In President Obama’s State of the Union Address back in January, he called upon American business and local officials to raise the minimum wage. He even discussed his executive order to raise the minimum income of federally contracted employees to $10.10, asking the rest of America to do the same.
It’s working, according to CNN Money, but very slowly. Federal minimum wage has moved nowhere in Congress since 2009 and remains at $7.25, while, nationally, fast food workers are making an average of $8.74. The most progress on minimum wage reform has been made in “blue” states and at city and county levels. Seattle even raised its minimum wage to reach $15 by 2021.
Yet the tide seems to be turning for the minimum wage crusade, and the movement of fast-food workers striking against low pay is finally gaining momentum. All over social media you can find #Strikefastfood, #Fightfor15 and #LuchaPor15. Fast food workers are taking up arms on Twitter, and peacefully striking in the streets.
Protesters hope to secure higher wages and union organizing rights. Though it began two years ago as a fast-food strike with workers from McDonald’s, KFC, Wendy’s, Burger King and the like, more have joined the ranks. Local officials have pledged support for the cause; low-wage, in-home elderly and disabled care workers have joined the strikes; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People unanimously joined the movement; and workers from 13 different nations have involved themselves forming a global alliance. On Labor Day, even the President himself pledged further support behind the “Fight for 15.”
Despite my complete agreement on the increase of the minimum wage, I couldn’t help but still be skeptical of the cause. I, like many other Americans, believe that $15 is positively too much for the rude teenager that has served me my value meal at McDonald’s. But the problem is that many of us are blind to the reality of the low-wage worker.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, only 30 percent of low-wage workers are teens. More than one forth of these total workers are supporting at least one child, and only 17 percent of these workers earn $10.10 or higher. Our view of the fast-food worker is misconstrued and the meager pay is unrealistic for a family to subsist.
Seattle proved to be a city of hope, leading the race by pledging to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Only a handful of other cities have followed in Seattle’s wake. Louisville K.Y.’s metro council is set this week to read on an ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017, which would make it the eleventh city in the country to raise the wage.
Nonetheless, workers should be wary of idealistic wages. Protesters for minimum wage are asking for a high price at $15 an hour. The cost of living in Seattle is of course much higher than that of Louisville, which is 5.9 percent below the national average. Therefore, pragmatic negotiation is vital to the cause of the worker so as not to deter local officials.
Opponents of raising the minimum wage do have some valid concerns: it could raise unemployment, fewer young laborers could find jobs at high wages, and companies may need to raise consumer prices. Therefore, the large, lucrative corporations must be held more accountable for employees’ wages, rather than the individual franchises and profits within.
Regardless of opponents and arrests, the movement to raise minimum wage has slowly been garnering speed and is beginning to amass national attention. $7.25 is simply infeasible for a family to live on, and the “Fight for 15” movement hopes to bring America into the reality of the low-wage worker.