The Case for a Living Wage

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Andrew Oliver
Staff Writer

The argument for a living wage has been at the forefront of policy discussions and debates in recent years, and with plenty of controversy. In addition to strong opposition from many large businesses and corporations, those who support an increase in the federal minimum wage often do not agree on what a living wage should be, and how it should be implemented.

So, the issue is complicated. That much is certain. However, despite the controversy and infighting that is so often associated with conversations about wage increases, it is absolutely necessary and constitutes basic common sense.

From a historic and economic perspective, raising the minimum wage at the federal level should have been a gradual guarantee. Politicians and CEO’s get a cost of living increase to their pay every year to keep up with inflation.

This keeps the economy functioning smoothly, as it allows people to make purchases and keep money flowing, even as the prices of goods increase, or at least, this would keep the economy running smoothly – if all workers were guaranteed this cost of living increase.

According to numerous studies conducted by the Pew Research Center, as well as noted by economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, the United States minimum wage, when adjusted for inflation, reached its highest point in 1968.

The federal minimum wage was last raised, to $7.25 an hour, in 2009. Since then, it has lost 9.6 percent of its worth in real dollars, according to the Pew Research Center.

This is devastating for the workers, and the for the economy as a whole. The high minimum wage (in real dollars) which was present in the late 1960s was crucial to the formation and maintenance of a thriving middle class.

With a stagnant minimum wage, made more and more worthless due to rising inflation year after year, the average American worker has far less purchasing power, and contributes less to the economy.

This leads to economic unrest and insecurity, which has tormented workers in the United States for far too long. When people barely have enough to live, they become desperate, and desperation brings chaos.

When factoring in the unequal pay of women in this country, the issue looks even worse. According to Fortune magazine’s salary survey, the gender pay gap between men and women is getting worse, not better, and it’s especially bad for young women.

Particularly in the tech industry, women aged 25 and under earn, on average, 29 percent less than male counterparts their own age. The issue also persists notably in the health and pharmaceutical industries.

A senate bill in Utah has sought to curb the effects of the gender pay gap by forcing many businesses to be more transparent in their dispensing of raises and wage increases. The aim, of course, is to make sure people get paid more based on the quality of their work, and not based on their gender alone.

Even worse than the pay disparity faced by cis-women workers in the United States is the unequal pay gap faced by trans women in this country – a group which has been made economically and politically vulnerable by social stigmatization and a government which does not care enough for them.

According to a study by the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, trans women face making one third less money than they did before transitioning. This should be criminal, and yet, trans women have precious few protections under the law.

The nation would, overall, see a massive improvement – in economic performance, quality of life, standard of living, etc. – if the federal minimum wage was raised considerably. The irony of all this, however, is that keeping American workers underpaid does not benefit the American economy. It benefits only the greed which has run so rampant in this country.

You may be wondering what this means for small businesses, and if those businesses could even afford to pay a higher wage. In some cases, this is true. That is why the proper groundwork should be laid to make the American economy safe and sustainable for the workers in this country.

If the United States started bringing jobs back within its borders and began making all of its products again, there would be plenty of work, and all of the money from a higher minimum wage would go right back into the hands of American businesses.

Unfortunately, it seems like the upper class and major companies in America still have the most influence in this issue. Workers continue to be taken advantage of, and while there have been some significant gains made on various local levels, the fight is still a long one.

One must remember that it is the workers who have made the advances for the working class in America, not the politicians, and we must continue fighting and taking them to task in order to change this broken system.



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