Since when did a consensus develop that young people, when it comes to wages, are second-class citizens?
In so many recent debates about raising the minimum wage, opponents are quick to point out those who work minimum-wage jobs are mainly young people, in their teens or early 20s, and since they are not primary wage-earners, they don’t need a higher-than-minimum wage.
What contorted reasoning. It’s even downright mean-spirited. First of all, shouldn’t we honor young working people by paying them wages that will make them proud to be part of the work force, members on their way to achieving the American Dream?
Second, why would it matter if young people are living at home and are not primary wage-earners. Not to forget, many of their parents may be minimum-wage earners, too, or struggling to pay bills and provide for their children. Doesn’t it make sense to pay young people a decent wage to help their parents make ends meet. And whether they live at home or not, isn’t it the right thing to do to pay them enough so they could save some money to help pay for college or training to improve their lot in life?
There’s another good reason for boosting the minimum wage for young people. In starting out fresh in life, they have a lot of extra expenses, such as buying and maintaining a used vehicle, car insurance, high gas prices, rent, utilities and escalating grocery prices. Even established adults working for minimum wage cannot afford all of those necessities.
There is yet another good reason to up the minimum wage, even if one believes young people do not need a wage boost. Many minimum-wage workers are not young people; a good many of them, as anyone ought to know, are ages 30 and up, many even in their 60s. Just stop at a fast-food restaurant and see how many older people are handing you burgers and fries.
There are an estimated 360,000 people in Minnesota making $7.25 an hour (the federal minimum wage) or below that amount. The Minnesota minimum wage is $6.15. It is cruelty worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge to expect any human being to squeak through on that paltry pay.
In buying power, adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is worth one-third of what it was in 1974, according to the Minnesota Department of Labor. Obstructionist Republicans and some Democrats in the U.S. Congress have been balking about raising the minimum wage, even though up to 80 percent of people, including vast numbers of Republican voters, agree it should be raised. Many states have boosted their minimum wages this past year to more than $10 an hour.
In the Minnesota Legislature, there is an effort to raise it to $9.50 by 2015. It should be done. To do anything less is inexcusable, a slap in the face to young people and to all others struggling to make a living in this unfairly lopsided economy.