I have been involved in the minimum wage debate for a while now, mainly because I’ve had personal experience living on minimum wage and I know many that are similarly struggling in this post-recessive economy. In order to fully educate myself and make sure my opinions were based on verified facts and evidence, I have done a lot of research and have read a great many articles about the subject.
Recently, I came across the Forbes article “We Can Predict The Effects Of Seattle’s $15 An Hour Minimum Wage” by Tim Worstall. I had read a similar Forbes article on the subject a while back that had also argued against raising the wage and I remember being disappointed at the apparent lack of thorough research. I can’t remember who had written the first article, but I was similarly disappointed in Worstall. What got me to comment on the piece, however, was the consequent comment thread and, in particular, Worstall’s assertion that, if his theories in the article prove to be wrong, he would “eat his humble pie” because he’s “in the evidence based community.” He then included a low-brow jab at his opponents by providing the rejoinder, “unlike many of those pushing this higher min wage.”
Worstall’s comment was in response to a thoughtful, 7-paragraph comment that examined and rebutted several points in the article. The commentator provided factual evidence as well as the math behind his assertions, yet the only part of the comment that Worstall deemed worth of replying to was the commentator’s question, “if you’re wrong, will you eat humble pie or will you go on demanding that you’re still right?”
The fact that Worstall cherry-picked his response on top of the low-brow insult tacked on at the end drove me mad. I had to say something. While it’s all good and dandy to have opposing opinions, it is never in the debaters’ best interest to stoop to insulting your opponents and/or presume their lack of evidence. As Bill Nye has said before, “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” You can easily end up with your foot in your mouth if you presume otherwise.
So I left a comment admonishing Worstall for his piteous response as well as outlining the research that I have uncovered so far on why it is so important to raise the minimum wage. For evidence, I provided both my personal experiences as well as verified, third-party facts.
My personal experiences are from living off of the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr last year in Kentucky and my current $12/hr in Seattle. When living in Kentucky, I could not pay all my own bills and had to rely on my parents for financial support even though I had food stamps and a roommate for a couple months (they later left to pursue a career in Chicago). In Seattle, I am now able to pay all my bills every month but there is very little left to go toward savings or big purchases like car tires and computer repairs.
Before I move onto the third-party evidence, let me give you some background about my situation. I am a single, college-educated, childless, healthy adult that has been in the work force since 2005. I worked through high school and college, and I was paid more per hour in high school than I was paid in Kentucky just last year. I have a Bachelor’s degree, a Business certification from London, UK, and have completed courses at two additional universities. I currently split a two-bedroom, 800 sq.ft. apartment with a roommate that is 20 minutes outside of Seattle. We pay $1085 in rent and $90 in utilities every month. We pay $20 a month for internet and we both have cell phones (we don’t pay for land lines). We don’t pay for cable, and our tv is a 2001 model with a built-in VHS that I got for free. All the furniture in our apartment is either hand-me-downs from my parents or bought off of Craigslist. We buy our clothes primarily from Ebay and Goodwill, and we get our groceries from Costco and Trader Joe’s.
Both of us are having financial troubles and we are not alone. My roommate was recently laid off because Trader Joe’s didn’t want to give her the 6-month raise that’s in her contract. She had worked there for two years and had gotten raises every 6 months, but, once it was time for her fourth raise, they instead put her on probation for being one minute late for her shift and refused her the raise. She stayed for another 6 months and yet again they found a minuscule reason to refuse her her raise. She was being paid $11/hr while at Trader Joe’s, but there was not much left at the end of the month after bills and so she had little to live on after her termination. She has now been unemployed for two months and she’s been looking and applying for jobs every day. We’ve even gone through the process of getting utility bill assistance from the city of Seattle and yet she still had to borrow money from her mother for the last two months of rent.
