What does $15 get you?

The idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 has been in the news lately; although this idea has been floating around for a couple of years, it’s currently getting a lot of attention. Naturally there are many voices in favor, with just as many chiming in on the why this is a bad idea.  I am here to add myself to the second group.

Our oldest son recently graduated from Moorhead State with a psychology degree. This past fall he accepted a position in a job related to his field…which pays $15 an hour.  So how do we attempt to explain to our son, who worked hard for four years of his life to earn a degree (which also includes a manageable amount of debt), that he may as well have just stayed at one of the entry-level service positions he worked while attending school? The answer: we won’t, because we don’t support this concept at all.

My husband and I were and are fortunate to be able to help our boys (our younger one is a junior at Mankato State) through school in a variety of ways: we stocked their dorms including furniture, they each have a vehicle, we paid their rent a number of times, bought their books, occasionally bought them food, clothes and household items, and paid a portion of their tuition. As we were doing this, we also repeatedly gave this message:  We will help as much as possible, but won’t be your sole support, because in the real world you have to earn your own way.  This is the same type of support and explanation that almost all our friends give to their kids attending college.  However, I completely understand this is not everyone’s situation.

Arguments for raising the minimum wage state that it’s the only way to raise up those living in poverty.  I counter this argument with a look at one of our boys’ friends.  A smart, resourceful girl, she comes from a lower-class background, but is currently finishing her senior year at the U of M on an academic scholarship.  Because she gets virtually no support from her family, she works two jobs while going to school full-time, to pay rent on a run-down apartment in Dinkytown so she can earn that degree.  There are always ways to better onself, but they need to be worked for and earned.

But, advocates argue, what about those who face other, more difficult barriers to higher education?  In Minnesota, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system offers a wealth of support and resources, including their flagship program “The Power of You”.  First introduced in 2006, this program targets underrepresented students in Minneapolis and St. Paul.   A closer look at MnSCU shows a wealth of similar programs for underrepresented students in our community colleges and universities, http://bit.ly/1wd98F3, as well as programs for veterans.  These programs come with mentoring, guidance, and support, but the hard work and sacrifice still needs to be done by the student.

And of course sometimes college just isn’t in the cards at all, for a wide variety of reasons.  When I worked at a White Castle in the early 80’s, I recall our regional manager proudly telling us how he started on the line and rose up through the ranks.  Doing so entails working hard at your position, taking on new responsibilities to build your skill set, and becoming a valued employee who is looked at for promotional opportunities.  This is still the case a couple of decades later, and a much more satisfactory way to raise yourself up and earn a paycheck that’s in line with your skills, instead of just being handed an artificially high wage.


4 thoughts on “What does $15 get you?

  1. I completely agree with you. Raising the minimum wage that high is basically a slap in the face to hard and honest workers. Should a 16 year old McDonald’s employee really be making $15 an hour? Or, the lazy guy who doesn’t greet you and then messes up your order at Subway? Seriously…. Instead of complaining and going on strike all the time (which doesn’t make sense seeing as most of these chains are not parts of unions), people making minimum wage who are unsatisfied with it should do something about it. I don’t know why this issue upsets me so much, but if this craziness actually becomes a reality I am moving to Canada.

  2. I cannot disagree more. It is interesting that certain “hard work” is automatically placed above other kinds of “hard work” to make this argument. There are 55 year olds working at McDonalds who have raised families through “hard work” including all the budgeting, troubleshooting, tutoring, “healthcare,” strategies, and scheduling that is required of being a parent, yet this experience is not accredited. What about the homeless woman cleaning tables. She’s working hard using strategies to stay alive and eventually qualify for “affordable” housing that is ever harder to achieve because landlords take advantage of a 1.5% occupancy rate. Do they work harder to make that larger profit? Did he go to college and therefore “earn” the privilege of gouging renters? So there are some who it would seem would “deserve” the $15 but others not. Some sacrifices “count” others do not. Who judges deservedness? I encounter people who make a lot of money, but don’t “work hard” at all; some have simply inherited it. Most are in positions of power and wealth because they are networked with a certain “class” of people, not because they worked their way up.

    The proposal is to help people afford to “live.” The 15 year old? Why not? Maybe she will be able to save money to go to college, incur a smaller debt, and cost the tax payers less money when she defaults on that lower amount. She contributes to society ALL her life. Her low wages compound and ripple into the economy of current and future tenses. She “hurts” the economy when she can’t afford to buy a house or car have a family, etc., because she’s paying back her loan.

    Life ISN’T fair, but if society wishes to identify itself in a positive light, it’s important to have a baseline of survivability for all its citizens. We would do well to be careful of the idea of “deservedness.” It can lead to justifications for systemic inequity. Thank you for letting me express my opinion.

  3. I think this issue is being approached the wrong way. If minimum wage needs to be raised to keep up with the economy then all other wages need to be raised to reflect that change. Your argument is justified that a 4 year college graduate shouldn’t be making the same as someone without so why aren’t we applying this change to everyone? If minimum wage gets an $8/hour boost because of the economy then everyone’s wage should get an $8/hour boost. Why are we leaving out the people who have spent thousands on their future? I just don’t get it.

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