Fighting for 15

Raising the minimum wage amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Aubrey Rhoadarmer, Staff Writer

Financial issues brought on by the pandemic has added fire to the fight for a fifteen dollar minimum wage. (Sharli Mishra)

In order to help people recover from the coronavirus pandemic, President Biden has included a push for a $15 minimum wage in his proposed relief plan. On Feb. 4, the Senate voted against the increase in a non-binding voice vote.

This decision does not mean the minimum wage will stay the same indefinitely, it just means it will not be raised any time soon.

As residents of Seattle, we are lucky. In 2015, Seattle’s Minimum Wage Ordinance went into effect, and as of today, the minimum wage within city limits is $15 an hour. A study done by the University of Washington found that many workers began working fewer hours, but they saw their take-home pay increase or stay roughly the same. The food industry is typically the one most affected by minimum wage increases, but since 2015, 24,000 food industry jobs have been created in Seattle, despite the higher wages.

Unfortunately, workers in other parts of the country aren’t as well off.

The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour and has been since July of 2009. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, the cost of living in America increased, on average, by 20% in the past twelve years. The price to survive in America is increasing while the wages that workers are being paid stay the same. How does that make sense?

According to Oxfam Global, 43.7% of workers in America make less than $15 an hour. That means that 43.7% of workers will see a pay increase if the minimum wage is raised.

An analysis done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that a living wage in the United States exceeds $15 an hour. 156 million people are employed in America today, and if 43.7% of them make less than $15 an hour, that means over 65 million people are not earning a living wage. This is unacceptable.

There is a common misconception that the only people working minimum wage jobs are high schoolers just looking to make some extra pocket money. But that is far from the truth. It’s people who are trying to support themselves and trying to support their families, and $7.25 an hour is not enough to do that.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), 88% of workers making less than $15 an hour are above 20 years old, and the majority of them are women and people of color. Some of them are saving up with hopes of going to college, or providing for their elderly parents, or even just being able to afford a gift for their child’s birthday. But most importantly, every one of them is a human being who deserves to reach their potential.

With the pandemic, countless more people have slipped below the federal poverty line, which for a family of four means an income of less than $26,500 per year. Raising the minimum wage could help combat this issue. The Congressional Budget Office found that raising the minimum wage would bring at least 900,000 people out of poverty.

An increase in the minimum wage will also decrease many people’s reliance upon government programs, and free up taxpayer money. EPI found that for every $1 increase in the minimum wage, spending on government assistance programs drops $5.2 billion. The money that is currently used for public assistance can then be used for education or outreach programs that will benefit children and young adults so that their quality of life can be improved upon.

“If we put some more money into the pockets of our citizens, that won’t fix things, but it could help mitigate some of the crises that Americans are facing,” Smith said.

Of course, a $15 minimum wage won’t solve all of America’s problems, which is why it’s important that the government does not simply raise the minimum wage and then expect poverty to disappear overnight. They must also work to support low-income families and their futures.

Smith said, “Getting people connected to mentor groups or people who can help them with their resumes or figuring out for each individual family ‘what do you need, why isn’t this working for you, how can we support you?’ and that’s going to be different for every family in every neighborhood across the country, so it’s not an easy fix.”

Raising the federal minimum wage would be a move towards improving the state of our nation. It will not be the only step, but it should be one of the first.

COVID-19 has hurt our country in more ways than one, but the way that poverty was being addressed in our country was unacceptable even before the pandemic. If we ever hope to live up to what America is supposed to be, a nation where anything is possible and where anyone can succeed, people need to be able to thrive, not just survive. And raising the minimum wage is the way to get there.