Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
The present $7.25 federal minimum wage is a national disgrace.
President Obama is pushing for an increase to a $9 minimum wage, but we need to do even better than that. An employee working full time at $9 an hour would still barely eke out a living above federal poverty guidelines.
The value of the minimum wage has been falling over the last few decades. For instance, if the minimum wage in 1968 were adjusted for inflation, it would be at $10.50 today.
Opponents of raising the minimum wage use the same fear-mongering arguments they have spread since the minimum wage was passed into law in 1938. The foremost argument is that small businesses will have to cut costs by hiring fewer workers, and mom and pop businesses may be driven into bankruptcy.
But recent research shows that job loss is not a serious issue. When cities and towns have increased their minimum wage, it has resulted in greater productivity and diminished turnover. As a result, many companies actually do better.
Another objection to the minimum wage is the claim that it affects mostly high school kids. This is untrue by a long shot. Approximately 70 percent of the workers who benefited from the last minimum wage increase were 20 or older. The minimum wage today is the real take-home pay of Americans who work full time and have children to take care of.
Raising the minimum wage would boost the overall economy, since the workers would immediately spend the additional earnings. They have pent-up demand for all sorts of products they can't afford right now.
The most egregious exploiters of a $7.25 minimum wage are huge corporations such as Walmart and McDonald's which, despite reaping enormous profits, continue to pay employees at or only slightly above minimum wages. But Walmart and McDonald's should not be allowed to set the floor on wages. We should do that ourselves, as citizens, through our elected representatives.
Ralph Nader, the eminent consumer advocate, has campaigning for a $10 an hour minimum wage. Craig Jelinek, CEO of the major big box retailer, Costco, has joined the fight on his side, too. Costco isn't hurting, even though Jelinek pays his workers a starting wage of $11.50 an hour.
For moral and economic reasons, we need to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour.
The payback will be ours.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet and journalist in Santa Fe, N.M. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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