A $15 Minimum Wage for all Working Americans

By Amelia Christensen, 16, Minnesota.

Raising the federal minimum could will save millions of Americans from financial burden and stress!

As a working high school student, I get paid $11 an hour, which is $3.75 above the minimum wage in America (currently at $7.25 per hour). My paycheck for two weeks covers a few meals at a fast-food restaurant, one small grocery bill, and maybe a few miscellaneous items. Now imagine a single mom living on a $7.25 per hour wage with kids, a mortgage, grocery bills, and student debt to pay. To put this in perspective, she would need to work 139 hours a week to meet her expenses. This would translate into working almost 20 hours a day, seven days a week!

A $7.25 hourly wage would mean earning about $15,080 per year. This pay is extremely low, leaving an individual living barely above the poverty line, surviving paycheck to paycheck. A full-time worker living on federal minimum wage would even qualify for food stamps. It’s extremely hard to comprehend how an individual can live on this paycheck, but imagine a whole family living on a yearly salary of $15,080. Quality of life goes down, mental health issues increase and basic needs aren’t met.

Money and financial problems play a huge factor in increased suicide rates. The American Journal of Epidemiology found that financial stressors like unemployment and low income might make someone 20 times more likely to attempt suicide.

Fortunately, there is a solution to the problem. According to a 2020 study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, raising the minimum wage by even one dollar an hour would cause suicide rates to drop. As shown in these statistics, people living in poverty don’t just struggle financially, but also have mental health issues. Many low-income workers are struggling to make ends meet, provoking them to have extreme stress, anxiety disorders, depression, or other mental illnesses. Raising the minimum wage could not only help the quality of life for many struggling Americans but it could also save thousands of lives.

Raising the federal minimum is a long process and doesn’t just happen overnight. Biden has proposed to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. If his plan is successful, he would pull 900,000 people out of poverty, increase pay for 17 million workers, and help narrow the chronic economic gap between white Americans and Black and Hispanic Americans. The minimum wage has been stagnant at $7.25 an hour since 2009, but with the Raise the Wage Act the federal minimum wage would go to $9.50 an hour in June. Then it would continue to rise until it hits $15 in June of 2025. The Liberal Economic Policy estimates that 31 percent of African Americans and 26 percent of Latinos would receive a raise if the minimum wage was increased, which would play a crucial role in reducing racial economic disparities.

Some concerns about raising the federal minimum wage are: it would take a toll on the economy and take away millions of jobs, as employers are required to pay their employees more. Two economists from Princeton University, Card and Krueger surveyed 410 fast-food restaurants and found that with higher minimum wage, job openings increased rather than decreased. Professor Arindrajit Dube of Univ. of Massachusetts at Amherst, a leading minimum wage researcher, points out that companies would benefit from a wage increase because employees would be less likely to quit, which would save time, money, and resources.

Raising the minimum wage will not completely solve all financial problems for an American living on federal minimum wage, but it will provide some financial freedom. If we start to raise the minimum wage gradually, even by a dollar an hour, it would relieve financial stress and anxiety, and even save lives for struggling individuals living paycheck to paycheck.

References:

https://livingwage.mit.edu/articles/19-new-data-calculating-the-living-wage-for-u-s-states-counties-and-metro-areas

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-raising-the-minimum-wage-can-be-a-win-for-mental-health#Suicide-rates-drop

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/how-economists-see-bidens-15-wage-proposal

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