Raising minimum wage is good for all

Nathan Burchard

On April 15 workers in 236 U.S. cities went on strike to promote raising the national minimum wage to $15 per hour.  

The strike was organized by the #FightFor15 movement, which is made up in large part by fast food workers and other minimum wage earners.  

Support for the movement, and for raising the minimum wage in general, has grown significantly since the global financial crisis of 2008. 

Even in the Texas Legislature, last month a bill was proposed to raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The economy as a whole has recovered as the stock market hits record highs, but wealth has yet to trickle down in the form of increased wages.  

In fact, real wages have fallen since the 1970s while the infamous top 1 percent and 0.1 percent control an increasingly greater share of the wealth. The current levels of inequality have not been seen since the Gilded Age more than a century ago. Meanwhile, worker productivity has doubled since the mid-20th century.  

Raising the minimum wage would have a significant impact on college students as well. Many students hold low-wage jobs. Working a part-time job for $8 an hour, 20 hours a week, brings in about $8,000 a year. Less than a year of tuition at UT.  

At $15 an hour we could take out less student loans and enter the workforce without so many years of debt ahead of us. At $15 an hour a family of three could live above the poverty line.   

As President Barack Obama said in his 2013 State of the Union Address, “In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.” 

We should live up to the American notion that with hard work anyone can make a better life for themselves. With a higher minimum wage, poor Americans would be less dependent on food stamps or other social programs.  

A prevailing stereotype of welfare recipients mischaracterizes poor Americans. Certain media outlets would have you believe that impoverished people do nothing but collect a government check. A large majority of Americans living in poverty are employed, working low-wage jobs. Poor Americans don’t feel entitled to handouts, they feel entitled to earn a living wage for their hard work.  

Many criticize poor low-wage workers for relying on government assistance programs, but corporations are making taxpayers foot the bill. The minimum wage has not kept up with inflation or productivity, and the government has borne the cost to keep people above the poverty line while corporate profits have soared. It is the responsibility of the corporations to pay a socially acceptable wage. Working full-time while living in poverty is wage slavery.  

From our perspective as college students, the #FightFor15 cause may seem irrelevant. With bachelor’s degrees, most of us don’t plan to work for minimum wage for the rest of our lives. But raising the minimum wage would push professional wages higher too. In order to keep quality employees and preserve wage structure, employers will have to raise wages for the middle class to remain competitive.  

As demands have grown for raising the minimum wage, some conservative policymakers have claimed that raising the minimum wage would increase unemployment and raise prices. However, spreading out minimum wage increases gradually over the next few years would reduce the shock to employers while bringing millions of low-wage workers out of poverty. 

Raising the minimum wage would allow millions of Americans to work their way out of poverty. Raising the minimum wage provides workers and young people with opportunity for success instead of subsidizing the cost of labor. Raising the minimum wage would benefit the 99 percent of Americans who were hit hardest by the recession and have yet to feel the effects of the recovery.

Burchard is a Plan II and international relations and global studies senior from Houston. Follow Burchard on Twitter @nathburch.