4 things that would change almost immediately if the minimum wage was increased to $15/hour

December 24, 2017

If there’s one thing to convince you that maybe the world is worth sticking around for after this dumpster fire of a year, it’s that many states and major cities are implementing an increased minimum wage come New Year’s Day. Since forcing companies to pay employees a fair living wage isn’t something Congress is really into, it’s going to be really important to watch these states prove that there are tons of great things that would change if the federal minimum wage was increased to $15/hour. There are a lot of arguments against raising the federal minimum wage, most of which have to do with people who control money being really scared about giving some of their dough up.

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If there’s one thing to convince you that maybe the world is worth sticking around for after this dumpster fire of a year, it’s that many states and major cities are implementing an increased minimum wage come New Year’s Day. Since forcing companies to pay employees a fair living wage isn’t something Congress is really into, it’s going to be really important to watch these states prove that there are tons of great things that would change if the federal minimum wage was increased to $15/hour. There are a lot of arguments against raising the federal minimum wage, most of which have to do with people who control money being really scared about giving some of their dough up.

The truth is, we don’t really know what would happen if we raise the minimum wage to account for inflation and the rising costs of living across the country.

But as of January, there will be 29 states that mandate the minimum wage is higher than the current $7.25, which hasn’t been raised since 2009, right after the recession, which means there’s a lot of catching up to do. There are also 13 major cities, like New York and Seattle, that are raising their minimum wage this year to account for inflation. Not all of these places are increasing the wage to $15, so there might only be some minor benefits to workers right away, according to Fortune, But overall, it could mean around $5 billion extra in the pocket of hourly workers, which in the long run means big changes.

Even if there are conflicting opinions and research about what might happen when we give working people more money, this is an experiment worth running. Why wouldn’t we want all that money flowing around? So far, since 19 of those 29 states did this in 2017, there’s even evidence that companies don’t have to cut hours or jobs to pay people a fair wage, which are some of the most major arguments against a higher federal minimum wage.

If you can believe it, there are a lot of people, even some members of Congress, who think the government shouldn’t regulate a wage at all, which is crazy. You can’t trust corporations to do anything on their own when it comes to treating employees fairly. Like, maybe some of them would prioritize fair treatment and fair wages, but the corporate eye is generally (and understandably) fixed on the bottom line, which means there have to be regulations in place to ensure that the humans working for these companies don’t get f*cked in the process. Not to mention that giving people more financial freedom, especially women and people of color, could really shake up existing power structures. If you’ve ever lived in America, you know how scary that can be to old regimes.

Think about this: A woman who works six days a week as a fast food employee told The Guardian that she considers her situation “economic slavery,” and she isn’t wrong. The fact that raising the minimum wage for the first time in a decade to over $8 (which literally is just over what a venti unicorn frappuccino costs at Starbucks) is even a discussion, is reason enough to go get your blood pressure and your privilege checked. Because the conversation is all levels of messed up.

There’s an actual argument that raising the minimum wage would increase high school drop out rates, supposedly because kids would skip calculus to stock shelves somewhere for $15/hour, which is one of the most systemically out of touch, victim blame-y, messed up things we’ve heard all year (which is saying something). If anything, it would probably be very nice for any minimum wage worker — whether it’s a teen or a mom in a night school program or literally any number of the many kinds of people who work these roles — to be able to work fewer hours for equal or more money, depending on whether their employer cut hours in the face of a mandated $15/hour.

When it comes to teens, raising the minimum wage can only mean that they won’t have to be overtired for standardized tests because they pulled a double shift to help out with bills instead of hitting the books. No one, despite their age, is dropping out of their future for $15 before taxes per hour, thank you very much.

Seriously, Congress has to change if we want the completely messed up mindset about minimum wage to shift.

So, as always, be critical of economic policy, but take some of these things into consideration when you start hearing old white men argue that corporations (ahem, Walmart!) that make billions of dollars a year can’t afford a few extra bucks a week to keep their workers healthy, under a roof they can afford, and able to focus on the job at hand instead of whether or not they can afford a babysitter to cover tomorrow’s shift at their other job.

1Women and people of color will instantly see bigger paychecks.

Oh, to live in a world where this would be enough to change peoples’ minds. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014, 63 percent of minimum wage workers were women, though they only made up about 47 percent of the entire workforce. Hispanic workers made up just 16 percent of labor force and 21.5 percent of minimum wage workers. It’s the same kind of disproportionate numbers for African Americans, who made up 12 percent of the workforce and 17.7 percent of the minimum wage work force.

We already know that these groups also disproportionately live in poverty, so even if changing the minimum wage is just the first step to closing the gender and race pay gap, it sounds like a good first step, right? This is why the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center are fighting cities and states that are repealing minimum wage increases that were already voted on and enacted. Paying people $7 and change an hour effectively functions as a form of discrimination intended to keep people down.

2It’s a public health issue in the long run.

Study after study shows that poverty is, at the end of the day, a public health issue. A 2014 study in California showed that raising the minimum wage to just $13 could decrease smoking, conditions exacerbated by stress and poor nutrition. Let’s not even get started about having an extra $100 floating around to go to the urgent care clinic when crappy health insurance won’t cover another primary care visit for strep throat.

Edward Ehlinger, MD, State Health Commissioner for Minnesota, is on record saying that raising the Minnesota minimum wage from $6.15 to $9.50 an hour by 2016 was likely “the biggest public health achievement… in the four years I’ve been health commissioner… If you look at the conditions that impact health, income is right at the top of the list… Anything we can do to help enhance economic stability will have a huge public health benefit. This is a major public health issue.”

3It could chip away at the national debt.

Not all people who work minimum wage jobs live in poverty and use benefit programs — for housing, food, health care, whatever — but a lot of them do or are very close to having to. You know all the fighting over the tax bill and the national deficit? We know trickle-down economics doesn’t work, but actually paying people money probably does. Families would have extra money for essentials, like food, rent, doctors appointments, and even after-school college prep courses or other kinds of training that could help break the cycle of poverty by putting people in higher paying jobs eventually. Throwing more money into the workforce is way better than some theory about the wealthy letting their wealth drip down to the people on the bottom.

During Obama’s administration, when people actually did science and thought about economic equality at the very least, the White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) found that an increase to even just $10.10 an hour would raise wages for 28 million Americans and about nine million of those were just due to these kinds of ripple effects. This is the thing: It won’t be an immediate win for everyone, but in the long run, so many people will benefit.

4BTW, companies would be just fine.

This is the tricky thing to do research on, which means we should only do more of it! We don’t have great data about the effects of raising the minimum wage for the first time in almost a decade, factoring in for what a recession and changed economy will actually do.

Ideas about what will happen to the broad economy vary depending on who you talk to. Some companies, like Walmart or Applebees, have found that outsourcing work, getting robots to take orders, and cutting hours is a good way to balance their profits with the livelihood of their workers. Other companies, like Target for example, have started paying their workers more per hour, in a pretty huge win for workers. Chief Executive Brian Cornell told CNBC that was to stay competitive, retain workers, and just generally have better people working for them.

If anything, all of the arguments against raising the minimum wage are coming from people with a vested interest in not raising the minimum wage. And choosing to cut hours, benefits, or automize work is a decision owners and legislators are making by choice. It doesn’t have to be that way. Take notice of how cities and states fair this year with a higher minimum wage, because it’s all about collecting data now to convince Congress that this is an issue that solves so many more problems than a corporation’s bottom line.

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