My Issue With the Minimum Wage Fight
From the Inkwell of: Bartholomew J. Worthington III
First of all, I don't want anyone to misconstrue what I am about to say. That covered, the current push for income equity and a higher minimum wage for retail and fast food workers is ass backwards.
Don't get me wrong. I am well aware that income inequity is probably the single, most significant issue that almost no one is talking about. I am also well aware that these minimal experience, public-facing jobs are ill-suited to supporting the needs of a family.
But that is the problem. They were never designed to be the type of jobs that allowed people the ability to raise a family. These jobs, for the better part of the last 25 or so years, were suppose to be entry-level positions for high school and college students. They were suppose to be summer jobs for teenagers. They were designed to be positions that would teach basic work ethic principles to those with little or no experience. They served as a way to gain valuable work experience and put a small bit of change in an employee's pocket.
But a strange thing happened in the last few years of this grand sociological experiment called trickle-down economics. Middle-class jobs were eliminated at an alarming rate when the economy went south, and a majority of the jobs that returned were minimum wage positions in retail and fast food.
Now the simple fact is, though the minimum wage was last raised in 2009, the increase in wages has been far outpaced by the increase in the cost of just the bare essentials. Far more important is that we turn a lion's share of our energy to demanding the creation of well paying jobs that are the lifeblood of a strong and vibrant middle-class.
Focusing our fight on raising the minimum wage allows these companies to continue to get away with throwing crumbs to the 99% while the top bracket continues to gorge itself.
The numbers are discouraging. A study by the National Employment Law Project revealed that a significant portion of the jobs lost during the Great Recession were middle-income positions. Positions that paid between $13.83 and $21.13 comprised 60 percent of the jobs lost during the downturn. During the "recovery", only 22% of the jobs that have been created have been mid-wage positions.
By contrast, while low-wage jobs comprised 21 percent of the jobs lost to the Great Recession, they have made up 58 percent of the jobs created since the end of the recession. A majority of these jobs have been created in just 3 industries: Foods service, retail and employment services.
The reality is that it is unrealistic to expect that a high school student flipping burgers should be paid $15 an hour. But it is completely unconscionable that a mid-level professional or a college graduate is unable to find a job that actually pays a livable wage. While Wal-Mart workers can strike for better wages, the sad truth is that they don't have many alternatives. For many of these workers, the choices are Wal-Mart, McDonalds or nothing.
That is a horrible set of options to "choose" from, and while raising the minimum wage will alleviate some of the challenges these workers experience trying to stretch their paychecks just to cover their basic living expenses, the bulk of our energy should be focused on advocating for policies that drive the creation of well paying, middle-income jobs.
As long as we're are focused on the approximately 4.7% of all workers in this nation who are paid at or below minimum wage, our voices will continue to be marginalized. The new rallying cry should be for the creation of well-paying jobs that can sustain a middle class family willing to work hard.
And if the private sector is unable - or unwilling to - we should be pushing for public policies that accomplish this goal It is the only way to truly get the middle-class growing again.
Until then, I will continue to cringe every time I hear someone protesting the poverty wages paid by the lowest paying jobs, knowing that it only serves to distract us from focusing on the larger problem we are facing: Rebuilding the Middle Class.