The fight for 15
Whenever I hear an argument about the possibility of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, it sounds like this. Person A, who is for it, makes the case that it’s too difficult to live on minimum wage earnings, and it doesn’t make sense for someone working full time to struggle so much to feed their kids. Person B, who’s against it, says that 15 is too high, that too many employers will be unwilling to pay for unskilled workers at that rate, and they will replace such people with machines instead of doing so. Essentially, they argue the bad will outweigh the good.
Full disclosure: I am often Person A. I once figured out that if you take someone’s hourly wage in dollars, and you multiply by 2, then you get their yearly wages in thousands of dollars. That means an income of $100K per year is $50 per hour. That means an income of the current New York minimum wage, $8.75 per hour, is a measly $17.5K per year, which would be absolutely crazy to try to live on, according to my reckoning. In other words, I think about what I could theoretically live on, if I had a minimum wage job, and I have extreme sympathy for people who try to.
Let’s get back to Person B’s argument. It’s weird because it sounds like Person B is arguing for the sake of the poor, but they’re ignoring the vital question of what is a living wage. Let me give you an analogy.
You have a sick population, and they all need 3 pills per day to stay well. The pills are expensive, though, and so the people in charge of pill distribution give most people 2 pills per day. They argue that, if they gave out 3 pills per day to everyone, some people would have no pills. For the sake of those theoretical people, then, they give out only 2, and everyone remains sick.
In other words, for the sake of holding on to crappy jobs that pay below living wages, and where the employees need food stamps to survive, we don’t raise the bar so they can actually sustain someone in a basic way. It’s almost like we’re desperate to hold on to them because otherwise our unemployment rate would be higher.
I say, figure out what a living wage is, and raise the minimum wage to that level. I actually don’t know what the magic number should be, exactly. Is 15 big enough? Maybe it is, in some places, but maybe in others it’s actually smaller. It doesn’t have to be the same throughout the country. But for as long as we live in a country where the model is that a job is supposed to support you, we should make sure it actually does.