February 3, 2014

Are ‘Bottom-Level Workers’ Undeserving of a Minimum Wage Increase?

waitress making coffee at coffee machineGive America a raise. This was undeniably one of the most memorable (and talked about) lines in President Obama’s State of the Union speech Jan. 28, 2014.

And that’s more than likely because of what the President said his actions will be soon afterward. To get the ball rolling, Obama plans to sign an executive order increasing minimum wage from the current $7.25/hr. to $10.10/hr. Although his order would only pertain to federally contracted employees (and wouldn’t take place until 2015), the analysts say the President hopes this executive decision will prompt congress to follow suit by raising minimum wage nationwide.

Of course this decision has sparked a wildfire of debate. Some say it’s a political move. For example, Jason Zengerle of “Politico Magazine” writes:

But, conspiracy theorists notwithstanding, Barack Obama’s sudden embrace of a minimum wage boost is very likely a shrewd political move. To start, it has the potential to make life difficult for Republican politicians, who will have to decide whether to oppose a minimum wage hike, angering the 64 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans who according to a recent poll support it, or get behind it themselves and anger their backers in the business community who overwhelmingly oppose it.

Others says raising the minimum wage will ultimately hurt workers because companies won’t be able to (or desire to) hire more workers at minimum $10.10/hr. Jenny Erickson of  Cafemom.com’s “The Stir” explains, “Anyway, that’s a terrible, horrible, rotten, no good, very bad idea…. But you know what’s worse than making $7.25 an hour? Making nothing. What exactly do you think will happen when employers can’t afford to keep around their low-level workers? They’ll let them go, that’s what.”

And still others question the point of this proposed increase when, currently, it’s only designed to affect a small group of workers, which CNN Money reports is fewer than 500,000 people.

It comes as no surprise that President Obama’s speech and decision have ruffled a few feathers and ignited conversations. But, one thing I’ve noticed from writers’ and commenters’ opinions is about the “value” and “worth” our society places on certain jobs and professions, especially when it comes to salary.

Of course we all know that the system is setup where the higher the education level, the more earnings potential (although this isn’t always the case). We’ve all heard the statistic that college grads earn more over their lifetime than those with high school diplomas (although I know a few successful people who have defied those odds), but from what I’ve read in these debates and discussions, it seems as though people believe those who earn minimum wage deserve this barely livable amount of money.


Look at this commenter’s, TruthHurts08, reply to an article as an example:

As a Teacher in NC and a Fast Food Employee, I am not for this increase. If your only desire is to work in fast food for the rest of your life, then 7.25 is what you deserve. As a teacher, where is my pay increase? I went to college…i worked hard. Why does a McDonalds employee deserve more? It shows that we are moving backwards more and more everyday. How am I supposed to encourage young adults to strive to be more and better if they continue to see how complaining (about a life YOU picked and didn’t go to school to make better) is a better pay off than setting higher standards for themselves….take that china.

And Erickson’s thoughts a little later in her post also run along these lines. She writes:

Work is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Most everybody starts at the bottom. If you don’t want to make $7.25 for the rest of your life, then figure out how to get promoted. Take classes, acquire new skills, do the best darn job you can at what you do, and ask for more responsibility.

Why do fast food, grocery store or any type of food, service and/or retail-industry worker deserve to be paid well below the poverty line? The commenter asked, “Why does a McDonald’s employee deserve more?” Maybe because he or she is still a worker who gets up, goes to work for 8-10 hours every day just like everyone else. He or she helps provide a service that’s a part of a billion dollar franchise depended upon by billions.

He said he went to college; he worked hard. So, a fast-food worker or grocery clerk did not “work hard” because he or she doesn’t have a college degree? And honestly, that’s an assumption because a great deal of these workers, especially recent graduates, have degrees.

How would the commenter feel if people said the same things about teachers? Why does  a teacher deserve to be paid X amount like someone who works in Corporate America—someone who worked hard enough in college to “rise above” teaching status?

Do you see what I mean? The issue of how raising minimum wage will affect workers and the economy is one thing, but to say that because people work in a certain type of industry they are less deserving and aren’t hard working is out of line. ALL TYPES of people with a variety of backgrounds and education levels work in the food and hospitality industries, and like any American, they deserve to be fairly compensated. No one is saying all workers should make one million dollars and be equal, but I do believe each person, regardless of if they start at the supposed “bottom of the totem pole” deserve to earn “living wages.”

Do you understand that a full-time worker earning $7.25/hr isn’t even bringing home $15/k annually—and that’s before taxes. I’ve worked in a grocery store, at a fast-food restaurant and for a retailer. Earning that type of wage makes the word “minimum” apply not only to a paycheck, but all areas of life.

Read more in Salary

Marks’ stories have also been published in a variety of newspaper, magazine and online formats including The Arizona Republic, The Daily Herald, Arizona Foothills Magazine and various classroom magazines of Scholastic Inc. Service is her passion, writing is her platform and uplifting and inspiring the community is her purpose. Marks received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.
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