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Editorial: Fixing minimum wage will continue to prove difficult

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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The discussion over minimum wage — in all its complexity — has grown more prominent in the United States, and as the dollar continues to lose its power and President Barack Obama continues to rally through social media, it will probably continue to captivate the country and pull voters left or right. It seems that any change, or lack of change, would result in a win-lose situation, that there is no mutually beneficial solution, that it will remain an empty — albeit exciting — talking point for politicians. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board acknowledges the complexity and difficulty of the situation, and while we refuse to assume there is a simple solution, we wish to acknowledge the growing difficulty of living with the financial opportunities offered by the current federal minimum wage.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s website features a calculator that can be used to determine how much individuals in different situations must earn to appropriately support their families. Based on a list of typical living expenses including housing, food, transportation, childcare, and medical care, the tool allows you to select your state and county to view a list of livable wages depending on number of adults and children in a family.

In Johnson County, according to the website, the number for a single, childless adult is calculated at $8.57 per hour. The number for a single parent supporting one child skyrockets to $19.53. The site even lists the average hourly wage in different professions and how they compare with the requirements of an adult raising a single dependent.

All of the living wage numbers are significantly higher than Iowa’s minimum wage, though the minimum wage is above the poverty line for single adults who are childless or have a single child. Regardless of how the problem is fixed, basic human empathy, even a minimal amount, shows that something needs to change.

Several times in the last eight months, the Swiss have voted against different proposals regarding pay for their country’s CEOS — a proposed salary cap at 12 times the wage of their lowest paid workers — and a dramatic raise of their national minimum wage (a hike to 22 francs, not quite $25 per hour). These measures, both denied by large majorities of voters, seem especially dramatic when you consider that nine in 10 workers with full-time schedules already earn above Switzerland’s minimum, according to an online Bloomberg report.

Such a huge increase would make for big problems in the United States, especially for those trying to start or operate small businesses. Still, not raising the minimum wage would, seemingly, make surviving more and more difficult for those who work at or close to $7.25. States with higher minimum wages such as Washington and Oregon seem to be doing fine, but more time is needed to see how higher wages will affect businesses and employment.

Another option to help support mildly comfortable living conditions for workers would be to maintain or increase government benefits for those struggling to make ends meet. But such action draws criticism and is publicly stigmatized, with those against federal benefits citing the federal debt and potentially higher taxes, which — again — creates a win-lose situation for some Americans. Still, with European countries reporting higher levels of happiness — in part because of such things as affordable education and free medical care — along with higher tax rates, it’s interesting that the United States differs so drastically.

Most simplified, our options seem to be raising minimum wage or increasing federal benefits, both of which have their pros and cons. There obviously isn’t an easy fix, and the two aforementioned options are way too black and white to be real solutions, but something has to be done to improve the livelihood of Americans working wage jobs.


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