Op-ed: Time has come to raise the minimum wage

Source: Deseret News

In Utah, we take pride in calling ourselves pro-family. We embrace the idea that children benefit from more time in a supportive household. Unfortunately, too many parents in Utah are pushed out of the home and away from their children, forced to choose between evenings with their children and another low-paying job to ensure those children get dinner.

The two of us are lucky. We are both married and have wonderful children. We have good-paying jobs that allow us to see our kids before they go to sleep. Our families never wonder where our next meal will come from. We can think about what it means to be pro-family, and to write this OpEd.

But what about the mom working three jobs to provide for her children, working so late that she comes home after they’re asleep? Or a young woman who wants a better life but doesn’t have the time or the money for school because she works 60 hours a week just to afford food and rent?

These stories have one thing in common: an immorally low minimum wage. Workers in Utah, and all across the country, simply can’t get by on $7.25 an hour. The cost of living has never been higher, but the minimum wage has been stuck for nearly a decade. According to the MIT living wage calculator, a single full-time worker in Utah without children needs $10.71 an hour just to cover basic needs. Adding children requires even more.

The Raise the Wage Act, recently introduced in Congress, would lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 (a common estimate of a living wage by that year), index it to median wages, and eliminate the $2.13 an hour “tipped worker” exception. This bill would give millions of Americans a raise and give our economy a boost.

Contrary to popular talking points, only 12 percent of minimum wage earners are teenagers. The average minimum wage-earners is 36 years old and the vast majority of those making minimum wage will spend their entire careers making less than $15 per hour. Almost a third of the American workforce, 41 million workers, make less than $15 an hour. Can we really call ourselves pro-family when our friends and neighbors — nearly a third of the population — are struggling to make ends meet?

Many argue against raising the minimum wage based on free-market or global competition principles, or the risk of job losses and business failures. Although beyond the scope of this OpEd, rigorous economic analysis defies those claims.

A higher minimum wage is good for workers and businesses alike. Studies show a $15 minimum wage by 2024 would generate $144 billion in higher wages for workers, spurring job growth to more than offset any potential job losses. In an economy that is 70 percent driven by consumer demand, everyone benefits when consumers have more money to spend.

Most business owners and executives agree. In addition to being supported by a 63 percent bipartisan majority of the American people, a recent Chamber of Commerce survey shows 80 percent of business leaders support raising the minimum wage because they know that having more customers is more valuable to them than cheaper employees.

Raising the minimum wage is part of how we honor the American Dream and build a safe and sustainable society. It is how we pull millions of working Americans out of poverty, rebuild our middle class and boost our economy. It is how we demonstrate our pro-family values drive us to ensure families can survive on their hard-earned wages. We invite our fellow Utahns to do more than just say we are pro-family. Let’s be pro-family. Let’s give our families a fighting chance and tell our congressional delegation that we support the Raise the Wage Act.

Josh Kanter studied economics and law at Emory University and the University of Chicago. He is the founder and board chairman of the Alliance for a Better Utah. Jeff Swift, Ph.D., serves on the board of the Alliance for a Better Utah and as policy director for the LDS Dems caucus.

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