I’ve worked at UR for two years, and during that time I’ve seen my hourly pay increase from $10.50 to $12.00 — a whopping $1.50. So it was rather surprising to see that UR is increasing the minimum-wage by $3.00 in just a year and a half, to $15/hour for all employees. 

Good news for UR employees, but let’s not celebrate too much just yet.

Across America, the minimum wage has been due to increase since the 1980s. 

In 1933, President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt signed legislation with the goal of increasing the minimum wage alongside rising living costs in order to combat wealth inequality and keep incomes consistent with worker productivity. But in 1980, President Ronald Reagan rescinded this legislation. Since then, the minimum wage has only ever increased when new legislation permits.

This creates a system where workers are continually underpaid and exploited by employers who are no longer required to increase wages. As a result, many more Americans are living at or below the poverty line than ever before, despite working full time. For this reason, the fight to increase the minimum wage to combat poverty has been gaining momentum since the late 1980s. 

It’s gained so much momentum that over two-thirds of Americans want a higher, more livable minimum wage. Yet somehow, it still hasn’t happened.

The reason the minimum wage hasn’t increased is because lobbying pressure from large corporations strongly encourages politicians to endorse lower wages for workers in order to maintain high profit margins for those corporations. 

One of the most important players in this equation is the superstore chain Walmart. Despite Walmart’s reputation as a family company and the largest public employer in the U.S., they’ve been knowingly under-cutting employee wages and benefits for years. 

Lobbying at the national level makes it much more difficult for progressive groups to establish a living wage across America. Change has been more successful at the state-level, but even here, corporate lobbyists still interfere and impede progress. 

UR’s willingness to increase the minimum wage seems quite benevolent in comparison. But, I ask, is $15/hour really a living wage?

If we assume every person is able to work a full 40-hour work week, and we multiply 15 times 40, then we come out with $600/week. On average, a person’s monthly rent is about $1,100. This isn’t including utilities, food, gas, car payments, loans, insurance, and more costs of living.

And if we factor in the rising costs of medical care, housing, education, and even gas, it becomes glaringly obvious that a $15/hour minimum wage means barely scraping by each month — if at all.

Plus, many minimum wage earners are not individuals living on their own. Rather, they’re working parents who need time to spend with their kids. A $15/hour minimum wage forces them to take on more hours of work every week and to spend less time with their children and on themselves. Countless studies have shown this additional stress can cause long-term harm to both parents and their children.

I propose a $25-$30/hour minimum wage. 

A wage should reflect living comfortably. No one, especially someone working full-time, should have to worry if they have enough money to pay their rent. An employed, tax-paying mother should not worry if she has enough money to buy her children healthy fresh produce instead of boxed macaroni and cheese. A student shouldn’t worry that their college loans are going to bankrupt them. That’s not fair.

Added stress is another reason many unemployed or poor people die younger than the rich. Minimum wage should be a living wage: It needs to meet the basic costs of living, and more. 

I’ve been lucky enough to find a part-time job that pays me within this range. Some of my burden as a student from a low-income background has been lifted, but only because I got lucky with a job opportunity. 

After all of this, you might start to feel differently about the University’s wage increase or even the standard $15/hour living wage, and that’s good. The University can always do better (it is our motto, after all), and it’s our role as employees and students at the University to advocate for our community.

So, is $15/hour really enough? 

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