Fifty years ago, when my dad, with only a 10th-grade education, was making a decent living as a utility tree trimmer, the minimum wage was $1.25 an hour. A low-wage, non-union service economy has replaced most of the blue-collar manufacturing jobs that allowed people like my dad to earn a living wage.Today, college students at McDoanld's work next to laid off factory workers and outsourced telephone operators.
Times have changed, but the federal minimum wage, now at $7.25 an hour, hasn't kept up. If it had, it would have risen to more than $10 an hour by now. That's what it should be to cover the absoulte minimum a single person would need to live on in America. Even that assumes these jobs are full-time, and most of them are not.
A flurry of of mini-strikes nationwide that started in November and continued last week in dozens of cities have pushed for a minimum wage of $15 an hour for fast-food workers. Hitting McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Popeye’s, and similar franchises, these one-day work stoppages have pressured the fast-food industry to boost wages. The strikes, which started in New York City, have hit Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and many other cities. I haven't seen any mini-strikes here, though, and I've ordered a Caffe Mocha at just about every McDonald's in Toledo.
The best route is to boost the federal minimum wage and index it to inflation. Politically, $15 isn't going to fly. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015, is probably the best we can do now. There needs to be a higher guaranteed minimum for tipped workers, too. Their minimum pay has stayed at a stingy $2.13 an hour for more than 20 years. How would you like to live on tips in Toledo?
McDonald's earns billions of dollars in profits every year. In 2008, its CEO reportedly clocked $28 million, which is more than a crew member flipping burgers would make in a thousand years. No doubt, a higher minimum wage would jack the price of my Caffe Mocha, but that's a small price to pay for a living wage.