Nuns on the Bus Have a Point: Time to Increase the Federal Minimum Wage

One in six Americans receives food stamps in this country. Yes, that includes those on welfare, and those who are jobless sometimes, but the surprise is how many of the working poor must have them to subsist these days. There simply are a lot of jobs in the retail industry and other related service industries that pay $7.25 an hour to around ten dollars an hour.

At first blush, this sounds lavish. We all think back to the days when $3.35 was the minimum wage. But in our baby boom memory that was 38 years ago. A generation- and- a- half later seven to ten dollars on a job that carefully avoids forty hour work weeks for fear of having to provide an employee health care benefits just doesn’t get you across the economic river.

Just do some math: Say you are lucky to work at ten dollars an hour, well above the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. You put in 36 hours a week on average and tell your friends the common refrain: “they won’t let me work a forty hour week, it’s the benefits thing you know.” So ten bucks each hour for 36 hours a week is $360.00 Gross Income over that week. Four weeks a month gives us $1,440 per month and 12 months a year gives us $17,280. With a family of four the Federal poverty line is $20,000. You fall short but within guidelines to receive food stamps. You need them or you don’t eat at all.

Two bedroom apartments even in bad neighborhoods are going to cost you at least $800.00 per month. That leaves the four of you six hundred and forty dollars for the month. Most people today even buying carefully and frugally would be hard pressed to come out of a super market to feed four people without spending one hundred dollars. Let’s say all four of you have small appetites. That is four hundred dollars for food over the month.

Now you are down to two hundred dollars for everything else four people need. See what they are driving at in that bus? We assume here that mom stays home with children while dad works in the model of the perfect Republican conservative nuclear family. Even with two parents working you are not going to have all that much.

A single person who must live alone and earns $7.25 an hour finds even at a forty hour work week they earn $13,920 Gross Income per year. That was pretty good pay back in 1980 when Dutch Reagan ran for President. But it isn’t much now. Even single bedroom apartments where the music is gunshots at night and cockroaches scurrying with rats across the floor will set you back six to seven hundred dollars.

Moving the minimum wage upward to ten dollars an hour would push up pay levels for more experienced retail and service workers to around 15 dollars an hour where they would earn $28,800 in Gross Income a year. At this level keeping people in your family housed, clothed, fed, and reasonably healthy is possible. And you could do without food stamps saving taxpayers some money and that family themselves would be paying at least a minimal level of taxes beyond sales taxes.

And, it puts more money in people’s hands to purchase consumer goods to stimulate the economy that has stalled now for four years due to inadequate demand for goods and services. With more demand businesses will be forced to hire more people at all levels of education and skill to keep up. Sounds like an economic recovery doesn’t it?

Don’t listen to businesses who say they could not possibly pay ten bucks for an hour of work to entry level employees. If a hoard of new customers come through the door at least in part due to wages going up gradually to this level, few businesses will sit back and turn them away. When have you seen a business say to customers: sorry, we can’t afford to hire more people—go down the block to that other place we compete with. They will sell it to you.”

Those jobs being created most often are low wage service jobs in the eight to ten dollar range. That’s fine for a high school kid working part time. It is even OK for a high school graduate still living at home for a time. But forget raising families on this.

For comparison: social workers, nurses, and teachers who are at the entry level often make only $30,000 to $36,000 the first year. And they are college educated and highly skilled. They too are among the lowest paid professional workers in America. For what they do for society that could be the subject of its own editorial blog post!

The Nuns on the Bus Program haven’t missed it. They got on when we needed them to most. One of President Obama’s recovery measures ought to be to increase the Federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.00 an hour. And employers should receive a small tax incentive if they offer what are essentially full time workers full time work at forty hours a week and at least some sort of health insurance as Obamcare comes on. Are you listening Mr. Papa John?

President Abraham Lincoln, that dangerous radical, said that labor, or the people who produce the good or service “deserves much the higher consideration” over that of Capital. He was right then and he is right now.

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