Personal evidence aside, there are also other reasons why it’s necessary to raise the minimum wage. Historically, “while the laws governing wages initially set a ceiling on compensation, they were eventually used to set a living wage. An amendment to the Statute of Labourers in 1389 effectively fixed wages to the price of food. As the centuries passed, the Justice of the Peace, who was charged with setting the maximum wage, also began to set formal minimum wages. The practice was eventually formalized with the passage of the Act Fixing a Minimum Wage in 1604 by King James I for workers in the textile industry…
The first national minimum wage law was enacted by the government of New Zealand in 1894, followed by Australia in 1896 and Great Britain in 1909. In the United States, statutory minimum wages were first introduced nationally in 1938, and reintroduced and expanded in the United Kingdom in 1998. There is now legislation or binding collective bargaining regarding minimum wage in more than 90% of all countries.” (Wikipedia, Minimum Wage)
Unfortunately, the minimum wage in the US is no longer live-able and has not been for a while now. It hasn’t kept pace with productivity since the ’70s, and it hasn’t kept pace with inflation since the ’80s. (CEPR)
According to the EPI: “On average nationwide, working families with two parents and two children require an income of $48,778 to meet the family budget. In major urban areas, expenses for this four-person family range from $42,106 in Oklahoma City to $71,913 in Nassau/Suffolk, N.Y.; families in small towns and rural areas start from a low of $35,733 in Marshall County, Miss. to $73,345 in Nantucket and Dukes Counties, Mass.
Much of the regional variation in family budgets is pushed by price differences in just a few items: housing, health care, and child care…
Family budgets calculated by EPI represent the pre-tax (taxes are included as a budget category) annual family income required to maintain a safe but modest standard of living.”
In Seattle, specifically, the living wage for a family of the same size (2 parents, 2 children) is $19.63/hr which is $40,829 annually (MIT calculator). That is lower than the federal family budget average and yet still exponentially higher than the $15/hr minimum wage raise.
After briefly outlining the above evidence in my comment, another commentator responded by questioning my own personal budget, providing his own past experiences (circa 2002), criticizing those who have children that they can’t financially support, and attacking me for complaining “about wages then turn[ing] around and support[ing] outsourcing at a cheaper price so long as you benefit.” They then ended the comment with the phrase, “such immorality….”
The commentator not only implied that I was wasteful and irresponsible, but that I was immoral as well. Wow, thanks. I replied by saying, “don’t make assumptions about my life;” while he was able to support himself on $12k a year in 2002, I made just $8k in 2013. When adjusted for inflation, their $12k income from 2002 is worth $15,539.10 in 2013 dollars. That is significantly more than my $8k.
Additionally, there are many reasons why people have children then later realize they can’t support them. Maybe they were more financially stable when they decided to reproduce (think of families who are affected by natural disasters every year and lose everything). Maybe they don’t have access to sex education or birth control (researchers have found that teens who received comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or to get someone pregnant than those who received no sex education). Maybe one parent died and had failed to set up a life insurance account. Maybe the children are a result of sexual assault. There are many reasons.
I then told them that “businesses embracing automated services is not a bad thing.” We are in the middle of a Technological Revolution. The same thing happened in the Industrial Revolution: machines replaced human workers. I look at it as “trimming the fat,” the “fat” being the enormous profits that company executives get by not paying their workers living wages.
And, finally, I strive to source all the products I buy from either local businesses or businesses with clear, thoughtful business practices. I am actually at the moment trying to find a way to buy locally-processed and American grown coffee beans. I also buy from Etsy all the time, for example.
Their next comment criticized me for talking about my past life: “we’re talking about now.” They then criticized me for not working full time for the entirety of 2013: “Fortunately, [they] decided at a very young age that [they] would work [their] way through college to get out of poverty rather than seeking for others to get it for [them].” Supposedly they also did their friends’ 2013 taxes and, even though they were making “minimum wage,” the commentator got them $30k total for the year. I later asked them if they could do my taxes next year!
They then went on to say, “I didn’t comment on your coffee. I commented on your clothing and desk. Hmm, more expensive coffee and products from a more expensive website. I just found two non-necessary items (in addition to your internet) adding to your problem of not being able to make ends meet. It’s now reasonable safe to conclude that there is a laundry list of items that you pay for that you could eliminate. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t, on the one hand, say you can’t make ends meet and then on the other claim you’re paying for goods that are more expensive.”
And, finally, they criticized me for being contradictory: “As for outsourcing and technology. You dont care that they are displacing workers? … You want people to have more, but don’t care if they don’t have jobs?”
