30 Apr

It should be a minimum wage, not a minimal wage

Two things about the minimum wage should have a maximum impact on how we think about it.

First, it’s not a starter wage for young kids, something they will swiftly shoot past as they’re promoted to become executives. The average hamburger flipper is now 29 years old, with a high school education, and the minimum wage looks an awful lot like what she’ll be earning for the foreseeable future.

And at 29, she’s not a high school kid working after algebra class. She probably has other people depending on her. On minimum wage, who pays for that?

That gets to the second thing we know about the minimum wage: We pay for it.

Studies show that half of all Americans earning the minimum wage or close to it also qualify for government low-income benefits, such as food stamps, Medicaid or the Earned Income Tax Credit. That means that all of us, including employers who pay more than the minimum wage, subsidize the companies who pay at the lowest level.

That’s not how the free market is supposed to work.

Minimum wages are rising around the country, as states and cities look at the realities of workers’ lives. Oregon should take a look at what its minimum costs workers – and all of us.

NOTE: This commentary appeared on KGW-TV 4/25/15.

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