There is a grass-roots movement afoot to increase the minimum wage to something close to a living wage. While some politicians have taken very small steps, most politicians have not done enough to increase the minimum wage, although 29 states and many smaller government entities have increased their minimum beyond the $7.25 federal minimum.
According to the Pew Research web site, "While the idea of raising the minimum wage is broadly popular, a Pew Research Center survey from January 2014 found clear partisan differences in support. Overall, 73 percent of people favored an increase in the federal minimum to $10.10 an hour, mirroring a Democratic-backed proposal that failed to move ahead in Congress last year. But while large majorities of Democrats (90 percent) and independents (71 percent) said they favored such an increase, Republicans were more evenly split (53 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed)."
Raising the minimum wage has always been a hot political issue. The reason that it has not gained enough traction over the years is because the business community interests have always taken precedence over the interests of the working poor. It's about who votes and who contributes to campaigns.
That's why a grass-roots movement may be the most effective way to do what it takes to increase the minimum wage. That movement is calling for $15 to be the minimum and California and New York have passed legislation that will move their states toward that goal. The "Fight for $15" movement is gaining momentum and it is working in a number of states.
One of the major concerns about raising the minimum wage has to do with the financial viability of small businesses. It will be hard for them to move to this figure quickly, but if enough incremental safeguards can be put into place it should be possible to help small business owners to stay in business and comply with new minimum wage laws.
Washington politicians are far behind the people on this issue. They are arguing over increasing the federal minimum to $10. Most of them don't have a clue about what it means to live on $10 an hour. This is an abstract concept to them, about people who have no value to them.
The only way that Washington politicians would ever come to understand how hard it is to live on $10 or $15 an hour is for them to have to do it for a month or two. We all know that will never happen and that is why the grass-roots movement has taken itself to the states where there is a better chance of success.
The Pew web site also notes that, "As efforts to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour have stalled repeatedly, several states and cities — from Los Angeles to New York state to Washington, D.C. — are acting on their own to raise minimum pay rates. Although some proposals target fast-food workers specifically, organized labor and anti-poverty groups are pushing for $15 an hour as the new standard for all workers paid hourly."
Consider the fact that in 2014 three million hourly workers were at or below the federal minimum hourly wage. Many of these people have families and that means that they often have to work one or two additional jobs just to pay rent, buy food and stay warm.
It is a disgrace that this country has not made an effort to provide greater economic equality for the people who do all the work that most of us don't want to do in order for us to live the kind of lives we now live. The minimum wage fight is not just an economic battle. It is a long-standing war for the right of less powerful Americans to achieve equality. As long as minimum wage workers are forced to struggle just to survive, the rest of us should realize that we have created a new form of slavery that must be eliminated.
We probably won't fight a civil war over this issue, but maybe that would be a good thing for a county that continues to widen the gap between the have's and have not's while feeling very little of the pain of conscience.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.