The Fight for $15 movement has gained traction nationwide by pushing to increase the minimum wage (which is currently federally mandated at $7.25 per hour) to $15. Rhode Islanders as a whole are struggling to support themselves, but it especially difficult for the 78,000 workers (around 15.8% of the state’s workforce) who are currently making the state minimum of $9.60 per hour. Per week (if they work forty hours), a minimum wage worker would earn $384. Per year, they would earn $19,968, below the annual amount of pre-taxation earnings of $25,751 that a single adult in Rhode Island needs to cover their basic needs. For families with children, be it two-parent or single-parent, these numbers only increase. A bill has been introduced in both the RI Senate and House by Senator Jeanine Calkin (D-Warwick) and Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (D-Providence) that would increase the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2023, and adjust it for inflation. So why should it pass?
Even working full-time, Rhode Islanders who earn the minimum wage do not earn enough to support themselves and cover their basic needs. Many minimum wage workers, especially those with children, are forced to receive government assistance in order to make ends meet. If the minimum wage was raised, there wouldn’t be as many people needing to receive government assistance, meaning that the government wouldn’t need to spend as much on welfare programs. Also, due to the increase in payroll and income tax revenue that would come with raising the minimum wage, according to James K. Galbraith, PhD (a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin), the federal deficit will, in turn, decrease. Increasing the federal minimum wage to a mere $10.10 per hour would save the government around $7.6 billion per year on welfare programs, including food stamps. That miniscule increase would also lift around 900,000 people out of poverty, according to a Congressional Budget Office report from 2014. If an increase as small as this would have such incredibly positive benefits on the economy, why not raise it to $15, and allow the government to fully reap the benefits of every American earning a living wage?
When people have money, they tend to spend it. Rhode Island’s comparatively high but realistically low minimum wage barely allows people to afford to make basic ends meet, let alone spend money on extra things that they may want. Having enough money to make ends meet and have some leftover to save or spend will not only improve the overall mood, but it would also increase consumerism, therefore increasing the revenue earned by businesses, allowing them to quickly make up for the increase in spending to afford the higher minimum wage and to increase their profits. When businesses boom, the economy booms, and when the economy booms, so do businesses, and it keeps going around and around. But businesses cannot be successful without consumers, and they’re missing out on a huge potential customer demographic in minimum wage workers. Again, even an increase to $10.10 would add over $22 billion to the economy over three years’ time, and would also add about 85,000 jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute. An increase to $15 would, therefore, have an even greater impact on the economy.
And, contrary to popular belief, minimum wage jobs are no longer just for angsty teenagers looking for their first job so that they can buy a car. There are an increasing number of adults who have to work minimum wage jobs because they are simply the only jobs that are available. A college degree doesn’t provide what it used to, and while the average salary for college graduates is higher than that of someone who doesn’t have a degree, that only rings true if the graduate is using their degree. Most minimum wage jobs do not require a degree, and therefore they don’t pay for one. Someone with a degree earning a starting salary in their field could cover the cost of living for themselves and possibly even their whole family without much difficulty, but in today’s economy it has become more and more difficult to find any job, let alone a job in a specific field. Not only that, but college is not an option for everybody. It’s incredibly expensive and takes up time that many people simply do not have. Minimum wage jobs at the moment do not provide what people need to support themselves and their families because they are ‘not supposed to’ do that. But, whether they are supposed to or not, they are. The cost of living has increased, and the expenses of those who make the minimum wage have as well. The salaries need to catch up with the times and provide workers with a living wage–you know, what a job is supposed to provide for a person.
Most of the arguments both for and against raising the minimum wage to $15 have to do with the economic outcomes of doing so. But while it is certainly important–vital, in fact–to consider the economics of such a drastic increase to the minimum wage, we also have to consider how it will affect the many workers who earn it. It is absolutely criminal that, in what is widely considered to be the wealthiest country in the world, that someone working full-time earning the minimum wage cannot afford to support themselves. Parents who earn the minimum wage struggle to support their children, with many falling below the poverty line. People in this country shouldn’t have to choose between paying their rent and buying food or medicine, which is unfortunately often the case with those who earn the minimum wage. We cannot allow this to happen anymore. It’s time for a living wage for all workers, whether they flip burgers or run an office. It’s time for a better economy and a people who can support themselves with a full-time job. It’s time to fight for $15.