Did you know that the last time the federal minimum wage was raised was in 2009? It’s true, and at that time it was raised from $6.55 to just $7.26 per hour, as part of a 3-stage increase that was passed by Congress in 2007 – when the minimum wage was at the 10-year low of $5.15 per hour.
Today, it has been 11 years since the last raise of the minimum wage. Of course, South Carolina has no minimum wage law of its own, and I don’t believe that there is anyone who has had to live on the minimum wage who would say that it is fair, or even possible, with a family to support. I know a lot of people here in South Carolina who earn $10.00 to $12.00 an hour who are struggling while conservative lawmakers resist an increase in deference to their rich donors, their own business, and personal interests. It appears that they don’t really care to understand how an economy actually works. These conservatives often suggest that if the minimum wage is raised, businesses will suffer, that some will have to raise prices, or some may even close down. An economy is simply the movement of money, and if I earn an extra dollar to spend, the economy gets a boost. If I don’t spend it, the economy stands still.
Historically, you won’t find many people more conservative than Henry Ford. Yes, that Henry Ford. He realized that if he paid his workers a higher wage, they might be able to purchase the very cars they were producing. He did just that, and they did buy his cars. Not only did raising his worker’s wages not cause an increase in prices, nor his business to close, it actually increased Ford’s overall profits!
The Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program released study findings in November of 2019 that showed how the record low unemployment rate of 3.6% does not really point to how well citizens, or the economy, is doing. In fact, the report shows that 53 million Americans work low-wage jobs, as they are often the only jobs available in their area. This means that 44% of all US workers aged 18 to 64 have barely a $17,950 median yearly income. Many adults are circumstantially forced to work the low paying jobs, while continuously seeking better paying employment.
As industries have moved production to other countries, and while some states have little to no good jobs in rural areas – economic hardship is affecting too many Americans. As young people have children at young ages and have to head their own households, or as young people lose their parents early to accidents or health issues, or as many typical working age adults have been laid off from their manufacturing jobs only to find a bleak low-wage job landscape awaiting them – many face economic hardship and difficult paths to take towards finding higher-paying jobs.
If we really care about our fellow citizens who have been left behind by stagnant wages over the past several decades, we must demand that our legislators make changes at the federal and state levels. The small increases in the minimum wage have not kept up with the rate of inflation. There are many specious arguments being made as to why the minimum wage should not be raised, such as, “Let the market decide and adjust, if necessary.” But who really controls the “market”? Certainly not the people who desperately need the raise. To those arguments, I strongly suggest that they try living on the current minimum wage themselves before speaking. Let us see them try paying a mortgage or rent, a car payment, auto insurance, food, healthcare costs, clothing, and utilities on $15,000 a year. Those making a little more ($10-12/hour) are not doing that much better, at an annual rate of $20,000 to $24,960 (assuming that they are getting a 40 hour work week). It is not just the high school kids who are making minimum wage on their summer jobs. There are plenty of primary, sole breadwinners, trying to survive on the current minimum wage – and we haven’t even begun to address the predicament of restaurant servers.
Let’s get realistic. Human beings are entitled to be treated humanely, and not be taken advantage of. Workers deserve a living wage. And frankly, the economy would boom. You want evidence? Dig up Henry Ford and just ask him.