With Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan featuring an increase to the minimum wage, it has become increasingly in vogue to discuss. However, a large portion of the discussion centers on why it’s bad or why we can’t do it. This is all just to shut down the conversation entirely.
We’ll start with the argument of “If you raise the minimum wage, everything will get more expensive!” News flash: everything’s getting more expensive without raising the minimum wage. That’s the whole reason to raise the minimum wage in the first place. The concept of a “minimum wage” is based on the lowest possible hourly wage that someone working a 40-hour work week can earn at a single job and still meet the cost of living. The whole point is to raise it to a level that allows people to survive better. Of course, late-stage capitalism would prefer some didn’t survive and their financially destitute corpses pave the way for those that have survived.
The next most common argument is based around the idea that a worker at McDonald’s shouldn’t be making the same amount of money as a teacher with a degree in education. The problem here isn’t that the McDonald’s worker will be making the same as the teacher. The problem is that the teacher wasn’t already being paid more. The United States has a love-hate relationship with teachers. On one hand, they are training our children, the future and we value them to the ends of the earth. On the other, they should want to work as wage slaves because they should just be passionate about teaching kids. Many say, “How dare they ask for more money. They’re just in it for the money.” Yes, that’s the whole point of a job. You would never say the same thing to a doctor despite also serving a public good. The second point of this argument relies on the myth of “skilled labor.” There is no such thing as unskilled labor. At every job, you have to be taught how to do something. Therefore, that labor is skilled inherently. The term “unskilled labor” is thrown around so that we can treat fast food workers, janitors, etc. as subhuman even though they help run society as we know it.
People often cite that businesses would be shuttered by a raise in the minimum wage. This argument often cites that businesses will either lay off workers or increase prices to balance the budget. These two scenarios are ultimately disingenuous. Businesses are already at the lowest number of employees. That’s how hiring works. Businesses only hire the amount of people they need. They aren’t offering jobs to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who walks in the door. They literally cannot afford to lay anyone off because then they wouldn’t have enough to man the posts. Secondly, an increase in prices is not nearly as drastic as people make it out to be. We’ll use the example of a bar. Bars get many transactions in a day and have maybe two bartenders, three to five wait staff and 15 to 20 kitchen staff. The transactions across the day are used to offset the increase in pay, but most businesses have more than enough transactions in the day to offset the increase. This increase in pay is spread across all the transactions of the day which in most scenarios only breaks down to approximately a two dollar increase in prices. That far outweighs what people will be earning after an increase in the minimum wage.
It also bears stating that most proposals for an increase in the minimum wage feature a gradual increase. It’s not like we’re going to wake up one day and suddenly everyone is getting paid more. That’s not feasible. With a gradual increase, businesses have time to adjust to an increase in the federally mandated minimum wage.
Beware of people simply trying to shut down the conversation by saying, “Well, we can’t do that,” without providing a solution to the problem that an increase in the minimum wage attempts to solve. Increasing the minimum wage is only justified in patching up income inequality and bringing every person’s quality of living up to the cost of living.