Raising the minimum wage has been a hotly debated topic ever since the Federal Minimum Wage was introduced in 1938. Labor activists and liberals have actively pushed for a higher minimum wage, claiming that the minimum wage must also serve as an adequate living wage for all workers. The current minimum wage rate, they claim, is much too low to serve as a living wage in today's economy. Economic conservatives and others counter this argument with the claim that raising the Minimum Wage hurts employers and is actually detrimental to the economy as a whole. Both sides have extremely well-supported arguments backed up by a plethora of studies and statistics, and the debate continues hotly today in the legislature and around the dinner table alike.
Those lobbying for a higher minimum wage focus on the fact that federal minimum wage, as it is now, is an insufficient living wage for workers. The average minimum wage earner takes home only $15,080 a year (before taxes) working 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week. By current standards, this is barely enough for a single person to to live frugally in a cheap suburban area. $15,000 a year, claim supporters, is insufficient to support more then one person, and certainly not a family - yet 21% of minimum wage workers are the sole breadwinners of their families. Any family of three or more living on a single minimum wage salary is automatically well under the official United States poverty line. Advocates call for the Minimum Wage to be raised to a level that would allow a single provider to keep his/her family above the poverty line on a minimum wage salary - thus creating a sufficient "living wage".
Adversaries of raising the minimum wage argue that mandating a higher minimum wage may help individual workers, it would be damaging to the economy as a whole. A minimum wage hike, they claim, would put too much financial pressure on already struggling businesses. This pressure on employers would force them to spend less on American goods and services, and even force them to lay off existing workers. This would especially apply to young or inexperienced workers that the businesses cannot afford to continue paying at the newly raised minimum wage rate. The damage caused by a minimum wage hike, they claim, would far offset any economic benefits created by giving minimum wage workers a small amount of extra spending power.
Both of these groups present good arguments, so what is the best solution to the minimum wage debate? One solution would be to raise minimum wage to an acceptable higher level for "adult" workers, while retaining exceptions to allow businesses to hire teenagers, students, and temporary or seasonal work at a lower minimum wage rate. This would protect the true victims of a low minimum wage, families attempting to survive on a single minimum wage salary, while protecting the jobs of traditional "minimum wage" workers by allowing businesses to continue hiring them at previous rates. Even this solution has its flaws, however - employers might use this wage disparity as an incentive to hire more young workers at lower rates, leaving older workers jobless. This solution and others are being debated by our politicians every day, and you can make your voice heard - send your feedback or suggestions to your state senator or representative at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.