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Should congress raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15?

Asked at Massachusetts Street on March 8, 2005

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Photo of David Lloyd

“Absolutely. Who could possibly afford to live at $5.15 an hour? I think $6.50 would probably be better. It gives people an incentive to work hard and improves the quality of the work.”

Photo of Liz Kelsey

“I think it’s fine where it is at. Most of the jobs that pay minimum wage require little education. I think it’s a reasonable amount to move up from.”

Photo of Dennis Chern

“Sure. I think people deserve more money. It has to at least float with inflation.”

Photo of Mike Poznansky

“I think they should raise it. It doesn’t correlate closely enough with inflation.”


Rick Davis 13 years ago

I was reading these comments and noticed that one important fact was left out. Think about the person that is making $9.50/hour and supporting his family. If the minimum wage is raised employers have to use more of their payroll to meet the requirement. Now a student or part-time worker is making more an hour but, the business has to save money by not giving well deserved raises to higher paid employees. Also, keep in mind that increased costs for businesses lead to increased prices for consumers. Now that $9.50 is more like $8.50/hour in spending power. So in essense you are paying less to employees making over minimum wage. Raising minimum wage is actually harmful to low -- low middle classes. Many labor jobs pay over minimum wage and there is plenty of grant money for low income individuals to return to school. Government intervention is rarely the answer to fix social problems. We need to look to ourselves to fix our problems.

squishypoet 13 years ago

italianprincess, you'd better double check your info... my boyfriend tried to do the "internship" program at Free State last year. The teacher won't "get" your son anything-- he'll just make it okay for your son to leave school two hours early to go to the job that your son finds for himself.

Richard Heckler 13 years ago

Absolutely! Our elected officials certainly don't hesitate to provide themselves with a raise each year whether they are doing a good job or not. Why not raise the minimum wage each year according to inflation.

Please remember the elected officials are able to receive medical and retirement benefits after serving less than ten years including the wealthy president and members of his cabinet. We the taxpayers keep paying and caring for these folks the rest of their lives so why not raise the minimum wage. How many jobs do you know of match that kind of welfare?

redbird 13 years ago

Well Liz..."no raise in minmum wage because of those jobs require little education".How many students,present and graduated,have I had to deal with as waiters and waitresses,cashiers and recieved very unsuitable services.Perhaps they were too smart for their jobs and they knew they were??? Hell yes "workers" need an incentive to work,it seems that politicians and administrative people are the only ones that get ahead in companies,would refer to this as a workplace,but the two above mentioned do not participate in the "work field",they make decisions and point their fingers to tell us "workers" what to do!!! We need this raise just to make ends meet not to go out and buy a Lexus or a Hummer and a $250,000+ home to live,we need it to make rent,put our kids through public schools.groceries.clothes,rent and if anything is left after that maybe some kind of entertainment,but more often though there is nothing left to spend!!!!!!!!!

craigers 13 years ago

I would buy off on an incentive program that made companies offer better raises based on performance, not just a flat increase with minimum wage. The incentive to work is that you do have a paycheck, that should be incentive enough. There are too many people that just think that if they show up to work, the employer should feel priveledged and should pay them a higher wage. I would say keep the minimum wage and if just having a job and working to pay for your own stuff isn't incentive enough, then you don't deserve the job.

mrcairo 13 years ago

I think $10.00 an hour should be the minimum wage, and I think every American should enjoy the health and welfare benefits that members of Congress and the Senate enjoy. Perhaps if they paid into So-So Security instead of milking the country there would be some money left for the rest of us.

I've never seen Congress or the Senate turn down an opportunity to give themselves a raise. I guess the rest of us can Eat-Cake.

bettie 13 years ago

I'd just like to set the record straight about who we are talking about here. Several people have suggested that the minimum wage affects mostly high school or college kids, that people don't spend much of their lives earning MW, that most MW earners work part-time, and that it's not a wage that people are trying to raise families on. I would like to believe that this perception can be attributed to the way Lawrence is situated, where many visible MW jobs are filled by students, but I'm afraid this is a much bigger problem.

So here are some numbers that describe MW earners to counter those vague (but very self-assured) statements made by others. And they're not from some biased source advocating a MW increase - they're from the U.S. Census Bureau.

