Last week, WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.00 an hour in 2015 and to $8.75 in 2016.
Opponents of the new law have had multiple complaints:
Teenagers working part-time jobs will be making more money than they really need;
The amount employers will be forced to pay for overtime will increase significantly;
When minimum wage increases, everyone else’s income is worth a little less.
I’m not an economist nor am I a labor expert, so I really can’t disagree with any of these statements.
What I can do is provide a little bit of perspective.
Currently, a full-time minimum-wage employee making $7.25 earns $15,080 annually.
The poverty threshold in the United States for a single person is $11,670 annually. According to that, a person making minimum wage is rolling in the dough since he/she makes $3,410, or nearly 23%, above poverty guidelines. Never mind that this threshold is so low that most social service agencies use guidelines such as 138% or 150% of the poverty level to determine eligibility for services and emergency assistance.
Who couldn’t afford housing, utilities, transportation, groceries, medical bills and clothing with all that extra money? Granted, if there are two people in the household, the poverty guidelines increase to $15,730 a year. That means both people would have to work to keep the family above the poverty line, and one would only have to work part time at minimum wage to do so. Of course, if that household is comprised of one adult and one child, living above the poverty line becomes a bit more tricky.
In my job, I encounter people trying to navigate that tricky situation every day when they are seeking help keeping the electricity on or paying their rent.
But here’s something you may not realize: you probably encounter them every day too.
They are the people providing services for you behind cash registers and brooms. They are the people caring for your children and you parents. And they are the people who are working long hours for the lowest legal pay and are still often called lazy when they can’t pay their bills.
During the recent debate over the minimum wage in West Virginia, I was reading arguments for and against the increase, and one exchange struck me more than any other.
An individual in favor of the increase stated that he was working two jobs to support his family and that the increase would help.
In response, someone else stated that this person wouldn’t have to work two jobs if he had gotten an education.
As a very educated person, I can personally attest to the fact that an education is not a ticket to a good salary. But even if I hadn’t had to personally struggle with low-paying jobs, I’ve still had many advantages.
I was blessed with a childhood during which my parents cared about my brain development and supported me in school. I was blessed by people who encouraged me when I pursued a higher education. And I’ve been blessed with circumstances that didn’t require me to support others when I was getting that education.
Not everyone has the opportunity or the aptitude to get an education. And even if they did, there would never be enough decent-paying jobs to support everyone who meets the educational requirements.
Besides, many of us depend on people who are willing to work for minimum wage to do the tasks that make our lives easier.
Instead of condemning them, we should thank them.
And a slight increase in their pay is just a start.