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Editorial: Continue minimum wage conversation

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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Thousands of minimum-wage workers in more than 200 cities took to the streets this week to protest unfair pay and to support their rights as workers. In larger cities, such as Boston and Chicago, they advocated that their state governments raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as opposed to the current $8 and $8.25, respectively.

Locally, the state of Iowa has a minimum wage even lower, at $7.25 per hour. There needs to be a conversation among state lawmakers addressing this, weighing out the pros and cons of raising the minimum wage.

The economic effect of doubling the minimum wage in Iowa would include some negative consequences. Because wage is a variable cost rather than a fixed one, businesses would react to the pay raise by firing employees or reducing the hours that they work. While those who could work would benefit, many others looking for full-time work could be shut out.

Also, the number of people who make the federal minimum wage is very low. According to Pew Research Center, only 1.532 million people in America make the minimum wage (1.8 million make less than the federal minimum wage, the center reports). That represents 4.3 percent percent of the 75.9 million U.S. hourly paid workers. The study did not take into account workers in the 23 states, plus Washington, D.C., whose minimum wage is higher than the federal level.  

That is not to say those people who fall into that percentage don’t deserve to be paid more. In general, Americans support a minimum-wage hike. A Pew Research Center study of how Americans feel about increasing the wage showed that they were overwhelmingly in favor of raising the minimum wage — more than 73 percent of those surveyed were in favor of a pay raise to $10.10.

Looking at it from a humanistic view, it is apparent that people just cannot live and support a family on $7.25 an hour. Not even people who try to support only themselves individually can make ends meet.

State lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, tried to do this themselves in the “Minimum Wage Challenge,” in which they attempted to live on a minimum-wage weekly allowance.

It is this eye-opening reality that lawmakers personally need to understand to be able to comprehend and empathize with the situation of those dealing with minimum wage.

Minimum wage simply has not adjusted to inflation. Previous minimum wages were of a stronger degree in accordance to the value of the dollar at the time. The National Employment Law Project Analysis of Consumer Price Index shows that $7.25 an hour in 2014 pales in comparison with what the value of the minimum wage was in 1968, when after adjusting to inflation, would be around $10.90 today.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that a minimum wage increase is necessary. Although, increasing it to $15 an hour could be troublesome, a raise to $10.10 would be fair and justified. The minimum wage increase is something that majority of Americans want, and it is something that minimum-wage earners desperately need.


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