For the Working-Poor, the American Dream is Dead. Unless Minimum Wage Legislation Revives It

It’s not only the unemployed who need help to buy food. Many people you interact with every day, who are working, need this government assistance.  Cashiers, cooks, customer service representatives, groundskeepers, childcare workers, home healthcare assistants, even some degreed professionals such as mental health practitioners may not earn enough money to take care of basic needs. In addition, many of these jobs don’t offer health insurance, retirement benefits, unemployment insurance, paid sick leave or vacation days, or even unpaid family leave.

Sometimes, things just aren’t right. And this is one of them. In the U.S., where work is so highly valued and expected, and where the belief is that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead, anyone who works full-time should at least be paid enough to support themselves and their family.

Yet, between 1990 and 2015, the percentage of people working and receiving government food assistance rose from 19% to 32%. At the same time, the number of low-wage occupations grew. Further, rather than full-time permanent positions, many jobs are now part-time, or temporary, often with varying hours and unpredictable schedules that make it difficult to piece together second and third jobs many need to get by. Most workers in these positions would prefer a full-time job, but they’ve been forced by changing hiring practices into part-time work.

These hiring practices increase companies’ flexibility and reduce their labor costs, but at the expense of employees and the government—or taxpayers. Their employees receive food stamps and other public-funded necessities to live that wouldn’t be necessary if their pay was higher and they received benefits. As another example, companies are not required to offer health insurance and retirement benefits to part-timers. When uninsured workers don’t go to the doctor for preventive care, and instead go to a hospital emergency room when an illness becomes chronic or a health crisis arises, these costs often fall to government. Why not stop this corporate welfare and the personal stress and humiliation it creates?

Raise the minimum wage to a living wage. It will help the economy at large when people can buy the products companies produce. If there’s a problem for truly small businesses–meaning those with just a few employees and tiny profit margins–then we address that legislatively.

In the U.S., if we work, we should be able to support ourselves and our family and contribute to society.

In April of this year, Democratic Senators introduced the Raise the Wage Act which would increase minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024. While there’s pushback from corporations, Business for a Fair Minimum Wage and the Patriotic Millionaires support the bill. Sometimes, social conscience must rise above considering only the financial bottom line.

How about calling your Congress members and telling them to support a $15/hour minimum wage with subsequent increases indexed to inflation? Contact their local office or the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Join the Fight for $15.

You can help spread the message by sharing this post with others.

Read more posts, essays and articles at U.S. Social Conscience. If you’re interested in what the job is like for mental health practitioners, some of whom need government food assistance themselves, read The Cost of Taking Care.

2 Comments

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with raising the minimum wage to at least $15. The way things operate currently is that large corporations can pay wages that are far below this, with varied schedules as you mentioned in your blog, which keeps people from pursuing second jobs. Not only that, they need supplemental help from entitlements which are paid for by the taxpayers. So the corporations pocket millions (an billions), why the middle class (what’s left of us) subsidize the wages of those who are working as hard as they can, yet cannot take care of themselves on those wages. They are also not able to access healthcare which again we all pay for. It’s backwards. People are not lazy. They are willing to work. They just need to make enough to pay their bills. This is the way our country used to operate and it worked really well. Greed is the only thing standing in the way.

  2. And isn’t it likely that by 2024 even a $15 hourly minimum wage would leave us right where we are now? Maybe better to build in an automatic cost-of-living allotment with the proposed minimum wage increase

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