I’m an employer who pays my workers a living wage– no one in my plant makes less than $15/hr. Normally in our capitalist system, paying higher wages would make my business less competitive, simply because a higher median wage costs more. But one thing that has been lost in this whole minimum wage debate is the value that raising incomes for the working classes brings to our federal, state, and local governments. For example, my workers pay more in taxes than those earning the federal minimum wage, and they also rely on government assistance less than their minimum wage counterparts. The federal government, and other taxpayers, benefit from this. But you know who’s getting the biggest piece of the pie? My competition.
By not paying a fair wage, my competition is able to undercut my prices, and at the expense of taxpayers. This is not only unfair to me as their competitor, but it’s unfair to all of us who pay taxes.
In 2012, 6.7% of full-time workers received food stamps, public housing assistance, or Medicaid. While that might not sound like a lot, that’s almost 8.5 million Americans. In a country as rich as ours, we should not have millions of full-time workers leaning on government assistance. The blame for this rests almost entirely on the shoulders of business owners who can only survive by paying poverty wages.
Opponents of a $15/hr minimum wage point to the fact that only 2.7% of our workforce earns the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr, supposedly making a wage hike inconsequential. However, 41 million workers earn less than $15/hr, which many researchers have found to be a living wage in the majority of the country. Until something changes, 41 million Americans will continue to struggle to make ends meet, all while those at the top become richer and richer. There is no greater example of this than Amazon, where 10% of employees receive food stamps. Jeff Bezos, their CEO, recently became the richest person in modern history with a net worth over $150 billion.
Despite a growing economy and booming corporate profits, American wages still haven’t gone up in recent years. The free market simply isn’t working here.This is where the federal and state governments should step in. The federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr has lost 9.6% of its purchasing power to inflation since it was instituted in 2009, and, when adjusted for inflation, is $1.43 less than it was at its peak in 1968. It is up to politicians to require myself and other employers to pay their workers enough where they don’t need government aid. Otherwise, employers who do the right thing regardless of legislation will be put out of business by those who undercut them with wages that have not kept up with inflation or the cost of living.
While some may argue that this piece is coming from a place of self-preservation, I beg to differ. I can, as it stands now, lower my wages and be just as theoretically competitive as my competition, but I’d rather run a company where my employees don’t have to worry about how they’re going to survive another month, and deep down, my peers feel the same way. All I have to ask when debating this point to other business owners is this: “Can you tell me of it is possible to raise a child, pay for housing, buy groceries– virtually to just live a life– on $7.25 an hour?” The answer is always, “No!” They know the truth, and so do their workers. So why do we let them get away with it?”
We need to hold the Jeff Bezos’s of the world accountable for the substantial number of working poor in our country that their business practices are creating. Any business that can’t afford to pay a living wage should cease to exist. We should no longer allow extremely profitable companies whose owners have multiple luxury cars and take several exotic vacations per year to ask our government to subsidize their employees’ unlivable wages. It is this inequality and greed, and not simply laziness or ineptitude on the part of workers, that is the source of growing class warfare. We need to put a stop to it, and that starts by voting this November.