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$15/hr Minimum Wage - Seriously?

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This week in Iowa, Bernie Sanders said in a stump speech, “We’ve got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, $15 an hour.” Presumably this pleased the crowd, however, Bernie has it wrong. (I am not picking on Bernie - Obama does no better.) In order to reset the minimum wage to anything near a living wage, it must be raised to about $21 an hour TODAY which would bring it in line with the purchasing power the minimum wage represented 4-5 decades ago. “Based on consumption growth since 1968, the minimum wage today would have to be $25.05 to represent the same share of the country's total consumption. Based on national income growth, the minimum wage should be $22.08. Based on personal income growth, it should be $21.16,” wrote Salvatore Bobones for Thruthout....over three years ago.

So where does that leave those who might get $15 an hour under the legislation that recently passed in Seattle? Not much farther, if you consider that the minimum wage there is being phased in so the $15 will be achieved in THREE to SEVEN years! You can add another decade of low wages to the 2012 estimates by Bobones and see that minimum wage workers will still be locked into the equivalent of indentured servitude. The only thing missing is the company store, unless you count its modern day equivalent, Walmart. $15 is already short of the $21 that would be meaningful. By the time 2022 rolls around, one will likely need about $25/hr to keep a family afloat in any meaningful sense, let alone make any advancement whatsoever. Lest we forget, most of our minimum wage workers are not full time. Unless the minimum wage worker can find and hold down two or three part-time jobs, he/she will essentially recapitulate Sisyphus.

The problem does not end with the wages but continues with the scheduling of many of these minimum wage jobs. Even if you want to combine a few part-time gigs there are scheduling issues. A GAP employee described this enervating problem in the Guardian thus, “Our schedule comes out less than a week in advance. Some of the shifts leave workers “on-call,” meaning we don’t know if we’re going to be working at all that day. The earliest we find out is two hours before the shift is scheduled to start. At my first store, I had 18 hours of penciled-in shifts with only nine guaranteed hours some weeks. This is not uncommon in the industry.” By “industry” I infer the slave-labor industry, not only in stores like the GAP but also all those national retail stores, coffee house chains, fast food joints and the like. These modern day slaves are not even treated as assets on some net worth statement as has been done throughout history, slaves = wealth. Employees are now treated as junk, throwaways and cheap, replaceable cogs.

The cruel irony is that this move to $15 - sometime in a few years or more or whatever - locks these relatively low wages into the corporate planning structure and guarantees that the shortfall in wages, that is made up by food stamps and other public assistance, will continue to be born by the public at large. This is our public subsidy for the salaries of CEOs and the dividends to stockholders.

It is time to call for a realistic raise in the minimum wage AND an end to abusive employment scheduling practices.

About Dick Conoboy

Writer • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

John Palmer

Aug 20, 2015

I liked this article.

  Though I would be happier if the minimum wage was in the $20 range, I don’t think a single large increase would be the best solution.  I am in favor of regularly schedule smaller increases in the national minimum wage.  My original suggestion was for a 50 cent and hour increase every 6 months.  After reading this I am not sure that would be enough.

  It is also important that any changes to the nation minimum wage NOT effect the ability of states or municipalities to set their own higher minimum wage.

The work scheduling is also very important issue.  I would like to see better scheduling rules implemented in national law.

Though I feel raising the minimum wage is an important tool in fighting income inequality, I believe higher taxes on higher earners will also be needed in the fight.

 

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Hue Beattie

Sep 17, 2015

When I first started working in 1963 the minimum wage was $1. per hour. with inflation what would it be today ? What ever is fair to set it at we need to have a cost of living adjustment that will keep it from eroding in the future. I am glad we have it in our state.

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