Whenever discussions about raising the minimum wage enter the public consciousness, those opposed to raising it argue (among other things) that it will cost jobs; that employers will cut staff rather than pay people a wage that allows them to feed their families. There are even those, who in the second decade of the 21st century argue that there should be no minimum wage at all.
These people say employers and employees should bargain individually for wages, and that a $3.00 an hour wage is fine — as long as it’s not for them.
But this is a different story. It’s the story of what living at the minimum is really all about.
Keep in mind that in cities and towns all across this country, the Great Recession had the effect of tossing millions of people out of decent, well-paying jobs. The overwhelming majority of these people lost their jobs through no fault of their own. When they recovered from the shock, they found the American employment landscape had profoundly changed. Suddenly, they were forced to swallow their pride and compete as best they could for jobs that paid a fraction of what they were making.
For many, recovery has been fleeting, or non existent.
That’s just one component of those who have struggled to keep their heads above water. Working alongside them in some cases are folks who never had the pleasure of working a middle class job. For them, the minimum wage is a fact of life, trapping them in a cycle that puts a permanent knot in the pit of their stomach.
Consider for a moment what happens when a person gets to the middle of the week, and realize they don’t have the money to pay a major bill, like rent or food. Where is that money to come from?
People working for the minimum wage live on the margins.
Some would have you believe they’re nothing more than students who work while living a comfy life with their parents. Fact is, over the past decade, more and more adults are taking these low paying jobs, and staying in them. Few if any had access to healthcare before the Affordable Care Act, many are food stamp recipients (a government gift to their employers), and most are a single illness away from unemployment.
Yet numbers, grim as they may be, don’t tell the whole story. The real story is in the faces of the working poor.
Some show betrayal, some resignation.
Many have little hope that the lives of their children will be any better.
I see their faces every day, walking the streets of New York City. I see them, and they pain me. They pain me because we should be doing better. In a nation of skyrocketing income inequality, where those at the top never miss a tee time while threatening to lay off workers if they have the temerity to ask for a raise, sick days, or maybe a vacation, we must do better.
There are those who scoff when we ask why a $15.00 an hour minimum wage is so tough to imagine. I say if $15.00 an hour is almost enough to take that knot out of the pits of folks’ stomachs, it’s well worth the price.
All over America, fast food workers, car washers, and yes, even retail workers are starting to wake up to their collective power. Those of us fortunate enough to have jobs that pay our bills need to stand with them. If we don’t, we might wake up one day to find the American Dream referred to with sarcasm in the past tense. After all, doesn’t toilet paper still cost the same price…whether you’re a billionaire or not?