If you follow my column, you may know I live 8 miles east of the Washington state line, in Idaho; yet the two states are worlds apart.
Idaho is a red state. It leans away from the more liberal idea of a “living wage” for labor-based and entry-level jobs. Its minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. A person who works a 40 hour week at minimum wage would earn less than $14,000 a year — before taxes.
Eight miles away, the blue state of Washington provides a minimum wage of $11.50 per hour. If we use that same calculation, folks there could work full-time and bring in just over $22,000.
Eight miles and $8,000 a year apart,
Meanwhile, 287 miles west of the state line, officials in Seattle work to implement a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour — which has proven successful so far, despite rhetoric to suggest otherwise.
So let’s take a closer look. While it is possible to live on the minimum wage of $14,000 a year, it is some hard living. People making those wages often live in poverty, particularly if they have more than just themselves to care for.
And we know that a disproportionate number of folks living in poverty are people of color, stuck in the cycle of poverty by a society that refuses to pay them a living wage. Given that these issues disproportionately affect POC in the United States, society gives them less consideration.
It’s wrapped up the racist social history of the country and forces people into situations that are specifically designed to reinforce the stereotypes and prejudices already held against them — so that we do not have to look at ourselves as a society.
A living wage would be a wage high enough to maintain a standard of living above the poverty line.
So why does it matter? Some believe people working “lower level” jobs should either work harder, get a different job or get educated. It’s nowhere near that simple though.
First of all, working harder does not necessarily mean one will get a raise.
And you could tell that person to get a different job; provided they have the requisite qualifications, can afford to commute or relocate and aren’t arbitrarily disqualified based on their race, ethnicity or gender.
It’s presumptuous to assume that every person has the means and ability to simply get another job.
I don’t know where the mythical job tree lives where everyone gets to pick and choose what they want to do and how much they want to make. If you find it, let me know.
And then there’s the matter of education.
A person’s level of education influences the jobs that are open to them. Access to a high-paying job makes it easier to access higher education which, as previously noted, increases a person’s chances at jobs that pay well.
A person who can barely afford to live cannot afford to go to college. They might not possess the education or skills needed to pull themselves out of poverty. So they become stuck.
This is part of the cycle of poverty.
Doesn’t that seem wrong to you?
It is wrong, unjust and arbitrary and it has to stop.
We need to pay people enough to live comfortably. I’m not an economist, but I understand chain reactions. If you pay people enough to live comfortably, they will be happier and healthier and they will do better work — which means the business they work for more efficient.
So while it may not even out to the cent, you save money elsewhere when you invest in your workers.
And that’s not even accounting for the humanity of it.
Capitalism is cold, harsh and unforgiving.
So while it might make sense from a business standpoint to pay your workers poverty level wages, from a human standpoint, it’s cruel. It is inhumane and cold.
It’s time to regulate our statewide and national minimum wages so that they are living wages because it is the right thing to do.
So take a walk in someone else’s shoes this week.
Think about the circumstances of their life and imagine it was your life.
Think about the things you would want and what you would want to be better.
Do you deserve those things?
Because at the end of the day, we get to decide.
The United States is a democratic republic. We elect the people who make these regulations. We are their bosses. We decide.
So tell me, what should it be? Think on it and get back to me. And until next week, stay cool snowflakes.
Kelly Livingston is a freelance writer with a passion for intersectional feminism. After four years studying English and Anthropology at the University of Florida, she remains fascinated by the ways we can use writing to comment on and change our culture.