Setting record straight on ‘The Fight for $15’

June 1, 2021

Unfortunately, misconceptions abound regarding a higher minimum wage. One common misconception is that the minimum wage was never intended as a living wage. But in his 1933 address following the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that “no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country…and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level .  I mean the wages of decent living.”

Many minimum wage workers are not who we picture them to be. According to the Economic Policy Institute, their average age is 35, 88 percent are 20 or older, and 36 percent are 40 or older. Of minimum wage workers, 56 percent are women, 28 percent have children, and 55 percent work fulltime. On average, minimum wage workers earn half of their families’ income, and over one-third of teenage minimum wage workers contribute their earnings to help keep households afloat.

Without a significant minimum wage increase, our staggering wealth and income inequality will continue to grow. Such inequality is both inhumane and socially and economically unsustainable. Today, three men own as much wealth as the bottom half of Americans - over 160 million people. Meanwhile, the ratio of companies’ executive compensation to those of companies’ average- and lowest-paid workers is at an all-time high.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 over the next four years is the least we can do for Delaware’s most vulnerable workers. It is not a living wage today. It will be even less so in 2025. Per Business Insider, the real value of the minimum wage peaked in 1968. Per various studies, had the minimum wage kept pace with inflation and worker productivity gains, it would currently be $22-$30. One of the many things to which the COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes is how very essential many of our lowest-paid workers are to our society and economy. We owe them much more than lip service.

Per World Population Review, Delaware’s 

median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,110 - the 14th-highest in the nation. Before taxes, at $15 per hour, workers earn $31,200 per year or $2,600 per month. 

After taxes, with no healthcare premiums or other non-tax deductions, workers earn $1,043 for two weeks, about $2,086 per month. Even for Delaware workers earning $15 per hour today, rent for an average one-bedroom apartment absorbs over 53 percent of their income.

We have seen in states and cities that have significantly raised their minimum wages that doing so presents numerous benefits. According to various studies - including those of Nobel Prize-winning economists - an increased minimum wage has no discernible negative impact on employment rates, and it consistently and quickly results in job growth and higher wages for all workers. Also, higher minimum wages reduce food insecurity and poverty - especially amongst people of color, women, and seniors who increasingly work minimum wage jobs to make ends meet.

Contrary to frequent claims, higher minimum wages are good for small businesses and local economies. 

They put money in the pockets of individuals most likely to spend that money, with much of it supporting local communities and small businesses. 

Per the Fiscal Policy Institute, after examining three years of small business activity in states with increased minimum wages and states without it, in states with increased minimum wages: The number of small business establishments grew at a rate of 3.1 percent vs. 1.6 percent; the employment rate grew 1.5 percent more quickly; and small business owners were better able to recruit and retain higher-quality employees. Also, a higher minimum wage increases worker productivity and morale while decreasing employee turnover and absenteeism, and even crime.

For these reasons and more, it is long overdue that we implement a $15 minimum wage for Delaware’s workers.

Eric Morrison is state representative for the 27th District in the Newark/Bear/Glasgow area.
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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