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Raising the minimum wage

July 11, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Here's another tidbit from NPR that I thought was interesting.

A couple of days ago the radio network did a story on whether the federal minimum wage should be raised to $9.88 an hour. One woman interviewed for the story is a 50-year-old woman in Chicago who earns minimum wage pushing disabled people in wheelchairs from one airport gate to another. She pays $850 a month for an apartment for herself and her four children in a bad neighborhood. She worries every morning that one of her kids might be shot on the way to school. It's that sort of neighborhood, but she can't afford any better.

They can't pay the full rent so the kids keep the lawn trimmed and other repairs made in exchange for a break. Raising the minimum wage by even $1 an hour would mean she could buy new things occasionally instead of clothing the kids from thrift stores. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who introduced the bill, said the research shows that boosting the minimum wage actually helps the economy overall because people have more money to spend.

Business owners quoted in the article oppose an increase because they say it raises wages and benefits across the board and might mean they wouldn't be able to hire as many people.

As one employer argued, businesses aren't social welfare agencies and he doesn't think there should be any minimum wage at all. He'd like to be able to hire people for $2 or $3 or $4 an hour, let them gain experience and then they'd find better jobs.

That's an interesting idea, though I don't know how those people would survive while working for slave labor wages to gain enough experience to earn better money. Undoubtedly someone would have to pay the rest of their support, whether it's the federal government, locally supported charities or, for those lucky enough to have family members, the rest of the family. One way or another, someone is going to pay if the employer doesn't pay a living wage.

And despite the employer's optimism, there are some people who are never going to be good enough at what they do to warrant a better job. Low intelligence, poor social skills, mental illness or some other difficulty probably are permanent handicaps of some of the people in the job market. How do those people survive if they can't compete with other workers?

I don't know that the minimum wage is of anything but academic interest in North Dakota right now. Employers have had to pay more than minimum wage to get workers and even that isn't enough to attract enough employees, as many can't afford to pay the high rents and high food prices on those salaries, even those that are higher than the minimum. But for the woman in Chicago it might make a huge difference.

Harkin doesn't expect his bill is likely to go anywhere this time around but he's interested in starting a discussion. I think his point of view is worth hearing more about.


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