Book Review

by blakegriffinenc

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour has been a hot button issue since around the fall of 2012. A movement which began with just a few hundred fast food workers striking in New York City, has expanded to become an international movement in over 300 cities, consisting of thousands of workers from many different job industries. David Rolf, the author of “The Fight for Fifteen: The Right Wage for a Working America” has been at the center of this movement since the beginning. David Rolf is currently the president of a labor union known as SEIU 775. Rolf has also been known to lead some of the largest wage movements since the 1930’s, and is often credited with being a key figure in the passing of the $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle.

The Fight for Fifteen outlines, through a mix of statistics, math, and opinion, as to why America should pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. David Rolf introduces the reader to his book by talking about how we once were. He argues that we are beginning to stray from the American Dream of the 1960’s, a time when Americans would expect to become a member of the middle class, and have the ability to retire into a comfortable life after some decades of working. He argues that due to the low minimum wage, this is no longer the reality for most.

Throughout the book, Rolf gives both lengthy and detailed examples of the successes of specific labor protests. He discusses Alice Lord, the underpaid and underworked restaurant server who fought to create the Waitresses Union in the year 1900, which petitioned Seattle to establish a ten hour workday for women. An entire chapter is dedicated to SeaTac, the wage protests of 1999, and many other historic moments in the battle for a “fair wage”.

While fast food workers are, without a doubt, the loudest voice in the Fight for $15 movement, Rolf makes sure to not to leave out the plight of other minimum wage workers. Rolf talks about janitors, deli workers, store clerks, pizza delivery drivers, and home care workers.  In all of these examples, Rolf personally interviews workers and illustrates how they are struggling in life due to low pay, and what America can do as a whole to remedy the situation.

Rolf has managed to pack a ton of information into just 329 pages, but at some points it seems that he may have “lost sight of the forest for the trees”. At times it seems like Rolf just wanted to cram as much information and statistics as he could into the book. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, statistics are meaningless if they are just put in front of the reader without any explanation. The entire book is based on why America should have a $15 an hour minimum wage, yet nowhere in the book does Rolf actually describe why $15 is the magic number. He never explains why it is better than $14, but worse than $16. I also spotted what appeared to be mistakes in some of the claims put forth by Rolf. He states throughout the book that minimum wage should increase at the same rate as inflation, yet if minimum wage actually increased at the same rate as inflation since it was established in 1938, it would only be $4.24, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Simple math shows this, and for him to make such an important claim in this book, it seems hard to believe that he would make such an error. Perhaps this is actually an error, or perhaps this is just one of the many figures in the book where Rolf does not bother explain his reasoning, or how he calculated the numbers. Nonetheless, after running into a few inaccuracies such as this, it led me to seriously doubt most of the claims made in this book.

This book seems to cater to those who have already made up their mind on the minimum wage debate. Even the title is filled with opinion, “The Right Wage for a Working America”. While this book does argue for an increase in minimum wage, most of the arguments seem to be based more on opinion and emotion rather than actual economic principals and unbiased statistics. I would not recommend this book for someone who is wanting to objectively learn about the economics of minimum wage. I would, however, recommend this to someone who wants to understand the view of those who support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Works Cited

“Inflation Calculator: Bureau of Labor Statistics.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d. Web. 02 June 2016.

“Minimum Wage – U.S. Department of Labor – Chart1.” United States Department of Labor. N.p., 09 Dec. 2015. Web. 02 June 2016.

Rolf, David, and Corrie Watterson Bryant. The Fight for Fifteen: The Right Wage for a Working America. New York City, NY: New, 2016. Print.