By Matthew Tyson
Increasing the minimum wage is a hot topic—especially during this election year. And given the recent display of government overreach from the Alabama Republican Leadership in blocking the Birmingham City Council from attempting to raise wages on its own, I feel compelled to offer my own perspective.
Anyone who has read my previous columns probably won’t be too surprised to learn that I support increasing the minimum wage. I support it wholeheartedly and without apology. And I do not do so just because the current rate of $7.25 an hour is nowhere near a livable standard. I do not do so just because a great deal of minimum wage workers must still rely on government benefits. I support an increase for one simple reason…
It’s just the right thing to do.
One of the most sickening things to me about the cultural mindset of our country is our hypocritical approach to labor. We label those who draw benefits from the government as parasites and crooks, and in the very next breath, we condemn minimum wage workers—people who are actively trying to sufficiently provide for themselves and their families—for not working a job that’s “good enough.”
“Sorry,” we say. “You may get up every day, kiss your family goodbye, and go work your hands to the bone to put food on the table, but we’ve deemed the nature of your work to be too worthless to pay you a living wage. Could you add an apple pie to that order?”
When it comes to work and labor, Alabama, like so many other states in our country, has it backwards. We equate a workingman’s dignity with the type of work he performs. But this is not the mark of a fair and just economic system. In truth, a working person is dignified simply because they work. Be it the burger flippers or sweater folders; ticket punchers or oil changers; doctors, lawyers, or chemical engineers, any individual who chooses to labor for the benefit of themselves or their family is equally worthy of the same dignity. And because of this, workingmen and women deserve a wage that allows them to comfortably afford the basic necessities of life.
There are no qualifiers here. No standards. No ifs or buts or what-abouts. If you work, you get to make enough money to live without having to rely on subsidies and food stamps, without having to dedicate your entire life to two or three jobs, and without having to choose between paying rent or buying medicine. You get to be self-sufficient.
Right now in our country, there isn’t a single city where the minimum wage is enough to adequately cover the cost of living. In fact, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Alabama, without having to pay more than 30% of your income, you need to make at least $13.66 an hour. That’s unacceptable. It’s immoral. Especially when we have people in our country who are living well beyond their needs while other hardworking men and women can barely meet their own.
This shouldn’t be a radical idea. We already know that minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation, and no one is suggesting that everyone should make the same amount of money across the board regardless of what they do.
All that’s being suggested is that people who go to work for 40 hours a week shouldn’t have to live in poverty. That’s not socialism, or communism, or radicalism. It’s not an extreme liberal idea. It’s justice.