But these numbers don’t even tell the whole story – if the minimum wage had kept up with worker productivity, it would be almost $22.

Corporations are making more money than ever. But that money isn’t going where it should.