Thousands of fast-food workers went on one-day strikes in 150 cities last Thursday. Their demand was simple — raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour. These strikes were part of a two-year national movement to raise the minimum wage, and the seventh set of strikes so far.
Yale students, generally speaking, consider themselves Democrats. Sixty-two percent of freshman respondents to the News’ freshman survey said they were either liberal or very liberal. In 2012, 77 percent of Yale students planned on voting for President Obama, according to a survey by the Politic.
Most of these liberally minded students agree that the current minimum wage is too low. But the response of these same students to a $15 minimum wage is often some variation on: “Fifteen? Isn’t that a little too high? That’s a lot of money to be making at McDonald’s!”
This perception, that a $15 per hour salary is somehow too high for a traditionally low-wage job, must be altered.
A worker earning the current federal minimum wage is making around $15,080 a year. Even at a $15 minimum wage, a workers’ annual salary will come out to only around $30,000, ($31,200 with zero vacation time).
On the flip side, the average Yale student’s salary immediately following graduation was almost double that figure, at $59,100 in 2008. And the average mid-career salary of a Yale graduate is $126,000. Even the median American salary of around $51,000 far eclipses $30,000.
American minimum wage has not adjusted for either inflation or productivity. Had it kept up with inflation over the last 40 years, the minimum wage would be around $11 per hour. Even more staggering — if minimum wage had kept up with productivity it would be $21.72, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Unsurprisingly, pay for earners in the top one percent skyrocketed in the same period. If minimum wage had increased at the same rate as pay for the top one percent, it would be at around $33 an hour today.
And if those figures alone aren’t enough to convince you that the minimum wage must be raised, the MIT living wage calculator reveals just how impossible it is to live on today’s minimum wage. The site notes, “A single-mother with two children earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour needs to work 125 hours per week, more hours than there are in a 5-day week, to earn a living wage.”
A common defense of a low minimum wage is that most minimum wage earners are part-time teenagers, coming into work after high school. While this may have been the case in the past, it is no longer accurate. Less than a third of those earning minimum wage are unmarried with no children. Eighty-eight percent are over 20 years old and 36 percent are over 40. Around 44 percent have some college experience.
The fight for an increased minimum wage is also a women’s fight — a disproportionate 56 percent of minimum wage earners are women.
Thinking that $15 per hour is “too high” of a salary for low-wage earners is a result of our society’s acceptance of poverty-level wages for a significant segment of society. These accepted notions need to be challenged, and for that reason the national campaign to raise the minimum wage has been attempting to gain attention for these figures through protests and strikes.
It’s working. Seattle voted to raise its minimum wage to $15 and Massachusetts is raising its minimum wage to $11. Many cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago, are currently contemplating significant raises to their minimum wages. President Obama raised the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 in January, and has advocated for a higher minimum wage all-around.
As students at Yale, we are privileged enough to earn around $60,000 on average when we graduate. But we need to start recognizing how the rest of the country lives and just how low the current minimum wage is. fifteen dollars per hour isn’t too high.