In late July, the Democratic National Convention took place here in Philadelphia. For the first time ever, the Democratic Party supported a $15 minimum wage in their official party platform.
“Democrats believe that the current minimum wage is a starvation wage and must be increased to a living wage,” the platform reads.
Although the Democratic Party has good intentions, the truth is that not all minimum wage jobs warrant an increase in wages.
“The wage they warrant has to do with what the market determines,” said Gary Bowman, an associate professor of economics. “Arbitrarily forcing it up higher is an unfortunate policy.”
Many unskilled jobs simply do not produce a lot for a business, and often it’s not hard to find willing workers to fill these positions. Increasing the minimum wage would force employers to pay their employees high wages, despite their low market value.
Many proponents of the $15 minimum wage, like those who contributed to the Democratic party’s platform, argue the minimum wage should be a living wage. The minimum wage, however, is by definition, the wage floor. And the wage floor is the lowest hourly pay that an employer can pay an employee under normal circumstances — some exceptions include certain tipped jobs and internships.
The wage floor should not be connected to the living wage because not all workers need higher wages to survive. According to the Pew Research Center, about half of the people working at or below the minimum wage in the United States are in the 16- to 24-year-old age range, and often younger people do not need to earn a living wage to survive.
I pay for some of my bills myself, but fortunately my parents help me with a lot of my living expenses. From my experience with roommates and friends at Temple, this level of financial dependence is common for college students.
It is not fair to force employers to pay minimum wage workers a living wage, when a large population of low-wage workers do not actually need a living wage because they’re dependent on their parents.
Another problem with claiming workers deserve a living wage is the ambiguity of the term itself.
“I don’t know what the definition of a living wage is. … It has something to do with someone’s standard of living,” Bowman said. “It seems like an arbitrary concept.”
The current conversation regarding the minimum wage uses this term often, but it is rarely quantifiable, even as a sort of estimate.
Framing the conversation around a living wage only gets more complex — not only is it hard to accurately measure, but the living wage also varies greatly in different regions of the United States.
According to MIT’s living wage calculator, the average hourly living wage in Pennsylvania for one adult is $10.23, while the hourly living wage in Arkansas for one adult is $9.50.
This difference between states may not seem substantial, but the issue becomes more evident when you look at the differences in counties within a single state. Philadelphia County has a living wage of $11.43 for one adult, while York County has a living wage of $9.33.
I find it hard to support the overarching increase in the federal minimum wage the Democratic party’s platform proposes because the living wage is so variable across the nation and within states.
Alexandria Dotson, from Temple’s chapter of 15 Now, a national organization that fights to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, believes an increased minimum wage would be beneficial to the economy. When more money is given to low-level workers, they will spend more.
“It’s a lot better for people to have more money in their wages because that’s how you stimulate revenue, and it creates jobs,” said Dotson, a senior economics and political science major.
Dotson makes a logical argument. With more money, workers can spend more, which will likely help the economy. The problem is while paying higher wages may do the economy good, this doesn’t mean the government should have the authority to force employers to increase wages — especially to meet a standard that is as unpredictable as the living wage.
Matthew Keck can be reached at MatthewKeck@temple.edu.