GARRETT VANDE KAMP – Opinion Writer
A few months ago, there were a string of protests all over the country by fast food workers. Citing high living costs and low wages, they demanded an increase of wages to upwards of $15 an hour, which is double the current federal minimum wage of $7.50.
While it is easy to dismiss these protests as teenagers wanting more pay, as many of us have or do work minimum wage jobs, the picture is not that simple. Reuters reports that the median age of a fast-food employee is 28, and over a quarter of fast food workers have children.
Most have high school diplomas, and over 30 percent have college experience. A wage increase would certainly help working class adults. But is a wage increase justified?
The problem with the current minimum wage is inflation. Inflation is a rise in the price level of goods and services, which in general makes living more expensive. For example, a gallon of milk back in the ‘60s cost around 50 cents; now it is around $3.50, according to economic databank economagic.com.
While inflation has risen regularly in the past, the minimum wage has not. John Schmitt of the Center for Economic Policy and Research states that the value of the minimum wage was $1.60 in 1968; if it had risen with inflation, it would be over $10.50 per hour. Put another way, workers’ budgets are 30% smaller on minimum wage now than they were in the ‘60s. That decrease is not acceptable for one of the richest countries in the world.
My proposed solution is simple: pass a law that would automatically increase the minimum wage with inflation.
Some conservatives argue that we should not increase minimum wage because it would increase unemployment. Their theory is that if you raise what it costs to pay a worker, companies may not be able to afford it and fire workers. But while the theory behind that claim is sound, scholars heavily debate how significant cutbacks in employment would be. .. Furthermore, employers would probably lay off teenagers and other secondary workers first, not the primary breadwinner of a household.
On the other hand, many liberals argue that the minimum should increase with productivity gains. The average productivity of the American worker has gone up remarkably. Schmitt writes that if minimum wage had kept up with those increases, it would be around $22.
Yet this benchmark should be rejected for two reasons. First, while average productivity has gone up, the productivity of minimum wage workers has not. This makes such a steep increase unwarranted. Secondly, productivity gains were not created by all, but only by innovators in different fields. They should receive the lion’s share of productivity gains, but notwithstanding a minimum wage tied to inflation.
I believe the free market is the best solution to most problems. But even I can see that we need to ensure a decent standard of living for those who perform their jobs. And tying the minimum wage to inflation would do just that.
Garrett Vande Kamp is a senior political science major. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.