It’s time for a raise
On the other hand, there are real reasons to raise the minimum wage. One is that minimum wage workers have been falling behind for a long time; if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since 1968, it would now be $10 an hour. Another argument in favor is that we all foot the bill—for programs like Medicaid, housing assistance and food stamps—when workers earn too little to get themselves out of poverty. Because the federal minimum wage establishes a floor for all wages, even a modest raise would help lift the incomes of other low-paid workers. (In the U.S., one out of every four wage earners works for less than $10 an hour.) Consider, too, that higher wages lift consumer spending power, which ripples through the wider economy. Finally, there is the argument that these workers—cashiers and clerks, nursing assistants and lab technicians, truck drivers and waiters who provide needed services and a social good—deserve the dignity of a decent wage that will provide a minimum standard of living.
We find the reasons to increase the minimum wage both persuasive and fair. In the face of constantly rising prices for food, energy and other everyday goods, the time has come to raise the minimum wage to help the working poor so they do not continue to lose ground. The current minimum wage is a poverty wage, and in the richest economy in the world, condemning workers to poverty wages should not be acceptable. A modest raise—a mere $1.75 an hour—does not pose an unacceptable risk to the wider economy; after all, we are not talking about in increase to $15 or $20 an hour.
Finally, however, a raise to $9 an hour is only the first step that should be taken. The next step should be to start a real conversation about institutionalizing the idea of a “living wage”—whether tying it to the inflation rate, the Consumer Price Index, to federal poverty guidelines, or some other benchmark—the time has come to do what is just and right for hard-working wage earners in a free, open and prosperous society.