Minimum Wage Does Not Equal Living Wage

I get frustrated when someone claims that people earning minimum wage should be paid a “living wage” and that minimum wage was designed for folks to get by on. I may be wrong, but to my knowledge minimum wage was only established to serve as a “wage floor,” reduce poverty and ensure economic growth is shared across the workforce. But before I dig any deeper, let’s pause and take a look at history.

Supposedly medieval England was the first to adopt a sort of minimum wage, one which was fixed to the price of food through a set of ordinances originally created to enforce a maximum wage. But we don’t live in medieval England, it’s the 21st century and I’m writing this from Atlanta, Georgia. So let’s look at the history of the US minimum wage.

On Saturday, June 25, 1938, President Roosevelt signed 121 bills, and among them was the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. This act banished oppressive child labor, set the maximum workweek for non-exempt employees at 44 hours per week, and set the federal minimum wage at $0.25 per hour (about $4.25 in today’s dollars). Today, we can define minimum wage as the lowest wage that an employee can pay its employers. States can set higher minimum wages than the federal minimum wage, but the federal minimum wage is currently set at $7.25, and has been at that amount since July 24, 2009.

Someone working full-time at the federal minimum wage makes about $15,000 per year. This is clearly below the poverty line (and I’m not here to argue that). I acknowledge that $15,000 per year in today’s dollars is essentially nothing. But why would someone settle with a job paying minimum wage? If you can speak English (or any language for that matter), read and write, you should be able to pick up a job paying well over $7.25 per hour.

Nobody is forcing you to work a minimum wage job. The only thing stopping you from getting paid more is yourself. You can’t blame the employer, and you can’t blame the government. Jobs paying minimum wage are bottom-of-the-barrel jobs meant for people in the earliest stages of their career, or for those that need some extra income. It’s not designed to be a wage you can live on and drive a brand new car, or send your kids to college, or raise a family as a single mother or father. And is there a problem with that? Absolutely not.

I realize thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people work for minimum wage and are not middle class kids trying to make some extra cash in high school or college. Our society wouldn’t be able to operate if all of the hardworking minimum wage earners quit their jobs. But the moral of the minimum wage story should always be “GET OUT THEIR AND FIND A BETTER JOB.” Not, “Give me more money because I deserve it.” No, you don’t. Stop complaining, especially if you live in a capitalist economy such as the United States. If you prefer a socialist economy, head to North Korea. But if you think it’s your right to live a comfortable life on minimum wage, you’re wrong. If you can’t find a job in your area that pays a reasonable wage, it’s up to you to make up the difference.

People are paid according to the value they provide to a business. If you operate the fry machine at your local McDonald’s, you’re very invaluable to the company and are easily replaceable. Businesses pay more for skilled labor, because it’s harder to find, and more difficult to replace. A CEO is paid millions of dollars because their decisions directly impact a company bringing in much more than that CEO’s salary in revenue. You’re paid what you are worth. It’s as simple as that.

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