72% are over 20 years old. 44% are full-time workers. 36% of families with workers earning MW rely exclusively on those workers' earnings. 3.4 million children have at least one parent earning MW. There is a substantial subpopulation of workers whose lifetime income and employment is likely to be associated with the MW.

Also, at the risk of opening a whole other discussion, 61% of MW earners are women. Racial minorities are also disproportionately represented in the MW earning population.

I just wanted to clarify who we're really talking about here - it's not just high school kids trying to earn a little extra spending money. The number of MW earners has increased in the last few years as a result of widespread job loss. "Good" jobs are increasingly hard to come by, which means that many of the millions who have been laid off from jobs that paid a livable wage have been forced to start over at the bottom. To suggest that people earn minimum wage because they don't apply themselves is as insensitive as it is unrealistic.

Do your homework before you blame MW earners for being unable to "climb the ladder." It's hard to climb anything when a year of full-time work brings only $10,712 into your household. And it's no wonder this town has a reputation for being elitist.

crohan1978 13 years ago

oh, now everyone thinks that we should get the same benefits that congress gets, what about privatization of Social Security. They get that, and they love it, they just don't want you to know that, them being the democrats and some republicans. Because you know, anything Bush comes up w/ has to be a bad idea. Whatever!

I think the minimum wage should keep up w/ inflation. However, I don't know a single person, and never have known a single person, that made minimum wage, it always seemed like it was $1 more. When I worked at Office Depot, first job, I started at $6.15 an hour.

optimist 13 years ago

Economics should be taught from an earlier age. The statement was made that the minimum wage should increase annually relative to inflation. That seems to make sense and I can certainly see how it would. Unfortunately the laws of economics would argue against a minimum wage at all much less an annual increase reflective of inflation. Doing this would only serve to increase inflation faster. If minimum wage goes up then the cost of goods and services increases accordingly and the result will essentially negate the increase or in actuality create a paradox where each causes the other to rise in perpetuity.

If you want to solve the low wage problem remove the false wage floor and allow businesses to compete for qualified people. The minimum wage has essentially become a competition killer. It's comparable to price fixing. All of the retail chains know what the other is paying because the government tells them. Therefore they don't have to compete for service employees they can just agree to meet the fixed price and take a reasonable share of qualified people in the marketplace. The result is poorer service to the customer but who cares, each of their competitors are providing about the same level of service. They don't need to differentiate themselves with service. Labor is a significant share of their costs and keeping it down is more important. As a consumer I benefit from low prices if I can tolerate to poor service at the drive-thru.

Minimum wage is a place to start. We should all aspire to improve ourselves through discipline (show up to work every day, on time and do your best) and education (either formal or on the job, become an expert in what you do). If you get to be middle aged and have only earned minimum wage you have only yourself to blame. All of the excuses in the world won't make up for what you have cost yourself. If your young and getting started get over it. We all had to pay our dues. Working hard form minimum age is good life experience. It keeps us all a little humble.

lunacydetector 13 years ago

i hate to burst anyone's bubble, but if the minimum wage law is raised the cost of goods will raise as well. it will cause inflation. it is simple economics.

Jay_Z 13 years ago

Lunacydetector and Bowhunter 99, you two are right on.

I'd like to add that minimum wage jobs aren't jobs that people are meant to make a living off of. Minimum wage jobs are a place to START. People are supposed to work their way up to higher paying jobs, through hard work, education, a little luck, and so forth.

However, I think that the argument to adjust the minimum wage for inflation is a valid one. The argument to raise the minimum wage to some arbitrary level is a disasterous idea for our economy. People need to quit asking for handouts and take some personal responsibility!!

tell_it_like_it_is 13 years ago

21 years ago I was first married and pumping gas for minimum wage which at that time was $3.35 per hour. My wife worked part time 20 hours or less a week also at minimum wage. On that we made a small car payment and rented a very modest apartment. You couldn't even begin to afford an apartment or a car now days on minimum wage. You can hardly make it on twice that. And I think that is a damn national disgrace.

jonas 13 years ago

I can count the number of times I've agreed with Lunacydetector on my fingers, I think, but he and bowhunter have it right on this one. (and JayZ!) Simply raising rates is akin to just "printing off more money," it causes the system to fluctuate, and it will just settle at a higher rate, that still makes minimum wage piss poor.

