Editorial: A living wage

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Of the people who get paid by the hour in the United States, 1.3 million earn the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, yet 1.7 million make below the federal minimum wage. These people make up 3.9 percent of hourly wage workers.

The minimum wage was originally established during the Great Depression as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. When it was established, the minimum wage was 25 cents, which is approximately $4 an hour when adjusted for inflation and has been increased as the rate of living has increased.

The federally mandated minimum wage is $7.25, although some states have raised it to $10 an hour and, in the case of California, the minimum will be $15 an hour by 2022. Although the federal number exists, states like Wyoming and Georgia have a lower state minimum wage at $5.15 an hour. The minimum wage was last reset in 2009.

Raising the minimum wage is a hotly contested issue, as some argue it will cost jobs and people with no skills shouldn’t be rewarded for more menial jobs. Others argue that the current minimum wage isn’t set at a livable rate, and we need to accommodate these people so they can survive.

Although raising the minimum wage would help workers, it could hurt some small businesses who cannot afford the cost of labor. These companies may need to cut down on the number of employees, which would hurt the company’s efficiency. Eventually, if the business can’t maintain this model, it might have to close.

If someone works full time at a minimum wage job — with the minimum wage being $7.25 — they make $15,080 annually. The Federal Poverty Level for individuals is $11,880, but once you add other family members, it jumps approximately $4,140 for every extra family member you add. That means people working full time on minimum wage with one or more extra family member are living below the poverty line.

If the minimum wage were raised to $15 federally, this would make full-time minimum wage jobs an annual salary of $31,200. This annual income would help families have a better quality of life. But the question is the feasibility of such a wage.

If the minimum wage were to be increased, spending could increase by $28 billion across the nation and that, in turn, helps the economy. Small businesses might not be able to afford a higher wage for its workers, and therefore would not be able to sustain their business.

Meanwhile, another argument against raising the minimum wage is that some skilled workers — like paramedics, who make a median of $14.77, according to the Houston Chronicle — make $15 an hour, and we’d be equating these lower skill jobs with the work other more skilled workers do.

Regardless of the arguments, people deserve to have a wage they can survive on. And, if it’s not $7.25, it needs to be raised to meet people’s needs. Maybe not as much as $15 an hour, but the answer lies somewhere between the two extremes. Some studies cite $10.10 an hour wage federally and a $15 an hour wage for expensive cities would put workers above the poverty line.

For college students, a raise in the minimum wage could help work-study students spend less time working, or give students with part-time jobs more money to spend on necessities or to help pay off their loans.
Although previous generations might have been able to pay off college by working over the summers or holding a part-time job during the semester, that’s no longer possible with a $7.25 minimum wage and the increased cost of tuition.

Some students, especially ones who study in expensive cities like New York or Seattle, may have a high cost of living that, if their parents can’t afford, they have to pay for themselves.

This leaves them little money to start paying off loans or saving for the future.

The minimum wage was always supposed to be a living wage, and right now it needs to update with the times.

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