The Case For The $15 Minimum Wage

 Luke Rapallo ‘24

Imagine you are in a school, you do all your homework, you pass all your tests, just to find out that you can’t graduate. That would be understandably infuriating. Many people in America today are living in a situation similar to this one but on a much larger scale. Their jobs. These people put in all the work at their jobs, but they still don’t have enough money to live. They are doing everything right, working as hard as they can, and in many scenarios, it still isn’t enough. Nobody who is working this hard deserves to live in poverty, and everyone is entitled to a basic standard of living. In this article, I will be exploring the most prevalent proposal to correct this injustice, the $15 minimum wage, and why I believe it is a vital step in making the United States a more just country.    


There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that it is nearly impossible for the poor to thrive in our current system, one of which is a bone chilling statistic that comes from a report of economic well-being from the Federal Reserve; it states that 79% of American households do not have an extra $400 readily available in the case of an emergency. That is horrifying. A situation where this can be absolutely devastating to an impoverished household’s economic well being is a sudden health complication that requires a procedure/medication. This situation more often than not would leave a household in economic ruin.


 Based on figures from 2016, 48% of Americans have some sort of heart disease; another study concluded that the average monthly cost of cardiovascular treatment is $220.31. This means that not only is it extremely likely that a person is both in poverty and has heart disease in the United States, those people would only be able to medicate themselves for two months or less, and they would have no more remaining savings. Those are just the statistics for one health ailment, let alone the hundreds of different kinds of health issues someone can have in this country. Looking at these stats it becomes depressingly apparent why heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.


Not only is it nearly impossible to live off of minimum wages in the United States, but it affects a higher percentage of the population than you might expect. A very significant portion of the American people are currently working minimum wage jobs. According to reports, 42.4% of jobs in the U.S. pay minimum wage. That is an absurdly high number to begin with, let alone the amount of jobs just above $7.25 an hour that are unaccounted for in this estimation. Unfortunately, many people working those jobs will not be able to cover their cost of living, not including non-essential items, like furniture or entertainment. A $15 minimum wage would help alleviate some of these issues. 


Some evidence that a $15 minimum wage would help is the minimum annual income. In order to maintain a sustainable life in the U.S. you need at least $31,200 a year, and that number is just for one single adult. That number also just so happens to be exactly what a full time job making $15 an hour makes annually. In some regions of our country, however, $15 an hour still wouldn’t be enough to live off of, so even though a $15 minimum wage wouldn’t be a direct solution, it would certainly be a major step in the right direction. All of this doesn’t even scratch the surface, because if you have a child, the minimum annual income rapidly increases. All of this shows that for many people it is impossible to make enough money to support themselves, much less start a family.


I recently sent out a survey to gauge the feelings of people at our school regarding the proposal for a $15 minimum wage. A sentiment that was echoed many times from people opposing the proposal was the concern that higher wages would affect small businesses’ ability to grow and compete with larger corporations. However, with the examples we have in recent years, we can see clearly that that is simply not the case. What better example to use than the most populated city in the U.S.? New York City recently raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, and many people waited with bated breath for small businesses to be destroyed on a massive scale, but that hasn’t happened. In fact, according to an estimate from the NYC government, 98% of businesses in the city have less than 100 employees and 89% of businesses have less than 20 employees. We can see clearly that higher wages do not adversely affect small businesses, but there is also plenty of damning evidence that shows just how much it helps people in poverty. New York began incrementally raising the minimum wage in 2013 and according to a graph showing poverty rates, the poverty rate went up by .1% in 2014, only to go back down by the same amount in 2015. It seemed like it wasn’t making much of a difference until the year 2016 when poverty started dropping rapidly. By 2019, the poverty rate in New York was the lowest it had been this century. It is plain to see how a higher minimum wage would positively affect the poor population of our country. 


This isn’t an argument we as a country can afford to have anymore. This certainly isn’t an argument the impoverished can afford to have anymore. This isn’t a political issue, it is a human issue, and every human deserves to be treated with a base level of respect. At some point, the minimum wage must be raised, and I am very much on the side of sooner rather than later. I will leave you with one final question. If not now, when?