So I told them that, first off, they had spoken about their past life (making $12k in 2002) as evidence so I used my past life ($8k in 2013) as evidence. Second off, I was not working full time for the entirety of 2013, that is true. For 7 of the 12 months, I was working full time. For the other five, I was looking and applying for jobs and juggling multiple part-time gigs. And, third off, I used coffee as an example of how I’m constantly looking for better sources for my products. Since they specifically asked, my clothing that I was wearing at the time were free finds, Goodwill finds, and Ebay finds. And my desk at home was handmade by a student of my mother’s back in the ’90s.
And, lastly, I never said I don’t care about displacing workers. I obviously care by trying to buy American-made products. I want people to be paid more for the jobs they should have in the US. In terms of technology, moreover, there’s an overwhelming need to invest more money and human labor in non-manufacture jobs. It is no longer necessary to have human workers take your order at McDonalds, for human workers to package your Amazon purchase, for human workers to assemble cars, and so on and so forth. This trend has been developing for the last few decades, just think of the automobile industry crash in Detroit. Human labor is now being channeled toward thought-producing work: technological innovation, research, education, the arts.
They responded by still trying to convince me that the internet was an unnecessary expense that I could cut out of my budget. And that they have “more than ten employees making just under $10 an hour and none/zero/nadda have problems making ends meet.”
I asked them, “how would I find job openings that weren’t in newspapers/print without the internet?” I can certainly call to apply and interview, but only if I already knew they had an opening. The internet also allows me to do research on the company before my interview so that I can go in knowing who they are and what they do (which is a huge bonus in an employer’s eyes). I also asked them, “Where do your employees live? Are they married? And, have you actually asked them about their financial concerns?” It’s possible they don’t feel comfortable talking to the commentator about their financial struggles. Their opinions on the subject would at least deter me from talking to them about my own struggles.
They never responded. Instead, another commentator contributed the following:
“So someone in Seattle is supposed to nix the internet and then rely on their phone? Do you know what year it is? What got me my last job (in Seattle) was my linkedin profile… I have been turned down for a job because I didn’t own a cellphone, they want to be able to contact you 24/7…
One last question @Kalani how old are you? You keep saying you didn’t have this and that and whatnot but is that because those things didn’t exist?? The game is changing, new playing field and new rules.”
The next day (after “sleeping on it”), I decided to conclude with a message to both Tim Worstall and the commentator Kalani:
“Have I provided enough evidence for you? Did I provide enough information about my life to effectively prove that I deserve to be paid a living wage? Does everyone that makes under $15/hr in Seattle and under $10/hr in the US have to prove to you that they deserve to live a comfortable, secure life?
The Declaration of Independence says that we, as American citizens, have the right to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have the right to life, and that includes security. We have a right to liberty, and that includes not being in debt up to our eyeballs because we chose to pursue further education and yet don’t earn enough to pay back the debts. And we have the right to pursue happiness, and that includes being financially sound. We’re not asking for wealth, we’re asking for equilibrium.
I don’t know what else I can tell you to convince you that this is not a sustainable live style. We don’t have any buffer from crises. What happens if one of us has a medical emergency? What happens if our car gets hit while it’s parked on the street and no one leaves a note? What happens if our computer crashes? These things happen, and while, yes, we’re still alive, we are a few crises away from being homeless. My roommate was actually homeless for a few months last year because she couldn’t afford a one bedroom apartment by herself and couldn’t find a roommate to help with the bills. She subleased the apartment she had and couch-surfed for two months.
Even all the personal evidence aside, I have also provided the economic reasons based on inflation rates, productivity rates, and government figures. Please, tell me what more evidence you need.”
While my first and last comments were “called out” by Tim Worstall, he unfortunately never engaged in the discussion or offered any rebuttals. The reason why I’ve relayed this exchange in such detail is because it provides perfect examples of the criticisms and judgments that are thrown around in debates surrounding the minimum wage. While those advocating against the raise may believe that they are on the side of evidence, it is increasingly clear that they are misinformed and are simply relying on their own political biases instead.
I expect much better from a Forbes writer, especially when they willingly label themselves as “in the evidence based community.” It is thoroughly disappointing to see a respected news outlet and magazine support and publish such misinformed articles. Even after the evidence was aptly presented, the author still refuses to live up to his assertion that he would “eat his humble pie.” I am simply abhorred at the poor quality of “journalism” and the shoddy standards that allow such misinformation to be circulated.
(the entire comment thread can be read at: https://claireejones.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/we-can-predict-the-effects-of-seattles-15-an-hour-minimum-wage/)