Why Increasing the Minimum Wage Just Makes Sense
I once worked at a factory making the minimum wage.
The factory manufactured the raw materials for making lenses. My fellow workers and I cleaned the lenses of impurities as they came hot off the machine.
Without using any gloves, we had to take off a thin plastic sheet covering the lenses. I often cut my fingertips doing this.
After that, we would clean them gently with ammonia. We had no masks, and the fumes of the cleaning materials got stuck on our clothes and noses. It was hard to shake off the smell of ammonia at the end of the day.
We worked standing up during the entire 8-hour shift while keeping a fearful eye out for the boss, who screamed at us for pretty much anything.
Minimum Wage Work the Only Choice for Many
Thankfully, this job only lasted during my summer vacation, after which I went back to school.
My brother and I were very fortunate. We didn’t have to work to support ourselves. My mother and my aunt cleaned houses to provide for all our basic needs. I could quit jobs like this one.
However, many workers in the US have no choice. They are the primary providers for their families, and they have to work at jobs that pay them very little and under deplorable conditions.
Full-time Workers Shouldn’t Struggle in Poverty
The federal minimum wage for all workers has stagnated at $7.25 per hour, and the sub-minimum wage for workers earning tips has remained frozen at $2.13 per hour for over two decades.
As a result, millions of Americans find themselves struggling in poverty even while working a full-time job.
Though many work 40 hours or more each week, their wages are low enough that they must rely on food stamps and other public benefits to sustain themselves and their families.
Raising the minimum wage is not just a matter of justice. It is crucial for lifting up families and breaking cycles of poverty.
And given the close links between poverty and public safety, it’s clear we need government policies that uplift the conditions of millions of working people who make this nation prosper.
Instead, our nation spends billions to incarcerate people—overwhelmingly people of color and those from low-income communities, almost assuring a future of unemployment or low-wage jobs.
It would make a whole lot more sense to implement policies that ensure people get paid decent wages, enabling them to strengthen their communities and our economy. So what’s stopping us?
Take Action for Working Families
My mother and my aunt never complained when their employers would ask them to do some extra ironing for the same pay. Nor did they complain when their employers would call them “stupid” for not speaking English.
I remember accompanying my mother sometimes to clean houses. I didn’t understand why someone from the wealthy neighborhoods of Long Island would dare to call my mom “stupid.”
My mother was a nurse in El Salvador and she is one of the smartest people I know. Still, she had to put up with it.
Many minimum wage workers have no choice but to put up with it, too—long hours, low pay, and often mistreatment.
But there is something we all can do. We can add our voices today to a nationwide call for a minimum wage increase.
Join us Wednesday, July 24, for a local action to increase the minimum wage in Berkeley. We will rally at the Downtown Berkeley BART Station starting at 5:30pm.
And whether you’re in the Bay or not, you can also sign a petition calling for a national minimum wage increase. Prosperity for working families benefits us all!