Even $15 An Hour Isn't A Living Wage Anymore In The United States
Last night, during the presidential debate, moderator Kristen Welker asked Joe Biden and Donald Trump whether or not they would support an increase of the minimum wage. Given that this is, at present, the longest we have ever gone without raising the federal minimum wage, it's a pretty important question.
Trump, unsurprisingly, had no interest in raising the minimum wage, claiming that it would hurt businesses and should be left to the states. It already is left to the states for the most part, but the federal minimum wage is meant to be a floor. States can go higher, but they can't go lower.
Biden said that he supported increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, because "anything below that puts you below the poverty level."
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It's true. That is, in fact, the reason people have been advocating for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 since about 2012. Because we think a minimum wage job should be the minimum a person needs to live on.
However! It's been eight years since 2012, and inflation has happened. What would have cost $15 in 2012 now costs $17. Last year, in 2019, the MIT Living Wage calculator site pinned the minimum living wage at $16.54 per hour.
The living wage in the United States is $16.54 per hour, or $68,808 per year, in 2019, before taxes for a family of four (two working adults, two children), compared to $16.14 in 2018.
Trump tried to claim that different states have different needs. But guess what? Even in Mississippi, the least expensive place to live in the country, the "living wage" for a single person is $10.24 an hour. Add in a child, it goes up to $21.14. Heck, even with two adults, both working and no children? They would need $8.86 an hour to be okay, and that's still, obviously, a bit more than $7.25. There is literally nowhere a person can live in the United States making $7.25 an hour.
This is all to say — there is no reason for the right to balk at $15 an hour when it's not even all that much anymore. When it's not even enough for a single parent in Mississippi to live on. They should be glad, frankly, that we're not demanding more.
Trump's response to the question also involved the traditional "but what about the small businesses!" gambit.
How are you helping your small businesses when you're forcing wages? What's going to happen and what's been proven to happen is when you do that these small businesses fire many of their employees.
It might have sounded good, delivered confidently by a person who uncharacteristically sounded informed on a topic. "Oh, yes, that guy's a businessman," people might have thought as they listened. But in fact, no. Increasing the minimum wage does not cost jobs. Over and over again, people who look at actual numbers and statistics instead of just what they feel must be true, have found that!
Generally speaking, the kind of people who would fire employees over a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour are not the kind of people to go around hiring more people than they need. I worked in small business retail for years and every store I ever worked in was chronically "understaffed." Not one more person was ever hired than needed (and usually there were fewer people than needed), which meant that taking sick days and vacation days was pretty much out of the question.
So no, they won't have to fire anyone, because in most cases, getting rid of one employee would be the difference between having a business and not having a business. And frankly, if you can't pay your employees, I'm not certain you should have a business that involves employing people. You might want to consider going another way.
Additionally, when people have money, they spend money. And when people spend money, other people make money. People not being paid fairly is, in fact, bad for business. Duh.
42 percent of Americans make under $15 an hour. That is ridiculous. It is ridiculous for almost half the country to not be able to afford to live, not afford to be able to have a family if they want, particularly while we also have so many disgustingly rich people out there profiting off of their labor.
If we learned one thing during the pandemic, particularly at the beginning — the jobs that are most necessary to our very survival are the jobs that often pay the least. That's not okay.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse