It has been almost nine years since the minimum wage was last raised in 2009, when it rose from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour, the last step of an increase approved by Congress in 2007.
Before 2007, the minimum wage was stuck at $5.15 per hour for 10 years, the longest period in history without a raise. In 2018, we are approaching another 10 years without a raise. With a minimum wage of $7.25, workers make less than their 1950s counterparts who made $7.93, adjusting for inflation.
Nowadays, the people who receive a minimum wage are not just teenagers working summer jobs. Often, these people are parents working to support their families. Because the current minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, the income of many workers, especially those with large families, is below the poverty level.
If one works 40 hours a week, for 52 weeks a year at $7.25 an hour, they can earn an annual income of $15,080—assuming they have no time off and no sick days.
That is not enough money to support a family. It’s barely enough to support one person.
By 2024, in areas across the United States, a single adult with no children will need at least $31,200 to earn a “modest but adequate standard of living,” according to projections made by the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator. For instance, in rural Missouri, a single adult with no children will need $32,502 by 2024 to cover typical rent and other basic living costs. Those living in big cities and those with children will need even more.
“There is no rational reason why our society should allow some people to earn enough to own five mansions while those who pick their fruit, do their laundry and pick up their garbage can’t even afford a small house. Picking fruit and picking up garbage is hard work, and why shouldn’t someone who is willing to do that be rewarded with enough income to enjoy a decent lifestyle?” Richard Johnson, president of Associated Merchant Services in Nashville, Tenn., said in an interview for Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.
Raising the minimum wage would give workers a better chance at improving their lives, as well as encourage those outside the labor force to “step onto the first rung of the economic ladder,” Oren Cass said in an article for the New York Times. “And it does so without shoving the poor into government programs, instead, integrating them into the economy and giving them resources to allocate on their own.” Higher wages mean better incentives and better work.
Raising the minimum wage would benefit people living in poverty by giving them the opportunity to increase their current standard of life. That, in turn, would also have a positive effect on the economy. The more people are paid, the more they are able to spend on goods and services for their families.
Moreover, a heightened minimum wage will be beneficial for businesses themselves.
“The stress of poverty puts the mind in a place of worry instead of work,” Nancy Denker, owner of Focus Ink in Albuquerque, N.M. said in an interview for Business for a Fair Minimum Wage. “Living on a shoestring is not the best incentive for workers. Business owners must realize that as our community prospers, so will business.”
Kaatje Weiland is a sophomore journalism and communications major from Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.