Minimum Wage Workers
Protests for a minimum wage increase are becoming more common every day. Even in Manatee County, it is no longer surprising to see groups having peaceful protests outside the County Administration Building, or outside businesses such as Walmart or McDonald’s. They walk around with signs reading “Fight for $15”, and “We are worth more”. Why is this becoming so much more common, though, and why do they feel they deserve more?
According to David Rolf, the author of The Fight for Fifteen: The Right Wage for a Working America, minimum wage workers are simply fed up with working long and hard hours, seven days a week, and in return receiving a “low” pay rate of $7.25 per hour (122). David Rolf goes on to talk about how the cost of living has increased 67 percent in the past twenty five years, yet minimum wage has not increased anywhere near the same rate. People earning minimum wage, according to Rolf, are constantly struggling to afford basic expenses such as rent, gas, groceries, and health care. (167)
David Rolf makes some interesting claims, such as saying that the minimum wage and the cost of living has increased at an unequal rate. From my own experience and listening to protestors, this is a fairly common argument among those who believe wages should be increased. It is worth checking to see if it is at all based in reality, or if the differing rate of increase is even something worth noting. David Rolf, in his book, never actually states the rate that minimum wage has increased, he only says that it has increased at an unequal rate to the cost of living in the last twenty five years.
According to the United States Department of Labor, the minimum wage was $4.25/hour in 1991 – twenty five years ago. Today in 2016, the same year David Rolf’s book was written, the minimum wage is $7.25/hour. That comes out to a 59% increase (rounded from 58.6%), which is only 8% less than what David Rolf claimed was percent of increase in the cost of living.
The question still stands, though: Why $15 an hour? David Rolf does not ever directly state the mathematical reason behind $15 an hour. There is no mention of why $15 is better than $14 or worse than $16. However, David Rolf does state in his book that it would make sense for minimum wage to rise at the same rate as inflation (153), and the fact it has not risen at the same rate as inflation is a reason for the growing wage gap between earners at the bottom and earners in the middle (153). Even this, though, does not explain the claim of $15 an hour. According to The United States Department of Labor, the minimum wage was 25 cents an hour when established in 1938. If the minimum wage increased at the same rate as inflation, then the minimum wage would only be $4.24 today according to the online inflation calculator provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many minimum wage workers and people such as David Rolf got what they wished for in Seattle. On January 1, 2017, Seattle will be raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. (Seattle.gov) Tim Worstall, a writer for Forbes investigated what business owners in Seattle are doing to plan for the increased minimum wage. He states that Seattle restaurants have been closing at rates higher than normal, and to compensate for increased wages they have been “needing to raise menu prices, source poorer ingredients, reduce operating hours, and reduce their labor”
It appears that minimum wage workers simply want more money for the same amount of work they have always done, and there does not seem to be any solid basis on the reasoning behind $15 an hour. As said by Tim Worstall “Human labor really is an economic good like pretty much all of the others. Raise the price and the demand for it will drop”.
“$15 Minimum Wage.” Mayor Murray. N.p., 06 May 2014. Web. 02 June 2016
Grossman, Jonathan. “U.S. Department of Labor — History — Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938:.” U.S. Department of Labor — History — Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938:. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2016. https://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/flsa1938.htm
“Inflation Calculator: Bureau of Labor Statistics.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d. Web. 02 June 2016. http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm
“Minimum Wage – U.S. Department of Labor – Chart1.” United States Department of Labor. N.p., 09 Dec. 2015. Web. 02 June 2016. https://www.dol.gov/featured/minimum-wage/chart1
Rolf, David, and Corrie Watterson Bryant. The Fight for Fifteen: The Right Wage for a Working America. New York City, NY: New, 2016. Print.
Worstall, Tim. “We Are Seeing The Effects Of Seattle’s $15 An Hour Minimum Wage.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 24 May 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2015/03/16/we-are-seeing-the-effects-of-seattles-15-an-hour-minimum-wage/