By Molly Freeman
Photo courtesy of Bill de Blasio twitter.
Who here has been personally victimized by the minimum wage in the United States? Since you can’t see me right now, I’ll just let you know I’m currently raising my hand, along with many, many other people in the country.
From high school kids working for some extra spending money, to whole families that rely on one or two parents’ incomes, that ridiculous $7.25/hr rate affects over 3 million people in the United States. However, with the nationwide fast food worker’s strikes, as well as politicians in New York City attempting to live on similar wages, the federal minimum wage has been a topic in the news a lot recently.
Earlier this year, Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time since 2009. The legislation would raise the federal minimum wage by 2015 and implement a clause that requires the amount to adjust proportionally with fluxes in the cost of living. It would also increase the federal minimum wage for tipped workers—which as been stuck at $2.13 an hour for more than 20 years.
Though it’s doubtful the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 will pass through a Republican-controlled house, business owners and politicians alike are showing support for a wage increase to help the working class population.
This summer Bill de Blasio, a New York City mayoral candidate, and Stephen Levin, a member of the New York City Council, participated with other New York politicians in a challenge to see if they could survive on minimum wage. Organized by UnitedNY and New York Community for Change, each politician was given $92 to survive on for one week. Their progress was documented on Twitter through the hashtag #canyousurvive.
Unsurprisingly, none of the politicians made it more than five days through the challenge without going over budget. Levin ended up spending about $125 on food and work-related transportation expenses.
“To me, it highlights how, if you’re living on minimum wage, catastrophes happen – life still happens, unexpected things that can set you back. And if you’re on minimum wage, you don’t have much of a cushion,” Levin told The Nation.
Although this challenge was a public relations stunt by these politicians to appeal to their working class constituents in New York City (almost one million of which make minimum wage,) it points to the larger nationwide problem of the current minimum wage versus a realistic living wage.
A study released in July from the Economic Policy Institute found that a family consisting one parent and one child in New York City needs at least $67,153 a year, $32.28 an hour working full-time, to survive. A minimum wage worker makes between $10,000 and $18,000 a year.
Even McDonald’s was stumped in July when they teamed up with Visa to create a financial planning site for the fast food franchise’s workforce. However, the initial budget—which is laughable at best—does not factor in heat, food, or clothing, and it assumes that each worker has a second job. Basically, even McDonald’s knows its workers can’t live on the wage the company pays.
In December, Bloomberg News reported that a McDonald’s employee would need to work about a million hours, or more than a century on the clock, in order to earn the $8.75 million that the company’s CEO made in 2011.
This huge earning disparity in the fast food industry has led to protests and walk-outs in restaurants across the country including New York, St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit among others. Workers from many different chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s are demanding the chance to unionize and a higher wage: $15 an hour.
The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 wouldn’t raise minimum wage to $15, but rather $10.10 an hour. Business owners, such as Jon Cooper, are in favor of a higher minimum wage, as it will spur economic growth.
In Cooper’s column for The Bay State Banner, he notes that 70 percent of the nation’s economy is driven by consumer spending, which is, in turn, dictated by worker wages. Cooper also claims that increasing the minimum wage would jump-start consumer spending since those who were barely scraping by would have more spending money.
Additionally, a study released by the Economic Policy Institute last year found that raising the minimum wage would “boost the earnings of working families hardest hit by the Great Recession, spur economic growth, and create about 100,000 net new jobs.”
Levin, de Blasio, and the other New York City officials’ participation in the minimum wage challenge may have simply been a stunt to garner votes, but they have also drawn attention to a very real problem in their city and the entire country: over 3 million people can’t afford to live because they are paid the federal minimum wage. That is not a political stunt or propaganda to get people to vote for de Blasio and Levin; that is a fact, one that needs to be remedied.