Employment is an important part of a functioning society.
In the last year, we’ve shifted from “support our essential workers” to “they’re living off the government dole” seemingly overnight. How people are paid in even the most common of workplaces is important. How workers are treated by employers is important. People deserve better pay.
The U.S. minimum is less than half the “living wage” for a single adult ($15.41 an hour, or roughly $32,000 a year before tax), according to national data compiled by MIT. It’s a third of what a family of four needs to live — around $21.50 per hour per parent, or almost $90,000 a year combined.
The minimum wage is the amount set by law and determines the least amount someone can be paid. It was originally set to allow workers enough income to stay out of poverty. The minimum wage concept has failed because it hasn’t kept pace with the rising cost of living, causing many working people to live below the poverty level.
The living wage is often confused with the national minimum wage. In fact, the terms are often used interchangeably. The U.S. Congress originally created the minimum wage with the intent to provide a living wage.
According to Fast Company, the federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25 per hour in July 2009, which was an increase from $6.55 per hour set one year prior and has remained stagnant ever since.
But the fight to earn $15 per hour isn’t merely about making more money from employment. So much more is in play.
In a recent viral video, workers at a McDonald’s drive-thru a sign shared about the shortage of staff at their establishment with customers as they passed in the line for food.
According to the April 2021 jobs report, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was sitting at 6.1% and the number of unemployed persons, at 9.8 million.
The Wall Street Journal reported a record of 8.1 million job openings across the country.
It’s not a matter of people not wanting to be employed, people don’t want to work for so little income.
There is no “labor shortage” — just a mass shortage of people who will end up working for starvation wages, especially following a deadly pandemic in which has hit low income workers even harder.
We must reassess the future of employment.
With an extra $300 a week for those out of work during the pandemic, it’s critical that employers think differently in terms of helping to raise the minimum.
The GOP now wants to block the progress that’s being made. Republican governors from Montana, South Dakota, Utah, Iowa, and Arkansas, for example, have already announced they will cut unemployment benefits in order to force more people back to work.
If Republicans truly wanted to abide by their free market ideals, they would recognize that in order to stay competitive, employers must adapt to the demands of the market and pay their workers what they are worth.
Instead, they’re opting to slash unemployment benefits, oppose significant increases in the federal minimum wage, and have the government subsidize businesses by forcing employees to rely on assistance like food stamps to get by. Same as it ever was.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the reality that our economy is dependent on exploitation. As the virus spread, many workers watched their bosses prioritize profit over the lives of employees, who risked their health and lives to work frontline jobs during a pandemic that killed over 500,000 people in this country.
While these low-wage workers braved the pandemic, their CEOs cashed in.
A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies found that among the 100 S&P 500 firms with the lowest median worker wages, 51 rigged the rules in 2020 to award CEOs large bonuses while their low-wage employees suffered. Average CEO pay skyrocketed 29 percent to over $15 million, while average employee salaries fell to barely $28,000.
It’s been well over a decade since Congress raised the federal minimum wage. But meanwhile, the CEOs and speculators who get rich off minimum-wage labor have seen their fortunes skyrocket. If the minimum wage had increased at the same rate as Wall Street bonuses since 1985, it would be worth $44 an hour today.
With all of this in mind, would you put your life on the line for $7.25 an hour? For employers, the lesson should be simple: If you want workers, pay them a living wage.