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Editorial: Raise the minimum wage for economic mobility

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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Minimum wage has been at the forefront of heated conversations about classism and wealth inequality for ages. In recent years, the public eye has been drawn to the fact that the top 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans hold 40 percent of the entire nation’s wealth. This was what the Occupy Wall Street movement used as its platform beginning on Sept. 17, 2011, and it’s still true now three years later. Increasing minimum wages around the nation may not change this proportion too much, but it will nonetheless help make the minimum wage a livable one and allow greater economic mobility in the United States.

Currently in Iowa, under the Iowa minimum wage law, employers are required to pay employees $7.25 per hour. Though, for the first 90 calendar days of employment, an employer may pay employees $6.35 per hour. And an employer must only comply with this law if the business grosses $300,000 or more annually.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, recently joined other state lawmakers in taking the “Raise the Wage Challenge,” also known as the “Minimum Wage Challenge.” This challenge asks politicians to adopt a budget of $77 per week — the income of a single person working a full-time at a minimum wage job minus average taxes and housing expenses. On his seventh day, Bolkcom failed. “I did not have to worry about feeding two or three kids on my budget,” he said. “I did not have to worry about getting kids to school or daycare. There were no unexpected bills for car repairs or medical bills. No worries about rent or utility bills. I had enough food from my trip to the grocery store, but my travel to Des Moines for a meeting broke the budget.”

When someone cannot feasibly operate within the expected parameters of their lives on a minimum wage, how could socioeconomic fluidity possibly exist? Those at the bottom of the ladder can only improve their fiscal situations by a combination of gruelingly hard work and sheer luck. Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, as President Obama has proposed, would certainly help workers maintain an economic foothold and keep up with expanding inflationary rates.

Iowa’s current minimum wage of $7.25 is simply not enough for a single person to live on, let alone someone who must provide for a family. At the very least, minimum wage should reflect the rising costs of food and necessities. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes a decent minimum wage increase is necessary, though the finer points of macroeconomics must obviously be taken into account. A wage increase of any significant amount must be distributed over a period of time to avoid destabilizing the economy.

With wealth inequality in the United States starting to near its historical peaks, action must be taken at either the state or federal level to stop our current trajectory. Raising the minimum wage, something that nearly 1.5 million Americans currently make, is one small step in the larger context of redefining the distribution of wealth to fit a more appropriate curve.


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