With the way some talk has been going lately, it seems the Great Recession has offered up an excuse to promote the short-sighted mentality of “any job is better than no job”. Politicians and pundits alike claim that this is what Americans are thinking right now and as a result, how public policies should respond (Exhibit A: business incentives to create low-wage jobs).
Except that a new poll released today by the National Employment Law Project shows that Americans overwhelmingly want to support jobs that pay decent wages. Sixty seven percent of them support gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.00 an hour, and automatically adjusting or “indexing” it each year so that it keeps pace with the cost of living.
The federal minimum wage now stands at $7.25, which works out to an annual salary of $15,000 per year. As a reminder, the official federal poverty guideline for a 3-person family is $18,310 per year so it’s not a stretch to say that today’s minimum wage is literally a poverty wage.
That’s not to mention the fact that the minimum wage has significantly eroded over time and hasn’t kept up with inflation, or in other words, what it actually takes to get by, put food on the table, and put gas in the car. Today’s minimum wage would be over $10.00 per hour if it kept pace with the cost of living over the past forty years.
Finally, we should remember, particularly in the today’s economic context, that increasing the minimum wage spurs economic activity. It makes sense—you get a slightly larger paycheck and where do you spend it? In your local economy. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that last year’s 70 cent increase in the minimum wage generated $5.5 billion in economic spending.
Want to aid struggling workers who’ve patched together part-time jobs to keep afloat in this recession and spur the economy at the same time? It doesn’t always take a new flashy idea. An adequate minimum wage will do it too.