Au_contraire 13 years ago

Why should the responsibility for living wages be the onus of the employer? I'd say if you earn minimum and get 'exceptional' performance evaluations, you get a free debit card good at ATMs for twenty bucks a day 24-7. You could also use a telephone to make a daily transfer into your bank account.

Then, as with ALL government expenditure commitments, they'll figure out how to pay for it as they muddle along. Maybe it could be culled off the top of Congressional hack salaries?

Creative idea, anyway.

italianprincess 13 years ago

When I was 15 and got my first job ( a waitress in a retirement home ) minimum wage then was I do believe 2.90, maybe 3.10.

My son who in 16 1/2 is working at one of our local fast food places here in Lawrence and makes 6.50 an hour. He started at this wage about 3 months ago. Not bad for a 16 year old I think.

Next year as a senior at Free State his marketing instructor is going to get him an internship. He will be working at a law firm or a bank so hes looking forward to this.

BunE 13 years ago

Minumum Wage is not a "starter wage" it is a wage that is the lowest amount that an employer can pay without being deemed exploitive. (by statute). Is it moral to ask someone to do a job, do it right and not be able to live on the wages provided?

Who knows why they are working this job? Does it matter? Most employers are better than that and pay more for good talent. The MW laws keep unscrupulous employers from getting away with exploiting labor. Sometimes they pay less, just because they can. They actively hire illegals and pay below the MW and laugh all the way to the bank.

To say that raising the MW will lower employment is just plain wrong. It hasn't yet, it is a red herring that is used to scare honest employers. Again, most employers pay above the MW and those who don't need to be nudged along.

Question: How can someone go to school and work this sort of job without racking up huge debt? Shouldn't a job be a bridge out of poverty? Minimum wage workers, especially those with families are running off the edge. The inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage is 26 percent lower today than it was in 1979. If the wage had just kept pace with inflation since 1968 when it was a $1.60 an hour, minimum wage would be $8.88 an hour in 2005.

Annually: 10, 712 Monthly: 892.00. Live on that and try to get better.

GW talks about an ownership society, well you can't buy a future or a place in our society at 5.15 an hour.

staff04 13 years ago

Change of subject here, but I just saw the poll about roundabouts in Lawrence. Yes they are annoying, I'm not about to debate that point.

I don't think the city should send out notices on how to negotiate roundabouts, they should issue notices to appear in traffic school to all those who never took a driver's education course or refuse to do something as simple as look up how roundabouts are to be negotiated. Driver's ed is required for new first-time licensees, why shouldn't the same lessons apply to all those who were licensed before the law changed? These are the same people that you see at four-way stop signs waving for people to go before them because they have no clue who has the right-of-way.

When I was first licensed in Kansas, driver's ed was not required, but I took it anyway to be able to afford insurance. I was taught both how to negotiate a roundabout AND a four-way stop.

Bad_Brad 13 years ago

If you raise the minimum wage, of course you make people who make the minimum wage better off, but you also reduce the number of minimum wage jobs that the job market will provide.

Another point is that, for most Americans, a minimum wage job is not a career destination job. Minimum wage earners are often high school or college students just trying to earn some extra money. Most minimum wage earners are not supporting a large family on it.

I guess my point is that raising the minimum wage, while it sounds like a nice thing to do, is not a panacea. Having said that, I do support having a minimum wage, and I would like to see it move along with inflation at regular intervals (say every two years or so) instead of staying flat for long periods of time and then having politicians demagogue and posture over the issue.

Jay_Z 13 years ago

BunE, sorry but you're wrong. Minimum wage jobs ARE starter jobs, i.e. jobs for teens and those with minimal education/skills. One is not meant to make a CAREER out of a minimum wage job. If working a minimum wage job and taking out a loan to go to school at the same time is what one has to do to obtain a higher paying job, then so be it. There is nothing wrong with accumulating some debt in order to educate yourself and put yourself in a position to obtain a higher paying job. I went to college and am paying off thousands in loans, but guess what....I've got a job that pays very well!! Amazing, huh?

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